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A History of Disappointment

Jackson Lears: Obama’s Parents, 5 January 2012

The Other BarackThe Bold and Reckless Life of President Obama’s Father 
by Sally Jacobs.
Public Affairs, 336 pp., £20, July 2011, 978 1 58648 793 5
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A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mother 
by Janny Scott.
Riverhead, 384 pp., £18.99, May 2011, 978 1 59448 797 2
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... To those of us who hoped that Barack Obama’s election marked a departure from right-wing rule, the president’s failure of leadership has been stunning. Seldom have insurgent expectations – even sceptical, guarded ones – been deflated so swiftly. From the moment he announced his staff and cabinet appointments (Rahm Emanuel, Timothy Geithner, Lawrence Summers, Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates et al) it was clear that Obama meant to play by the same Washington rules that created the policy disasters he inherited from George W ...

Short Cuts

Deborah Friedell: Fox News, 5 November 2020

... channel, cable or otherwise, during the prime-time hours of 8 to 11 p.m.For Ailes, the election of Barack Obama was the ‘Alamo’, ‘the worst thing’ that could happen to America. If you watched Fox News, Barack Hussein Obama (they liked using his full name) was a racist with a ...

Whose sarin?

Seymour M. Hersh, 19 December 2013

... Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack ...

Short Cuts

Mark Mazower: The Armenian Genocide, 8 April 2010

... was one of the sponsors of a similar bill in the Senate only three years ago. And her then rival, Barack Obama, was even more outspoken on the issue. ‘America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides,’ he proclaimed on the campaign trail in January 2008. ‘I intend to be that ...

Magic Beans, Baby

David Runciman, 7 January 2021

A Promised Land 
by Barack Obama.
Viking, 768 pp., £35, November 2020, 978 0 241 49151 5
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... Who​ was Barack Obama? The man himself seems troubled by this question and his notably introspective memoir offers up some surprising answers. Was he, for instance, the same person as Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian president? When Obama met with Medvedev in 2009 at a dacha outside Moscow, he was surprised by how familiar it all seemed ...

Social Work with Guns

Andrew Bacevich: America’s Wars, 17 December 2009

... US reinforcements in order to ‘finish the job’ that President Bush began but left undone – Barack Obama has implicitly endorsed Bush’s conviction that war provides an antidote to violent anti-Western jihadism. By extension, Obama is perpetuating the effort begun in 1980 to establish American dominion over the ...

The Impermanence of Importance

David Runciman: Obama, 2 August 2018

The World as It Is: Inside the Obama White House 
by Ben Rhodes.
Bodley Head, 450 pp., £20, June 2018, 978 1 84792 517 6
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... One​ of the minor disappointments about Obama was that he played golf. It’s true that most modern American presidents have liked to play golf – just about everyone from Taft to Trump can be seen with a club in his hand – but Obama was not most presidents. His immediate predecessor, George W ...

At Turner Contemporary

Eleanor Birne: ‘Curiosity’, 18 July 2013

... trapped in the ice. Timbers from its hull were later retrieved and a desk was built from them; Barack Obama now sits behind it in the Oval Office. As a souvenir of another voyage, the Reverend W.H. Holman collected a narwhal tusk, which he donated to the museum in Canterbury, which made it the centrepiece of the Cabinet of Curiosities in what is now ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘The Ides of March’, 1 December 2011

The Ides of March 
directed by George Clooney.
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... who also directs the film, is mainly an object of dream and desire rather than a person, like Barack Obama at the time of his election. He becomes a person late in the film, but that is only when the plot forces him to become political with a small p – a very small, even mean p. In the play the candidate himself doesn’t even figure except as a ...


David Bromwich: The Establishment President, 13 May 2010

... passed a healthcare bill that had been promoted for a year and brokered in many particulars by Barack Obama. This marked a victory for a substantial piece of social legislation, the first of its kind in more than three decades; and the result appears to have given the president and his party fresh confidence in their efforts at comprehensive ...

Angry White Men

R.W. Johnson: Obama’s Electoral Arithmetic, 20 October 2011

... president to win a majority among Southern whites was Roosevelt in 1944. It might be thought that Barack Obama, who won by 365 electoral college votes to 173, and took 52.9 per cent of the popular vote to McCain’s 45.7, really did make a success of his ‘post-racial’ theme. His was the biggest Democratic victory since 1964. Yet in ...

Even what doesn’t happen is epic

Nick Richardson: Chinese SF, 8 February 2018

The Three-Body Problem 
by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu.
Head of Zeus, 416 pp., £8.99, January 2016, 978 1 78497 157 1
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The Dark Forest 
by Cixin Liu, translated by Joel Martinsen.
Head of Zeus, 512 pp., £8.99, July 2016, 978 1 78497 161 8
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Death’s End 
by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu.
Head of Zeus, 724 pp., £8.99, May 2017, 978 1 78497 165 6
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The Wandering Earth 
by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu.
Head of Zeus, 447 pp., £8.99, October 2017, 978 1 78497 851 8
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Invisible Planets 
edited and translated by Ken Liu.
Head of Zeus, 383 pp., £8.99, September 2017, 978 1 78669 278 8
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... by Ken Liu, a Chinese-American sci-fi writer – is Chinese science fiction’s best-known work. Barack Obama is a fan, and the forthcoming movie adaptations are already being described as ‘China’s Star Wars’. The trilogy concerns the catastrophic consequences of humanity’s attempt to make contact with extraterrestrials (it turns out that the ...

I love grass

Christian Lorentzen: ‘Bewilderment’, 21 October 2021

by Richard Powers.
Heinemann, 278 pp., £18.99, September, 978 1 78515 263 4
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... funding for manned space exploration away from Mars back to the Moon (already a trend under Obama) and initiating a Space Force of dubious utility. The one area where they gutted Nasa’s efforts was in the investigation of climate change, which Powers and his characters would certainly protest against. A development he ignores is the private pursuit of ...

First Movie in the White House

J. Hoberman: ‘Birth of a Nation’, 12 February 2009

D.W. Griffith’s ‘The Birth of a Nation’: A History of ‘The Most Controversial Motion Picture of All Time’ 
by Melvyn Stokes.
Oxford, 414 pp., £13.99, January 2008, 978 0 19 533679 5
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... Autobiography of Malcolm X and Spike Lee’s subsequent biopic, the O.J. Simpson mediathon, and Barack Obama’s ‘A More Perfect Union’ speech, as well as his entire presidential campaign. Taken together, these comprise a multimedia discourse on the mythology of black-white relations in the US. Indeed, as Stokes shows, The Birth of a Nation grew ...

The Vision Thing

Eyal Press: Paul Krugman, 19 June 2008

The Conscience of a Liberal: Reclaiming America from the Right 
by Paul Krugman.
Allen Lane, 296 pp., £20, March 2008, 978 1 84614 107 2
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... the Great Depression had faded, leaving capitalists less interested in placating their workers). Barack Obama has promised to bring in universal health insurance, and Krugman identifies this as the priority for any Democratic president. But neither Obama nor Hillary Clinton has proposed the solution that every other ...

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