As Barack Obama’s rise to power inspires a flood of books, scholars hope the publishing trend will yield serious analysis.
Barack Obama’s rise from Illinois politics to the U.S. presidency has inspired authors to produce a flood of books chronicling the 44th commander in chief ‘s life story and political career. And with good reason, Obama’s political odyssey invites both celebration and intense scrutiny given his historic success in becoming the first Black man to win the U.S. presidency.
Overcoming doubts about his experience level and raising unprecedented amounts of campaign money during the 2008 race, the former Illinois state senator and University of Chicago constitutional law lecturer prevailed over a field of seasoned political opponents by casting himself as the much-needed change agent in a quest to renew American politics. Barely into his first term, books explaining Obama’s unconventional path to the White House have been hitting the bookstores and making their way into political science classes on college and university campuses.
“From my observations, you have books that cover the waterfront in that you have some that are by the newsmagazine writers and editors; others that are coffee table photo books on the campaign and inauguration, which are the ones individuals have on display in their homes; and then there are those that are on the election and how he was successful,” says Dr. Bruce Ransom, a political science professor at Clemson University.
Scholars, such as Ransom, are paying close attention to the Obama books boom, which is considered to be in an early stage, and are looking for worthy books for their classes in political science, history, sociology and other relevant fields. This past semester, Ransom and a colleague co-taught a political science course at Clemson University entitled “Barack Obama,” which used books published in 2008.
There are scholars who have gotten or are seeking publishing deals to write their own books about Obama, and they tend to be highly knowledgeable about what the commercial and academic publishing houses have been releasing from authors. Dr. Ronald Walters, a professor of politics and government at the University of Maryland, College Park, is writing a book on the Obama campaign and plans a second one that will analyze his current term in office. He says few scholars have weighed in on Obama’s successful campaign because it’s still early and that it’s going to take some time before serious analysis will hit the market.
“I think we’re getting a lot of people’s take initially on Barack Obama as a person and they’re churning up a lot of old ground. I’ve looked at a couple (books), and it doesn’t look as though they’re doing much to enlighten us about Barack Obama,” Walters says. “They don’t go much further than what we already know from the biographies that he himself has written.”
In terms of what political scientists are seeking, Walters says the fundamental “question” remains for analysts to answer “is why Obama won” given the improbability of a candidate as new to national politics as Obama was while defeating the likes of former U. S. Sen. Hillary Clinton and U.S. Sen. John McCain.
“I expect to see books written about campaign finance because this is the most important campaign from that standpoint in American history. I would expect books to be written about the use of communications in the campaign â€” it was very novel and unique. There’s probably a book that deals with national strategy because this is the campaign that leaves the Republican Party limping in Southern states and Western states,” Walters explains. “As an academic, I haven’t seen very good books about his campaign yet. That’s what I’ve been waiting for.”
Dr. Dewey Clayton, a professor of political science at the University of Louisville, describes the Obama books market as “sort of all over the place.” He’s at work on a volume that will examine the parallels between Obama’s message and political rise with that of the civil rights movement and movement leaders, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Clayton expects his book to be published in 2010.
“During the campaign, I started thinking about King, and I noticed Obama had the same message of bringing people together across racial lines. King did that … And I started seeing a connection between Obama and King,” Clayton says.
He notes that one irony that stands out with the civil rights movement comparisons is that some of King’s allies, such as Andrew Young, failed to support Obama and tried telling him that his time had not yet arrived.Clayton says this is the opposite of how young civil rights activists behaved when they rejected pleas to slow their demands for equal rights.
“Obama knows that it’s his time … He’s redefined politics as we know it. And he’s created a whole new paradigm in my opinion,” Clayton says. “It’s a paradigm that’s predicated on the future and looking at the demographics â€” at where this country is moving. He put together a coalition of groups that’s largely in the ascendency.”
Compared to Obama’s bestselling tomes, Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope, authors are unlikely in the short term to reach sales equaling or besting that of the young president who had been a fixture on The New York Times bestseller lists during the campaign. D