Big Important Piece of the Night: American Narcissus, by Jonathan V. Last of The Weekly Standard

Wow. Just … wow.

The story of Obama’s writing career is an object lesson in how our president’s view of himself shapes his interactions with the world around him. In 1990, Obama was wrapping up his second year at Harvard Law when the New York Times ran a profile of him on the occasion of his becoming the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review. A book agent in New York named Jane Dystel read the story and called up the young man, asking if he’d be interested in writing a book. Like any 29-year-old, he wasn’t about to turn down money. He promptly accepted a deal with Simon & Schuster’s Poseidon imprint—reportedly in the low six-figures—to write a book about race relations.

Obama missed his deadline. No matter. His agent quickly secured him another contract, this time with Times Books. And a $40,000 advance. Not bad for an unknown author who had already blown one deal, writing about a noncommercial subject.

By this point Obama had left law school, and academia was courting him. The University of Chicago Law School approached him; although they didn’t have any specific needs, they wanted to be in the Barack Obama business. As Douglas Baird, the head of Chicago’s appointments committee, would later explain, “You look at his background—Harvard Law Review president, magna cum laude, and he’s African American. This is a no-brainer hiring decision at the entry level of any law school in the country.” Chicago invited Obama to come in and teach just about anything he wanted. But Obama wasn’t interested in a professor’s life. Instead, he told them that he was writing a book—about voting rights. The university made him a fellow, giving him an office and a paycheck to keep him going while he worked on this important project.

In case you’re keeping score at home, there was some confusion as to what book young Obama was writing. His publisher thought he was writing about race relations. His employer thought he was writing about voting rights law. But Obama seems to have never seriously considered either subject. Instead, he decided that his subject would be himself. The 32-year-old was writing a memoir.

via American Narcissus | The Weekly Standard.


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2 Responses to Big Important Piece of the Night: American Narcissus, by Jonathan V. Last of The Weekly Standard

  1. TomPaine says:

    Neither Mr. Last and the poster seem to know anything about ambitious young people. So what if Mr. Obama, still as a student and as a recent grad, flailed around a bit choosing his book topic. So what if he wrote about himself? Obviously, the publisher would have refused to publish the book if they didn’t like what Mr. Obama wrote. And, turns out that his “narcissistic” choice ended up becoming a huge best seller — not exactly bad for the poor publisher.

    Also, there’s really nothing at all unusual about a university paying faculty members to write books. It happens literally all the time. And yes, he WAS “interested in a professor’s life.” He then continued to teach Constitutional Law there. The language in this excerpt shows a transparently overwrought attempt to find fault in something commonly done, completely above board, and truly boring.

    This is really a shallow topic and I’m quite amazed that anyone’s actually discussing it.

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