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Loooong Books

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In, I have a long review of famed biographer David Maraniss’s gigantic, obsessively researched book on Barack Obama’s early years. It is supposed to be a pro-Obama book, but …

Perhaps Maraniss’s most striking revelation: virtually nobody who knew Obama in the first quarter of a century of his life ever thought of him as their leader in anything. When he got to Harvard Law School at age 27, he was instantly proclaimed The First Black President. But before then, those who knew him found his passivity and disengagement frustrating. …

Consider Obama’s role in the “Choom Gang” of a dozen potheads at Punahou Prep. You might think that a future Leader of the Free World would inevitably, through sheer force of charismatic personality, exert a disproportionate influence on his fellow teens in their debates over, say, which drug to take next. That’s a pretty low hurdle for leadership skills, right? However: 

“There was not even a designated leader. …. The other members considered Mark Bendix the glue; he was funny, creative, and uninhibited with a penchant for Marvel Comics. … Without exerting himself in overt ways, Barry Obama held as much respect as anyone within the group.” 

Got that? The future Nobel Peace Prize laureate was among the most respected dudes in the Bong Brothers. Granted, Barry was not the glue in the Choom Gang like Mark Bendix was. But he was right up there with any of the non-Bendixian Maui Wowie tokers.

By this point, you may be wondering: “Who was Mark Bendix? And what does this Bendix fellow’s penchant for Marvel Comics have to do with anything?”

Read the whole thing there.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Books, Loooong Books, Obama 
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I’m not ashamed to say that the copies I own of “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” “Life of Johnson,” and “Wealth of Nations” are all shortened greatest hits selections rather than the full length originals by Gibbon, Boswell, and Smith. (Here is P.J. O’Rourke on “Why Is The Wealth of Nations So Damn Long?“) And I wish I had a shorter version of “Tom Jones,” which I tried to reread recently, but gave up with about 700 pages to go.

If I were a high school English teacher, I’d welcome condensed versions of books. They’d be less intimidating to students and they’d take up less time in class, so you can move on to other books. All the economic incentives these days are for publishers to churn out thick books in which readers can wallow in their favorite author’s writing, but classrooms contain a wide variety of tastes, so a class is better off with more shorter books than fewer longer books.

With lots of older books, you could just cut out the descriptive prose. Before visual images became hyperabundant, people had a hunger for mental imagery. So, as late as “The Maltese Falcon” in 1930, you have to endure two pages of description of what Sam Spade looks like, which turned out to be not at all like Humphrey Bogart — Hammett’s Spade is 6’3″ and blond.

And lots of fat books have a thin book lurking inside. For example, Tom Wolfe’s 426-page The Right Stuff could furnish a terrific 125-page biography of Chuck Yeager.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Books, Education, Loooong Books 
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Although I wasn’t the first journalist to notice the contradiction between Barack Obama’s recent campaign image that implies that he is the living embodiment of racial reconciliation versus his racial-animus infused autobiography, I suspect that one of the less obvious reasons I was able to read it for what it is was because, not being a political horserace junkie, I came to the book with fresh eyes. I had never seen his famous 2004 Democratic Convention speech until after I’d read the book, and still haven’t watched his 2007 campaign kickoff stemwinder. Life is too short to spend much of it watching politicians orate. So, most other journalists simply assumed that the 1995 book must have supported Obama’s carefully honed image of 2004 onward, and, in the rare cases where they actually started reading it and noticed that it didn’t, they simply assumed that it must document a massive change of heart by the end of Obama’s endless pages of self-obsessed prose, which they, of course, being bigshot journalists, never quite had time to reach.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Loooong Books, Obama 
Steve Sailer
About Steve Sailer

Steve Sailer is a journalist, movie critic for Taki's Magazine, columnist, and founder of the Human Biodiversity discussion group for top scientists and public intellectuals.

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