CRF Blog

The Bridge

by Bill Hayes

David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker magazine and Pulitzer Prize–winning author (he won for his 1993 book Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire), has written a biography of President Obama titled The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama. The title of the book comes from a comment from Congressman John Lewis, who led the famous civil rights march on Selma: “Barack Obama is what comes at the end of that bridge in Selma.” To write a biography of Obama presents a challenge in that Obama himself has already written two well-received memoirs. Yet Remnick’s book is lengthy (656 pages) and comes up with much new material. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, historian Gary Wills says:

Remnick presents Obama as a perpetual outsider who wins acceptance in whatever new company he joins — in Hawaii, at Occidental College, then Columbia, then Harvard, in Chicago streets and churches, at the University of Chicago Law School, in the Illinois legislature, in the United States Senate. To do this, he had to allay the natural suspicions of any newcomer. Remnick sees how this was accomplished: “Conciliation was his default mode, the dominant strain of his political personality.” In interview after interview, people’s initial reaction to him is that he is always winning, always disarming — “cool,” intelligent and charming. A perfect example is the way he won election as the editor in chief of The Harvard Law Review. In a company of voting editors heatedly divided between left and right, he positioned himself in the center and won support from conservative editors along with liberals. Once in the editor’s office, he banned a more militant black ally of his from the masthead to preserve peace on The Review. Later, when he taught at the University of Chicago Law School, he won the respect of conservative professors there, including Richard Posner — “especially,” as Posner tells Remnick, “after one of my clerks, who had worked with him at The Harvard Law Review, told me that he wasn’t even all that liberal.”

You can view Charlie Rose’s interview with Remnick. An additional recommendation for this interview: The Charlie Rose show reliably puts my wife to sleep. She stayed awake for this one.