In 2002, as he pondered a bid for the US Senate, Barack Obama needed to convince his wife, Michelle, why this was a good idea. Michelle, always down to earth and sceptical, pointed to the likely disruption it would cause. They had a young family. He would be away campaigning and would not be able to practise law. The family finances would take a hit. He answered, to a ‘sharp laugh’, that if he won he would be ‘the only African American in the Senate. With a higher profile, I can write another book, and it’ll sell a lot of copies, and that will cover the added expenses.’ And so it proved.
Since the publication of his bestselling early autobiography, Dreams from My Father (1995), in which he established his identity as the son of a white mother and a Kenyan father who had grown up in Indonesia as well as Hawaii, Obama’s political and literary careers have been intertwined. His personal story connected to the American dream and provided him with a unique and compelling political personality. His way with words, on the page and in front of an audience, allowed him to develop a narrative about himself that became more inspirational the more he achieved.
In a cheeky vignette from his early college days, he describes with embarrassment how much his intellectual pursuits were then geared to the women he was interested in: Marx and Marcuse would help him talk to a ‘long-legged socialist’; he read ‘Foucault and Woolf for the ethereal bisexual who wore