Book review: 'Inside Obama's Brain,' by Sasha Abamsky

Sunday, February 14, 2010


By Sasha Abramsky

Portfolio. 278 pp. $24.95

Who wouldn't want to know what's rolling around in that presidential noggin? What's he really thinking when he's smiling so cool? And what's he reading on that BlackBerry?

Sasha Abramsky promises us a glimpse in "Inside Obama's Brain." He tells us right away what his book is not: It's not a biography, not political history, not inside-the-Beltway prattle. It is, he says, "a psychological profile writ large." For his inside-the-cranium portrait, Abramsky says he interviewed nearly 100 people whose paths crossed with Obama's: friends, classmates, mentors, next-door neighbors. The author did not, however, talk to the subject of this psychological profile.

Sadly, Abramsky's exploration gives us a lot of familiar-sounding conclusions distilled from previously published material -- including Obama's own books -- mixed with unsurprising perceptions from the interviews. We are re-introduced to Obama's "steely" calm, to his "presence," to his "wide-ranging, intellectual mind."

Perhaps it's too soon to know who this man really is. By the end of the book, Abramsky admits he hasn't discovered any one thing that explains the question he set out to answer: "What makes Barack Obama tick?" Obama, he realizes, is -- guess what? -- "a powerfully driven man, ambitious, intelligent, and charming."

-- Steven Levingston

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