Washington Post Review: A Joe Biden Biography with a Few Surprises

Inauguration of Joseph R. Biden | Jonathan Newton, Washington Post | January 20, 2021

JOE BIDEN: The Life, the Run, and What Matters Now | Evan Osnos | BUY BOOK


Review by David Greenberg | Washington Post | October 23, 2020

“Biden also possesses, in Osnos’s portrait, shrewder political judgment than he’s normally given credit for. The author shows that Biden, unlike many 2020 rivals, understood that the Democrats had made gains in the 2018 congressional elections by winning over moderates and mobilizing liberals, not by awakening dormant, untapped cadres of left-wingers. The Democratic newcomers to Congress in 2019 largely hewed to traditional FDR-through-Obama liberalism, not Bernie Sanders-style democratic socialism. Outliers like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar did not mirror the typical 2018 voter.

In other words, what some analysts mistook as a clamor for revolution was really just a reversion to common sense — the sort of common sense on which Biden went on to base his 2020 campaign. As he jockeyed for position against Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg and Mike Bloomberg during the primaries, he by and large stuck to his basic principles. He didn’t chase after the Twitter left — or, refreshingly, show much awareness of what was happening on Twitter at all…” more

ABOUT THE BOOK

FINANCIAL TIMES BEST BOOK OF 2020

A concise, brilliant, and trenchant examination of Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s successful lifelong quest for the presidency by National Book Award winner Evan Osnos.

President-elect 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 leads America toward recovery and renewal.

Blending up-close journalism and broader context, Evan Osnos, who won the National Book Award in 2014, draws on nearly a decade of reporting for The New Yorker to capture the characters and meaning of 2020’s extraordinary presidential election. 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 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 faces as his presidency begins and weighs how a changing country, a deep well of experiences, and a rigorous approach to the issues, 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.

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