The Size of Others’ Burdens: Barack Obama, Jane Addams, and the Politics of Helping Others

Eric Schneiderhan. Stanford Univ., $26 (256p) ISBN 978-0-80478-917-2
Sociologist Schneiderhan provides a striking but ultimately unsatisfying exploration of the parallels between the lives of Barack Obama and pioneering social worker Jane Addams (1860–1935). He begins with a checklist of their shared traits, including “Chicago activist,” “University of Chicago lecturer,” “winner of the Nobel Peace Prize,” and, of course, “community organizer.” Schneiderhan clarifies that his interest is in how these two figures addressed what he calls “the American’s dilemma”: figuring out how to help others while also achieving happiness for yourself. Obama’s abandonment of the law for community organizing, and then of community organizing for politics, provides one fascinating example. Did he sell out the communities he intended to help, or gain power for the greater good? Was Addams’s lack of political ambition a missed opportunity to do more, or a purist adherence to her original ideals? Schneiderhan touches deftly on these questions, but his parting thoughts are uninspiringly lightweight: “Don’t get comfortable.” “Connect with your neighbors.” “Watch out for selfish reciprocity.” This book does succeed in highlighting, however inconclusively, common themes from the lives of our current president and his predecessor by a century. (June)
Reviewed on: 04/27/2015
Release date: 05/01/2015
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 264 pages - 978-0-8047-9495-4
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