It’s good to admit when you get things wrong. For a start, I assumed I’d hate this book. Jeanne Marie Laskas has combed through the letters sent to Barack Obama in the White House, plus his answers, to compile a history of his administration through the eyes of ordinary people. Yuck. The pitch made me think of my visit to the White House in 2009, when I was led past countless photos of the demigod Obama – Obama opens a library, Obama milks a cow, you get the idea – and marvelled at the mixture of innocence and vanity. Couldn’t they see that Obama was just a good speaker? Wasn’t it obvious that he didn’t actually have a clue what he was doing?
Well, now it’s a decade later and Obama looks very different. Like a lot of traditionalists, I thought Obama was a radical. I now realise he was actually rather conservative – and what more proof do you need than the fact that he wrote letters? By hand!
Laskas’s book is full of lovely details. George Washington, apparently, opened and answered his letters personally; he only got about five a day. Franklin D Roosevelt in the 1930s received half a million a week. By the end of his presidency Nixon refused to read anything negative about