Unsure what new book to read next? Sit back: We read the book reviews in case you missed them. Below are the collected reviews of two new books being discussed in leading journals and magazines. Today we look at ‚ÄúBarack Obama: The Story‚ÄĚ by David Maraniss and ‚ÄúEvery Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace‚ÄĚ by D. T. Max.
‚ÄúBarack Obama: The Story‚ÄĚ by David Maraniss
The latest in a slew of Obama biographies (following David Remnick‚Äôs ‚ÄúThe Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama‚ÄĚ and Janny Scott‚Äôs ‚ÄúA Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama‚Äôs Mother,‚ÄĚ among others) attempting to uncover the source of the President‚Äôs political ambition, David Maraniss‚Äôs 641-page tome, ‚ÄúBarack Obama: The Story‚ÄĚ arrived on bookshelves with some handwringing from the White House. That fear, which stems from Maraniss‚Äôs careful disassembling of Obama‚Äôs memoir, ‚ÄúDreams from My Father‚ÄĚ within ‚ÄúThe Story,‚ÄĚ is not completely unfounded, but as Darryl Pinckney observes in The New York Review of Books, its impact is rather muted. ‚ÄúMaraniss‚Äôs competition with Dreams from My Father makes him a prisoner of his material,‚ÄĚ Pinckney writes, ‚Äúresulting in a sort of biographer‚Äôs Stockholm Syndrome about those he has interviewed. Often you get the feeling that because they gave him so much of their time, their trust, and that he bonded with them in some way, he bestows on them the glory of his narrative sun.‚ÄĚ
Jonathan Karl, writing in the Wall Street Journal, sees an obscure portrait of Obama in Maraniss‚Äôs biography, noting that, ‚ÄúThe recurring theme that runs throughout ‚ÄėObama: The Story‚Äô is just how unlikely is was that someone with Mr. Obama's exotic and tangled family history -- whatever his race -- would end up in the Oval Office.‚ÄĚ Kevin Harnett of the Christian Science Monitor is similarly fascinated by Obama‚Äôs opaque ambition as presented in ‚ÄúThe Story,‚ÄĚ admitting that it is unclear why the President pursued power or what exactly he would do with it, but concludes, ‚ÄúMaraniss ably outlines the mystery of Obama‚Äôs character, even if he‚Äôs not able to solve it.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúEvery Love Story is a Ghost Story‚ÄĚ By D. T. Max
The first major biography of the beloved author of the seminal novel "Infinite Jest," D. T. Max‚Äôs ‚ÄúEvery Love Story is a Ghost Story‚ÄĚ attempts to chart David Foster Wallace‚Äôs epic and public struggle with depression and addiction, culminating in his suicide at age forty-six in 2008. Though Max wrote his biography with cooperation from Wallace‚Äôs friends and family, Publisher‚Äôs Weekly Gabe Habash finds the effort disappointing, noting that, ‚ÄúThe facts are all there, but Max‚Ä¶often seems in a hurry to report them, rarely stopping to explore Wallace‚Äôs struggles with his social identity or his creative evolution.‚ÄĚ Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times is much more generous, declaring, ‚ÄúWhat Mr. Max‚Äôs book does do -- and does powerfully -- is provide an emotionally detailed portrait of the artist as a young man: conflicted, self-conscious and deeply thoughtful, like so many of his characters a seeker after an understanding of his own place in the world and a Melvillian ‚Äėisolato,‚Äô yearning for connection yet stymied by the whirring of his own brain and the discontinuities of an America reeling from information overload.‚ÄĚ Kirkus‚Äô Review is similarly impressed, simply calling Max‚Äôs work, ‚ÄúA stellar biography of a complicated subject: Max's portrait skillfully unites Wallace‚Äôs external and internal lives.‚ÄĚ