Monday, December 1, 2008

On the coffee table: Life Magazine's "The American Journey of Barack Obama"


I was born to Democratic parents in the waning days of 1969 and I remember well the ubiquitous home decor of my childhood: avocado-colored appliances, macrame wall-hangings and framed photos of President John F. Kennedy and civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. I'm not alone. A lot of folks of a certain age and political persuasion recall walls graced by the visages of these 60s political icons. (Side note: The photos could sometimes be found in the most unlikely places. When my young family moved from an apartment to the home where I grew up, Martin and John were banished from the living room and spent the better part of the 70s on the garage wall.)


The impact that President-elect Barack Obama will have on our world remains to be seen, but it is clear that he already rivals JFK and MLK in one area: The ability to inspire all manner of images, books, films and tchotkes. Forget framed photographs. Today, you can celebrate our 44th president with an Obama dog sweater, an Obama Kennedy half dollar (Go figure.) and an Obama sex toy (Really, I am not joking.). Plus, HBO is working on an Obama documentary to air in 2009. All this and the man hasn't even taken office yet. When searching for Obama keepsakes, it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. But I recently discovered a book about Barack Obama's run for the presidency that is a must-have for anyone who fervently supported the candidate and followed the 2008 election: Life magazine's "The American Journey of Barack Obama" (Little, Brown and Company, $24.99).

For decades Americans have turned to LIFE to see, understand, and remember the most important events and people of our time. Just as LIFE once opened up the glittering Kennedy White House, LIFE now focuses its lens on Barack Obama. The American Journey of Barack Obama covers the candidate from his childhood and
adolescence to his time as editor of The Harvard Law Review and his Chicago activist years, culminating with the excitement and fervor of the historic 2008 Democratic National Convention. The unfolding drama of Obama's life and political career is cinematic in scope, and never has it been presented so compellingly. In addition to a powerful array of photographs that were taken by many of the country's greatest photographers (and some that were snapped, in the quiet moments, by Obama family members themselves), this book also includes a Foreword by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, an incisive narrative biography and original essays by some of our finest writers, including Gay Talese, Charles Johnson, Melissa Fay Greene, Andrei Codrescu, Fay Weldon, Richard Norton Smith, Bob Greene and several others. Many readers will find a new understanding of Obama. All readers will feel that they are bearing witness to a singular, undeniably American story.
"The American Journey" was a hit with my family over the Thanksgiving holiday. Everyone--including my dad, who was responsible for those long ago photos of Kennedy and King on our living room walls--coveted the glossy, hardcover. And it will definitely find its way into a few stockings that I have to fill. If you're looking for one quality commemoration of the 2008 presidential campaign and its eventual winner--"The American Journey" is it.


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