“With Young Mr. Obama, Edward McClelland finishes what The Bridgestarted, showing how Obama navigated Chicago political life, which can be as rough as a Blackhawks game… McClelland’s book is long on reporting and narrative, and short on meditation and analysis – for which readers can be thankful…. For the many Americans who remain fascinated with the American president, Young Mr. Obama makes for insightful, enlightening reading, a worthy supplement to Remnick’s book and a valuable contribution to the record on the 44th president.”
“So the question was whether this is just another Obama book. The answer is no. The great strength of the book lies in it coverage of the early years…. delving into all this breaks new biographical ground and will function as a solid foundation for future books on the subject. The book is a must-read for all Obama political junkies who want to know more for it does significantly advance the historical record regarding his younger years.”
McClelland’s ending to the first chapter, “And if Harold Washington had never been mayor of Chicago, Barack Obama would not have become president of the United States” pretty much defines the series of events that would transpire in providing Obama with the platform to grow into a political personality. Moving backwards in time, McClelland does a great job illustrating how the gerrymandering of Chicago’s First Congressional District and the emergence of early 20th century black leaders such as Oscar DePriest and William Dawson established strong foundations for black leadership to emerge in Chicago and across Illinois, well before it became accepted elsewhere. Coupled with the “if-it-plays-in-Peoria” demographics of Illinois, the stage was long being set within the state for the emergence of not a national black leader (of which the city has produced many, most prominent being Jesse Jackson), but a national leader who also happened to be black.
For McClelland, Obama is a man of startling ambition, moral elasticity and calculating pragmatism. “He was convinced,” the veteran journalist scathingly writes, that “he could work alongside Chicago politicians while not becoming one himself, as long as he maintained a sense of higher purpose. This is a common delusion among officeholders, especially those as idealistic as Obama.” He continues that “disloyalty and opportunism were becoming Obama’s modus operandi as he grasped for higher office.” Yet, in the end, McClelland forgives his subject many of his flaws. He appears to believe that the sense of hope Obama’s rise engendered was in and of itself a transformative phenomenon; that in succeeding to organize impoverished South Siders back in the 1980s, he helped to revitalize impoverished Chicagoans’ political and civic imaginations; and that in getting elected to the U.S. Senate and then, in quick succession, to the presidency, Obama brought a sense of possibility to huge, and historically disempowered, swatches of the American public.