Below is our weekly glance at the most buzzed-about books in the biography and memoir genre. Today we look at "Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power" by David Sanger, and "The Obamians: The Struggle Inside the White House to Redefine American Power" by James Mann.
"Confront and Conceal" by David Sanger
Of the criticisms directed at President Obama when he first rose to prominence in 2008, one particular accusation rang truer than the rest: his foreign policy track record. Which is to say, he didn't have one. Obama is a sharp and adaptable politician, but Republicans took him to task for a résumé devoid of worldly diplomatic credentials. With David Sanger's new biography - "Confront and Conceal" - Obama is shown to have developed a deft understanding of the international balancing act, wading in the murky waters of both peace-making and war-mongering and angering the Left and the Right with his nonpartisan brand of foreign policy.
According to Robert Merry of The New York Times, Sanger has created a "penetrating history of the president’s effort to grapple with a world in flux and an inherited overseas posture of military swagger." Since the matter of foreign relations is a touchy and therefore tight-lipped subject, Mark Moyar of The Wall Street Journal implores you to listen to Sanger's detailed account, given the reporter's insider access to otherwise secretive information: "Given the extraordinary access that Sanger...apparently had, we would do well to give [his] book the most careful attention." The depth and detail is evident to all reviewers, including Dina Temple-Raston of The Washington Post: "Sanger [was] clearly given extraordinary access to key players in the administration," but she wishes Sanger employed a bit more critique, as the book is a "largely uncritical view of the Obama administration’s process." Still, as Moyar concludes, "Confront and Conceal" has the potential to be "the most thorough account of America's recent national-security efforts that we shall receive before the November election."
"The Obamians" by James Mann
In the vein of Presidential foreign policy, James Mann casts a wider net than Sanger. Outside of wars being waged, Mann also sets Obama in the context of an international stage embroiled in economic instability and uncertain futures. Mann opens up Obama's cabinet to explore the idea that a generational gap exists between the longstanding Democrats and the new, youthful advisers deeply invested in Obama's missions abroad. What does this generational difference mean? How will the President pivot the country in response to a rising China, a war-torn Afghanistan, and the floundering global economy? What will American power look like in years to come?
Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times calls "The Obamians" a "useful, if at times patchy book" that "examines...Mr. Obama's own evolving vision of America's place in the world." He writes with "shrewdness" and "insight," only occasionally resorting to "some dubious generalizations." Mann writes convincingly about Obama's balanced attention to differing perspectives, but Amy Rowland of The Christian Science Monitor feels the "reader is left without a strong sense of whether there is an Obama doctrine." Perhaps this team of like-minded specialists huddled in the White House is too new to be classified, and perhaps their visions are too nascent to be defined. Still, what makes "Obamians" so thrilling is the newness of it all. David Shribman of The Boston Globe finishes: "...as Mann deftly demonstrates in an often-riveting insiders’ account of the making of American foreign policy in the time of Obama, this is a different time, a different generation, and a different crowd, and it has a different outlook..."