Review: “Joe Biden: The Life, the Run, and What Matters Now” by Evan Osnos

A forty-five-year-old man – white male, father of three – awoke on the floor of his hotel room.

Joe Biden, Prologue opening

Author: Evan Osnos
Publication Date: October 6th 2020
Genre: Politics, Nonfiction
Format: Hardcover
Find it on: Goodreads

Synopsis

A concise, brilliant, and trenchant examination of Democratic Nominee Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s lifelong quest for the presidency by New Yorker political reporter and National Book Award winner Evan Osnos.

Former vice president Joseph R. Biden Jr. has been called both the luckiest man and the unluckiest—fortunate to have sustained a fifty-year political career that reached the White House, but also marked by deep personal losses and disappointments that he has suffered.

Yet even as Biden’s life has been shaped by drama, it has also been powered by a willingness, rare at the top ranks of politics, to confront his shortcomings, errors, and reversals of fortune. As he says, “Failure at some point in your life is inevitable, but giving up is unforgivable.” His trials have forged in him a deep empathy for others in hardship—an essential quality as he addresses Americans in the nation’s most dire hour in decades.

In this concise and trenchant examination, Evan Osnos, winner of the National Book Award, draws on his writings for The New Yorker to capture Biden’s lifelong quest for the American presidency. It is based on lengthy interviews with Biden and on revealing conversations with more than a hundred others, including President Barack Obama, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, and a range of progressive activists, advisers, opponents, and Biden family members.

This portrayal illuminates Biden’s long and eventful career in the Senate, his eight years as Obama’s vice president, his sojourn in the political wilderness after being passed over for Hillary Clinton in 2016, his decision to challenge Donald Trump for the presidency, and his choice of Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate.

Osnos ponders the difficulties Biden will face if elected and weighs how political circumstances, and changes in the candidate’s thinking, have altered his positions. In this nuanced portrait, Biden emerges as flawed, yet resolute, and tempered by the flame of tragedy—a man who just may be uncannily suited for his moment in history.

From Goodreads

Review

Evan Osnos’s Joe Biden is a succinct yet intimate look at the man behind the well known political figure, now the United State’s 46th President. It opens with a human moment. A man suffering from a cranial aneurysm lays vulnerable on the ground. Readers are then whisked forwards in time as Evan greets Biden for their socially distant interview, setting the stage from which to traverse Biden’s history up to now. The story sweeps through Biden’s emotional and political highs and lows in effort to capture not only how the man was forged but how we can expect him to address this new challenging role.

This is a modern book, borne in the bossom of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and political upheaval trying to tear our country asunder. Biden is set as a friendly, approachable character. He may be a lifetime establishment Democrat, but he’s described as authentic and personable by those around him. This book was a good introduction to Biden’s life and revealed some history I hadn’t previously known, having only recently started following politics over the last few years. His prior marriage, the tractor-trailer accident, and aneurysm in particular were stunning. This is a man who has gone through real personal adversities and found the strength to get up every day, which is commendable in and of itself.

Joe Biden was a relatively short and easy read, which was a pleasant surprise given the usual dryness I’ve found in the political genre. I do wish there was a more in depth discussion on his policies, major work, etc. Evan kept it relatively light, perhaps to keep it moving. I also feel a separate personal interview section would have provided more opportunity for connection as well, as opposed to opening in the context of an interview and having it wrap around the story. Overall, however, I can say I wasn’t bored and I learned a few things, which is more than can sometimes be said for other books in the genre. I’d recommend this as a good casual ‘meet Biden’ read for those who want a starting point to get to know him.

Background of cover photo by Tabrez Syed on Unsplash

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