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That essay was penned by Coates, then a freelance writer who reached for the rhetorical heights of James Baldwin while mired in poverty and personal failure off the page. Nearly a decade later, Coates stands as the standard-bearer of skeptical black intellectualism.

We Were Eight Years in Power is named for an excerpt of a speech made by Reconstruction-era congressman and civil rights advocate Thomas Miller, as a political resurgence of secessionists primed the country for the Jim Crow Era.

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Between chapters, Coates reflects on his growth as a writer and a father, from the ignominy of his academic and financial failures to his ascension as the intellectual successor to James Baldwin. We Were Eight Years in Power is a brilliant reflection, and perhaps a hefty primer for the uninitiated.

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But there is something dated about it, even within the recently written chapter interludes. The timing of this book about Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone could not be better. Now his reputation is up for sale in an extravagantly critical, deeply salacious biography that offers up a gold mine of gossip.

Author Joe Hagan, a former Rolling Stone intern, portrays Wenner over the years as an omnivorous glutton, a bisexual harasser, a cokehead, an alcoholic, a spendthrift and a cheapskate, and a corrupt shill for celebrities, who would betray his idols and could give Donald Trump lessons in narcissism. They never spoke again. But ex-wife Jane—who remained devoted to Jann even after he came out of the closet and left her for a young man in —is the most intriguing character.

Horse kidneys with raw onions? Smoked monkey? No, thanks.

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After all, his year odyssey through every country on the planet can hardly be labelled the definition of self-imposed limitations. Some of the tugs on the noose, however, were self-inflicted. The introverted President, despite his gift for oratory, turns out to be far from a natural politician. The Obamas spent most of their social time with two couples, Marty Nesbitt and Anita Blanchard, and Eric and Cheryl Whitaker, all of whom had a lot in common with the Obamas: sports-loving, high-achieving doctors, business people African-Americans from modest backgrounds who shared a suspicion that others saw them as undeserving beneficiaries of affirmative action and who worked all the harder for that.

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Often one would drop in on a weeknight and have a game of pool with Obama. Neither ever talked politics with the President, unless Obama started the conversation, which he rarely did. But between Rahm Emmanuel, the foul-mouthed deal-maker, and wary idealist Michelle, there was a chasm.


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Three years after the family arrived in the White House, Barack Obama has opened his re-election year in an more polarized America, with approval ratings hovering south of 50 per cent. Michelle Obama, dedicated to his cause despite her ambivalence about politics, may yet have reason to ponder the truth of her conviction. Filed under: bookmarked Jodi Kantor The Obamas.


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