Barack Obama was heralded as the next Lincoln before he was even elected. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize without actually having achieved peace anywhere (even in places such as Afghanistan, where peace would be arguably under his control). Cobb has written a lyrical ode to Obama's symbolism: the first black president; the "hip" biracial outsider; the logical successor to Martin Luther King, Jr. Ironically, the book and the President both lack results. Cobb writes beautifully, but he often gets lost in the Obama myth. He's at his most compelling when he leaves the poetry for the pulpit and lets the professor in him take charge (noting, for instance, Obama's astute political calculations, like cutting ties with Jeremiah Wright). Yet his analysis is anything but erudite; Cobb often references pop culture. "In 2002," he recalls, "reporters asked Denzel Washington what it meant for three African Americans to be in contention for the Academy Award. He replied, 'It means that three African Americans are in contention for the Academy Award.' I am tempted to answer the question about the meaning of the black presidency with the same terms." While more hope than substance, Cobb's book is still an eloquent meditation on the meaning of the Obama presidency, all 18 months of it.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
“Clear, concise writing, a conversational tone, and cogent arguments make this a compelling read, particularly for those with an interest in Obama's presidential campaign and election, but also for students of politics, history, and the Civil Rights Movement. ” Library Journal
“Cobb is especially good on the contrast between Obama and Jesse Jackson, whose celebrated work had opened many doors for Obama, but who now failed to inspire most young African-Americans. Obama embodies the facemultiracial and cosmopolitanof the next generation, and his ‘ultimate significance may be less as a president than as a harbinger of what comes after his presidency.' A rich, provocative meditation on the importance of Obama's election.” Kirkus Reviews
“William Jelani Cobb has written a smart and observant reminder of the candidacy and election of President Barack Obama....This little book is packed with common sense observations that are given weight and meaning through Professor Cobb's academic and historical insight.” Melissa Harris-Lacewell, associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University
“Barack Obama's presidential campaign shone an incisive light on the nation's attitudes about race and on the roots of black political empowerment. William Jelani Cobb provides a wealth of historical background and an eloquent appraisal of the present, as he narrates how a grassroots movement and a cadre of young people (the Joshua generation) successfully fought the established political machine for the hearts and ballots of the black community. An insightful and thought-provoking book.” Benjamin Todd Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP
“William Jelani Cobb's The Substance of Hope is a deft analysis of many vectors brought to bear on the unexpected rise of Barack Obama. With a specific eye towards the overlap between race and age, Cobb deconstructs the politics of the civil rights generation in the Obama age with nuance and honesty. A provocative book, from a provocative mind.” Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of The Beautiful Struggle
In this engaging text, Cobb (history, Spelman Coll.; To the Break of Dawn) examines the impact of Barack Obama's presidential candidacy and subsequent election in a way that challenges readers to rethink their ideas of race and racism, identity and citizenship, metaphor and reality. Many believe that Obama's election was the manifestation of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision of our getting to the Promised Land. Cobb puts forth the idea that Obama's ascendancy, 40 years in the making, is the result of a broad transformation among black voters. This sea change—having an African American in the White House—has ironically pushed the architects of the Civil Rights Movement to the margins as we question the meaning of this progress, the implications of progress on America's present and future, and whether our society has really changed with the election of the first black U.S. President. VERDICT Clear, concise writing, a conversational tone, and cogent arguments make this a compelling read, particularly for those with an interest in Obama's presidential campaign and election, but also for students of politics, history, and the Civil Rights Movement.—Eboni A. Francis, Oberlin Coll. Lib., OH
"What does it mean to live in a country where 64 million people voted to make a black man a president?" asks Cobb (History/Spelman Coll.; To the Break of Dawn: A Freestyle on the Hip Hop Aesthetic, 2007, etc.). While time alone will reveal the meaning and impact of Barack Obama's election, the author strives to make early sense of an event of such magnitude that it warranted a New York Times headline ("Racial Barrier Falls in Decisive Victory") in the same 96-point type used for the Apollo moon landing, Richard Nixon's resignation and 9/11. Both an observer and participant in the 2008 election-he was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention-Cobb describes the forces and subtle changes in American society that led to Obama's victory. He notes the election marked the passing of the Jim Crow era; many young African-Americans now first encountered the words "For Colored Only" in museums. Generational hues were apparent in the fact that young people-black and white-were convinced Obama could win. They knew an Obama presidency would not end racism, but would at least "represent a fundamental change in the way this society understands race." Obama waged a campaign against cynicism and challenged people to believe a black man could be president, and voters responded. Obama won more than 95 percent of the black vote, without the support of traditional civil-rights leaders, who were threatened by racial progress and acted like an old-style ethnic political machine in endorsing Hillary Clinton. Cobb is especially good on the contrast between Obama and Jesse Jackson, whose celebrated work had opened many doors for Obama, but who now failed to inspire most young African-Americans. Obamaembodies the face-multiracial and cosmopolitan-of the next generation, and his "ultimate significance may be less as a president than as a harbinger of what comes after his presidency."A rich, provocative meditation on the importance of Obama's election. Author events in New York, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Atlanta. Agent: Charlotte Sheedy/Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency