This impressive if gratuitously snarly biography is clearly intended to break the 44th president’s monopoly on his personal narrative ... In Garrow’s take-no-prisoners telling, the charismatic president-to-be subordinates his every breath — and his love life — to a politically expedient journey-to-blackness narrative ... Sex sells. But this deeply reported work of biography could easily have done without it. Rising Star seems to include every human being who came within arm’s length of the young president-to-be. The depth of detail allows the reader to see familiar parts of this story with fresh eyes.
Rising Star is exhaustive, but only occasionally exhausting. Garrow zooms his lens out far, for instance when he recounts the evisceration of Chicago’s steel industry in the early 1980s, providing useful context for Obama’s subsequent work. And he goes deliciously small-bore, too, delving into the culture of the Illinois statehouse, where poker was intense and infidelity was rampant ... Rising Star concludes with Obama announcing his presidential campaign, and Garrow speeds through his presidency in a clunky and tacky epilogue, in which he recaps the growing media disenchantment with Obama and goes out of his way to cite unfavorable reviews of earlier biographies.
...a dreary slog of a read: a bloated, tedious and — given its highly intemperate epilogue — ill-considered book that is in desperate need of editing, and way more exhausting than exhaustive ... In the absence of thoughtful analysis or a powerful narrative through line, Garrow’s book settles for barraging the reader with a cascade of details — seemingly in hopes of creating a kind of pointillist picture. The problem is that all these data points never connect to form an illuminating portrait ... Whereas the rest of the book is written in dry, largely uninflected prose, the epilogue — which almost reads like a Republican attack ad — devolves into a condescending diatribe unworthy of a serious historian ... It’s odd that Garrow should seize on one former lover’s anger and hurt, and try to turn them into a Rosebud-like key to the former president’s life.
Rising Star is Garrow's attempt to crack that template, and he does so with a book as heavy as a paving brick and about as subtle as one heaved through a picture window ... Garrow puts great faith in the memories of Obama's onetime girlfriend, Oberlin professor Sheila Miyoshi Jager, whose three-year relationship with Obama is treated with as much seriousness as the decision to kill Osama bin Laden ... Each page crackles with the strength of his research, and the footnotes groan with great detail. It's a prodigious work, and one that will provide the foundation for any serious Obama biographer in the future. It shows the depth and richness of Obama's life ... Garrow's research cries out for a discerning editor.
...a 1,460-page haute-tabloid tome ... The author relies heavily on interviews with a former girlfriend, Sheila Miyoshi Jager, with whom Obama lived in the 1980s, as if that relationship were the key to understanding his personality ... Observers of the Obamas' 25-year marriage will find the characterization of their romance as merely political plainly out of touch.
Many of Garrow’s assertions can and will be argued for years to come. What is sure to rankle Obama about the scathing assessments in Rising Star is the author’s pedigree and perspective. David Garrow won a Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Martin Luther King Jr., played a significant role in the landmark PBS documentary of the American Civil Rights Movement, Eyes on the Prize, and has written and edited other significant works documenting the struggle for racial equality ... Garrow carefully and convincingly reveals how Obama’s well-regarded memoir is much more a work of historical fiction than a true account of its author’s life ... On the other hand, Garrow makes readers suffer through piffle ... For readers able to trudge those mundanities, Rising Star delivers insight and clarity on Obama’s enigmatic personality and his inner war between idealism and what one former intimate described as his ruthless ambition.
At 1,076 pages of narrative and 270 more of notes, this firehose of primary research will be foundational to future Obama biographers, but it is hardly the book for casual readers. Like many painstakingly thorough biographers, Garrow appears to have included any fact he uncovered, however tangential it might be. Nonetheless, it is a surprisingly compelling read and should appeal to political junkies and insiders ... There is much to parse through, but it does sometimes seem that Garrow’s analysis strains in a molehill-to-mountain attempt to illustrate what he sees as Obama’s central lack of character or moral compass.
Almost 1,500 pages, this is unwieldy, both to handle and to read in its obsessive and sometime repetitive detail ... Biographers need not like their subjects, of course, but what Garrow’s hefty tome mostly adds up to is a sour experience for readers and, apparently, for the writer.
The result is a convincing and exceptionally detailed portrait of one man’s self-invention ... Casual readers may well find the level of detail here overpowering, but political history buffs will be fascinated.
Leaving aside the psychobiographical speculations, however, the core of this book is eminently solid, a thorough turning over of just about every stone, from the poor behavior of Obama’s father in the U.S. to the sound and fury of Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers. Too long by half but consistently readable—an impressive work that will provide grist for the former president’s detractors and admirers alike.