Barack Obama’s Blurb-o-Mat: ‘…Gripping!’; ‘…Best!…’; ‘…Reading!’

The Arts section of Wednesday’s New York Times carried an ad from Vintage Books for the new paperback edition of Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland. Across the top was a banner printed in comical all-caps: “THE NOVEL THAT PRESIDENT OBAMA IS NOW READING.”

Earlier this month, Vintage had bumped up the release date of the new edition of the book in order to capitalize on an endorsement from Barack Obama that had recently appeared in a Times Magazine cover story. The relevant portion of that story, written by David Leonhardt, was reproduced in the Vintage ad: “When I asked [President Obama] if he was reading anything good, he said … ‘Netherland by Joseph O’Neill.’”

It was not quite a blurb—Mr. Obama was not even quoted saying he liked the book, just that he was reading it—but then, that hasn’t stopped publishers from using the president to move a few units in the past.

In November, a few days before the election, Twelve published John Stauffer’s Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, with a big quote on the back cover from The Audacity of Hope, in which Obama testifies to how cool he thinks Lincoln and Douglass were.

The quote in full:

I like to believe that for Lincoln … it was a matter of maintaining within himself the balance between two contradictory ideas—that we must talk and reach for common understandings, precisely because all of us are imperfect and can never act with the certainty that God is on our side; and yet at times we must act nonetheless, as if we are certain, protected from error only by providence.

The best I can do in the face of our history is remind myself that it has not always been the pragmatist, the voice of reason, or the force of compromise, that has created the conditions for liberty. The hard, cold facts remind me that it was … men like Frederick Douglass who recognized that power would concede nothing without a fight.

Pretty solid blurb for John Stauffer from the president of the U.S.A.!

Also good: his endorsement of Reinhold Niebuhr’s The Irony of American History, unwittingly given during an interview with David Brooks in April, 2007 and repurposed on the back of a book jacket by the University of Chicago Press a year later:

[Niebuhr] is one of my favorite philosophers. I take away [from his works] the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction.

As far as we can tell, the last book Mr. Obama actually blurbed before becoming president was for Ted Sorensen’s Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History, published last May by HarperCollins. Mr. Obama—who was joined on the back of the jacket by Robert Caro, Walter Isaacson, Tom Brokaw and Jon Meacham—called Mr. Sorensen’s book “gripping” and “candid,” and praised its author for inspiring a generation and helping to “steer our nation through some of its most difficult hours.”


Barack Obama’s Blurb-o-Mat: ‘…Gripping!’; ‘…Best!…’; ‘…Reading!’