Pioneers: The Frontier Family of Barack Obama

Steve MacDonogh, Author
Stephen MacDonogh, Brandon (Dufour, dist.), $34.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-86322-433-1
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Perhaps we can't blame MacDonogh (Ireland, Open Book: One Publisher's War) for trying to strike while the iron is hot with this look at President Barack Obama's Irish ancestors and their emigration to the United States. And in fact the author does provide vivid descriptions of life in the late 1800s; pioneers traveled west from Baltimore "with trepidation," but without roads or bridges, crossing swollen streams that "demanded of man and horse that they should swim." MacDonogh explains that the cabin built by a distant Obama relative was "20 feet long–the longest maneuverable log length." But MacDonogh seems to include anything he deems relevant to an African-American president, such as Frederick Douglass, "an African-American orator and anti-slavery campaigner," who traveled to Ireland and was, MacDonogh claims, a significant influence on Obama. And the author includes what can only be considered an obligatory chapter on the Irish potato famine. Editorializing ("Inevitably, Barack Obama is experiencing the difficult transition from articulating hopes and aspirations to dealing in the everyday world of politics") should have been left to the pundits. (Dec.)
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