“An insightful study of a president who listened to even his harshest critics with grace and humility.”—The Washington Post
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY GLAMOUR
Every evening for eight years, at his request, President Obama was given ten handpicked letters written by ordinary American citizens—the unfiltered voice of a nation—from his Office of Presidential Correspondence. He was the first president to interact daily with constituent mail and to archive it in its entirety. The letters affected not only the president and his policies but also the deeply committed people who were tasked with opening and reading the millions of pleas, rants, thank-yous, and apologies that landed in the White House mailroom.
In To Obama, Jeanne Marie Laskas interviews President Obama, the letter writers themselves, and the White House staff who sifted through the powerful, moving, and incredibly intimate narrative of America during the Obama years: There is Kelli, who saw her grandfathers finally marry—legally—after thirty-five years together; Bill, a lifelong Republican whose attitude toward immigration reform was transformed when he met a boy escaping MS-13 gang leaders in El Salvador; Heba, a Syrian refugee who wants to forget the day the tanks rolled into her village; Marjorie, who grappled with disturbing feelings of racial bias lurking within her during the George Zimmerman trial; and Vicki, whose family was torn apart by those who voted for Trump and those who did not.
They wrote to Obama out of gratitude and desperation, in their darkest times of need, in search of connection. They wrote with anger, fear, and respect. And together, this chorus of voices achieves a kind of beautiful harmony. To Obama is an intimate look at one man’s relationship to the American people, and at a time when empathy intersected with politics in the White House.
Praise for To Obama
“I cried several times.”—Pete Souza
“Beautifully researched and written . . . A moving and inevitably nostalgic or even elegiac read, redolent of the human grace and statesmanship of the Obama presidency.”—The Guardian
“These stories, when you read them all together, tell the American story. They’re inspirational, they’re frustrating, they’re angry, they’re grateful, they’re resilient.”—Valerie Jarrett
New York Times Magazine contributor Laskas (Concussion) expands her popular article about President Obama's habit of reading 10 pieces of constituent mail each day into a moving narrative of the writers of memorable letters, the people who review and respond to the mail, and the impact of the daily readings on Obama, who said it "sustained" him. At the emotional center of the book are the letters some of which are reproduced between chapters received and sent during Obama's two terms. They range from heartwarming, such as the one beseeching the president to quit smoking, to gut-wrenching, as when a child writes to ask the president to send a child displaced by the Syrian civil war to live with him. In some, constituents express their dissatisfaction and the president makes his case to them, and the public. ("Your cynicism may be a bit misplaced; I know, and similarly care for, a lot of young people like your friend's son.") The cumulative effect of the letters, responses, and the stories behind them is a sucker punch to the heart. This book will leave Obama supporters nostalgic for his tenure in office and readers of all political leanings with a richer sense of America's citizens and their challenges, dreams, fears, hopes and handwriting.