Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Amateur

Political books, especially those written in election years, have always been somewhat questionable when it comes to their handling of “the truth.”  Readers of these things generally come into them with their minds already made up about the subject – and seldom change them – tending to focus on the parts of the books they like and to ignore the parts with which they disagree.  That is, of course, exactly the reception that Edward Klein’s bestseller, The Amateur, is receiving.  And well that it should.

All of that said, a few things about The Amateur particularly strike me:

  • In the process of gathering information for the book, Klein interviewed almost 200 people, many of those having known Barack Obama back to his first days in Chicago.  Some of these people are officially on record (even on tape); others are not.  Some of the book’s direct quotes, because of their sources are a bit shocking, even if upon further thought, they are not surprising.  Caroline Kennedy, for instance, after having been snubbed along with the rest of the Kennedys by the Obama White House is quoted as saying, “I can’t stand to hear his voice anymore.  He’s a liar and worse.”  Initially, this is a rather shocking statement on Kennedy’s part – then, not so much. 
  • One of the most vocal interviewees, all of it on tape, seems to have been Jeremiah Wright who is understandably bitter about the way he was treated by the president in 2008.  If Wright is being honest in what he describes about his longtime relationship with Barack and Michelle Obama, it is understandable why the president’s advisors wanted to keep the details of that relationship hidden – even to the point of offering the preacher a cash pay-off (according to Wright) to go away quietly.
  • There seems to have been almost eagerness on the parts of those who are said to know Obama best to share negative facts and observations about the man. 
  • The personal revelations about Michelle Obama are particularly unflattering because of the petty vindictiveness and jealousy described.  For instance, according to Klein, Michelle’s jealousy directly led to her husband’s eventual snubs of ardent supporters Caroline Kennedy and Oprah Winfrey. 
  • Much of the book, as noted just above, can best be characterized as the spreading of gossip – truth or not, it still has the feel of gossip.
  • The president is characterized as an “inept” president “who doesn’t learn from his mistakes, as “a man who blames all his problems on those with whom he disagrees…who discards old friends and supporters when they are no longer useful…who is so think-skinned that he constantly complains about what people say and write about him.”   Distasteful as all of this might be, it is hardly the worst of what Klein has to say about him.
  • More disturbing is Klein’s contention that Obama naively overestimates his abilities, that he takes even constructive criticism personally, that he only listens to those who already believe exactly as he does, and that he truly believes himself to be a “child of destiny” meant to save America from itself.
Although Klein stresses that some of his sources had positive things to say about Obama, these things are so overwhelmed by the negative case he presents in The Amateur that I do not remember one of those positive things.  Perhaps I missed them - and perhaps that is Klein’s intention.

The Amateur is an easy read, a good recap of the current political environment.  It definitely has an agenda, however, and that should surprise no one.  It is, after all, a political book, and this is a critical election year.


  1. I long ago concluded that we never know what "really happened" until at least ten years after the fact, so it's far too soon to get anything useful from a book about President Obama.

    However, this book does fit my major rule about reading books of this nature which is "Never take a book seriously if the author's picture is on the front cover."

  2. Those are two very astute observations, James.

  3. I second (or would that be third) the sentiments of Mr. James.


  4. Pretty much a third, I think, TLK. This kind of book does, however, serve as a nice snapshot in time...even though perceptions and assessments might later change.

  5. I have to agree with C.B James' comments. I am always most interested in books that come long after the presidency as it seems they are more accurate? Still, this book does sound interesting.