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.