I have just finished reading this intensely interesting book and then read all the customer reviews below. The first few reviews were severely critical, if not downright disparaging. They made me think not only about my own reaction to the book but why some other readers would have scorned it.
Having said that, I had planned to begin a review of this book by saying that it was a "must read" for anyone who had been a fervent Obama supporter and was now suffering from disillusionment over Obama's seeming lack of willingness to take on the right wing conservatives in a more combative way such as, for example, going for broke on the health care legislation (i.e. a public option) or drawing a line in the sand on letting Bush tax breaks for the wealthy expire. Then I was going to say that you will discover in this book a deeply principled President in touch with the roots of American history in all its democratic ambiguity.
True enough, but now I should add, if you haven't read the book already, that it is a scholarly "intellectual history" book, focusing on the roots of Obama's "ideas", the "way he thinks" about politics. I am a history buff, especially American history, and in my retirement I delve into religion and philosophy a fair amount. So I "eat up" books like this. I am also an unabashed "liberal intellectual". If you don't fit into any of those categories you might not find this book all that readable. This seems to be the main problem for reviewers who gave 2-3 stars and mocked the book. In the spirit of what I believe is Obama's "way of thinking", I hasten to add that the disparagers of this book all have very valid complaints and their annoyance with the "academic" nature of the book is perfectly reasonable. Many on the right despise Obama's alleged "elitism" and there is enough ample "anti-intellectual" attitude about in America to make Obama a target given his towering intellect.
For the likes of me, however, I found the book a bit eye-opening and even comforting. In an America that is "fracturing" (from a reference to one of Kloppenburg's resources, "Age of Fracture" - which I now want to read) - Obama offers the very "fallibalism" and commitment to democratic debate that is sorely needed. Kloppenburg acknowledges that the jury is still out on whether Obama's Presidency will prove successful or not with this commitment. The intransigent certainty with which the right confronts every policy issue today in their ideological boxes, is daunting to say the least. But at least this book makes clear that Obama is far from naive about what he faces politically from the right.
The basic conclusion and arguments made in this book are well summarized in the reviews that give 4-5 stars. If you fancy yourself a student of history and enjoy a dash of religion and philosophy to whet your intellect and are on the "left" politically, and rather unsure of Obama and whether you can trust him or not, then give this book a read. Otherwise, perhaps you had best ignore it.