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The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies

3.85  ·  Rating Details ·  740 Ratings  ·  83 Reviews
A narrative thriller about the battle royale surrounding Barack Obama’s quest for a second term amid widespread joblessness and one of the most poisonous political climates in American history.

In this sequel to his bestselling The Promise, Jonathan Alter digs into the back story of the campaign and Obama’s performance as president. This is the most penetrating account of h
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published June 4th 2013 by Simon & Schuster (first published January 1st 2013)
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Jun 12, 2013 Mlg rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
This book is a must read for the political junkies out there. Alter has incredible access to both the inner workings of the Obama and Romney campaigns. He dishes a lot of interesting tidbits of information about who doesn't like who in the campaigns and how they were structured. OFA (Obama for America) really did an incredible job with their digital and tech savvy campaign. For those who volunteered, there is a lot of information that explains their targeted approach to phone banking, and which ...more
Jul 09, 2015 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you were a Romney supporter, skip this one ... just walk on by. Alter admits his bias at the outset, though he promises to be factual in his presentations. He's largely successful in that regard, if not completely.

I had thought it'd be more of an overview of the 2012 race; however, as it's about Obama, the Republican primaries as largely ignored, going from pre-race background almost straight into the summer pre-convention period. Some highlights I found particularly interesting were that the
Douglas Graney
Jul 07, 2013 Douglas Graney rated it really liked it
This is a valuable book. It's both a history of the last two years of Obama's first term and a history of the 2012 presidential election.

The chapter on voter suppression should make Republicans embarassed.

This is not however, a love-letter to Obama. The chapters on his communications skills (or lack thereof) and his dismissive character trait are disconcerting.

If you like reading recent history, pick up this book. Jonathan Alter follows in the path of Teddy White and Jack Germond/Jules Witcover
Jun 25, 2013 Laura rated it really liked it
This one's a good read for the political junkie. Alter dissects the 2012 political campaign the detail. He's clearly an Obama fan, but he reports on the inner workings of both campaigns in a pretty objective fashion. He's particularly good on the contrast between the Obama and Romney "ground games" - the use of data and technology and door-to-door follow-up on their findings. His demographic analysis, while not new given post-election reporting, is also detailed and interesting.
Justin Tapp
Jan 01, 2017 Justin Tapp rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, politics
If you want an extremely detailed account of the 2012 Presidential election, including the context of political news from 2011, from the slight slant of an Obama supporter, this is your book. I tackled this book after David Axelrod's Believer, so this review should be read in the context of the review of both books. This book offers more details than Axelrod's highly-praised work; it's hard to believe his book was about the same period and campaign at times. (I am an American who lived overseas ...more
Jul 07, 2013 Mary rated it liked it
The anecdote that has stayed with me from Alter's THE PROMISE--which I read and reviewed three years ago--was a quote from Barack Obama to the effect that he'd be damned to see Mitt Romney become president in 2013 and take credit for the recovery after he'd had to do all the dirty work back in 2009-10. So of course I wanted to read Alter's account of how Obama and his team prevented that very scenario from playing out. Like the earlier work, this one teeters on the edge of being an insta-book, a ...more
Sep 26, 2013 Zachary rated it really liked it
A good bit of this is a retread. If you kept track of the 2012 election, or the course of US politics after the 2010 election, you will see a lot you already know. However, it does give some interesting details of the inside of the Obama and Romney campaigns. Granted, the author is biased toward Obama, but it is clear that the Obama campaign was even better organized and effective than it seemed at the time, while the Romney campaign was even more of a clumsy mess. The details of how the Obama c ...more
Bonnie Samuel
Nov 02, 2013 Bonnie Samuel rated it really liked it
I read The Promise and was looking forward to a follow-up effort after Obama's first term was over. This volume fills the bill. It's written in a narrative style that's easy to read and hits all the highlights of Obama's re-election campaign. It's really a nice contrast to all the anti-Obama books that fill the shelves. Re-visiting all the events of the 2012 election cycle, we really see how the highly organized, data-driven Obama campaign contrasted with the slap-dash Romney version and how thi ...more
Jul 09, 2013 Tom rated it really liked it
Great read. As painful as it was reliving some of Obama's missteps, it was even scarier to be reminded what it would have been like if Romney had won.
Mar 28, 2014 Kent rated it it was amazing
Alter gives the reader a brief look at U.S. politics in the year-and-half prior to the 2012 election. This setup is to give the reader context, partially, as to why the election turned out the way it did.

Alter's more detailed account of the election itself is really unbiased; pointing flaws by both Obama and Romney. However, Romney, partially due to a long primary fight, ended up making more gaffes, flip-flops, and amateurish mistakes. On top of that, Romney clearly showed he was out of touch w
Rajesh Kurup
Sep 13, 2016 Rajesh Kurup rated it really liked it
Excellent book about that tracks Obama's challenges heading into the 2010 mid-term election and partial recovery leading into the 2012 presidential election. Alter is team Obama and takes the opportunity to put blame- where deserved- onto the Tea Party and the Republican party whenever he can. He also makes it clear that while during many presidential races, the talking heads claim that each race has a generational, long-lasting effect, the 2012 race actually did.

For me the most memorable part
Nov 14, 2013 Libby rated it it was ok
Oh, Jonathan Alter. I know you’re a good writer, truly, I do. But what happened here?

I guess this book was a fun walk down "Campaign Memory Lane.” Sort of. Anyone that has worked his/her butt off to elect a winning political candidate will appreciate the joy of reading a book about what transpired as a result of all those many hours and hard efforts.

But … WTF? This particular book was a hodge podge of thrown together tidbits about the 2012 election. I didn’t personally have “insider info” but,
Nov 10, 2013 Nicki rated it it was amazing
After a somewhat slow start, I really got into this book. It was fun reliving the 2012 election that is in recent memory, with the special gift of hindsight and neat organization into well-themed chapters. Alter contrasts the Romney and Obama campaigns in an educated and well-researched yet entertaining way. The further I read, the more I wanted to keep reading. I found myself near the edge of my seat at times, even though I know how the election turned out. (Obviously, I'm happy with how it tur ...more
Nov 13, 2014 Bookworm rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Same quality as his first book In a "sequel" of sorts to his book about President Barack Obama's first term, Alter once again takes a look at Obama's midterms and second election. It serves as a book end in a way, although we are not at the end of Obama's second term as of this review.

This time, though, we are not looking at a challenger fresh from a historical win. But rather an incumbent who is now fighting to keep his job and fighting to tell the people of the United States why he should be r
Oct 25, 2013 Jeff rated it liked it
I am enjoying this book but I have to confess I have skipped over substantial chunks. The book is organized into relatively short chapters which made it easier to skip the parts I'm not interested in. Don't need to read a whole bunch about the history of Fox News. Ditto Roger Ailes. I haven't gotten to the part about the 47% flap yet.

OK now I'm done and can recommend it as a worthwhile read. As a big Obama supporter it was fun to read of the haplessness of the Romney campaign.

The things I learn
Jul 05, 2014 Sean rated it really liked it
How did Obama win reelection despite a weak job recovery, stagnating family income and what was a bad political climate?

Jonathan Alter does, in my view, a pretty good job of summing it all up for us all. He broke down President Obama and Mitt Romney's campaigns and it was a tale of two campaigns. One was organized and did well with a 21st century digital effort that outreached to targeted voters, demographic groups, and got them out to vote. The other was banking on hate -- and for people to vi
Jul 15, 2013 James rated it it was amazing
Jonathan Alter has authored a number of useful studies, including THE DEFINING MOMENT about the first months of the FDR Presidency and the formulation of the New Deal. That Alter is admittedly a supporter of the Left and admirer of Obama Presidency doesn't prevent him from showing how the internal bickering, deficiencies within the Democratic coalition and in the sometimes shockingly disconnected President nearly led to disaster. This book is an invaluable and exhaustive look behind the scenes a ...more
Harlan Edmonds
Aug 16, 2013 Harlan Edmonds rated it it was amazing
Catnip for politics junkies. Not as novelistic as "Game Change" from 2008, but more detailed and heavily researched. Might be heavy going for the casual reader, but for students of elections it provides a lot of fascinating detail that helps flesh out the reasons that the outcome of the election was so much more decisive than many knowledgeable observers were predicting. The inside story of the incredibly sophisticated, data-driven Obama campaign headquarters in Chicago is worth the price of adm ...more
Fred Forbes
Aug 24, 2013 Fred Forbes rated it really liked it
Some may think Alter, as a member of the "mainstream media" incapable of a balanced approach to this overview of the 2012 election but he manages to pull it off. An in depth look at the methods used by "Boston" (Romney) and "Chicago" (Obama) leads to the conclusion that despite Obama lacking the "schmooze gene" necessary to get the big hitters into one's corner ("He's already got two pictures with me, what does he need another one for?") their superior use of data driven technology and the troop ...more
Jul 07, 2013 Phil rated it really liked it
A very good campaign account in the tradition of Teddy White's Making of the President series. Alter clearly favors Obama, but is still willing to call out the president's personal and political flaws. He also pulls no punches in describing the racism behind much of the opposition to Obama. My only criticism is that Alter may be giving the Obama campaign more credit than is due. There's no evidence that their vaunted edge in tech and field work made much of a difference and Obama's victory may b ...more
Nov 10, 2014 Vivek rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
A good account of the forces that shaped the 2012 Presidential election, as well as some of the highlights of the election itself. Much, much, heavier on what the Obama White House and campaign were doing than on the Republicans, with a clear positive bias towards the Democrats.

As someone who works on campaigns, a lot of the things Alter touches upon (such as his great bit about how the Romney campaign viewed IEs) echoed experiences I've had or otherwise found very believable.

Overall I really e
John Findlay
Dec 02, 2014 John Findlay rated it really liked it
The first of two books I read about the 2012 Presidential election (Double Down was the other) focused more on the exquisite data machine that the Democrats built to identify voters and target their pitches. I found it fascinating, and concluded that the superiority of the Democrats in polling, data management, and getting out the vote was a prime reason for Obama being able to win the election. By contrast, the Republican polls missed their mark and led to a surprise on election night for Romne ...more
Jun 26, 2013 Abben rated it did not like it
Shelves: politics
Too narrative-based, and many sections where it's not clear whether Alter is reporting from sources or engaging in speculation of an irritatingly general sort. This kind of book has a lot of the same turn-your-brain-to-mush characteristics of modern news and reads in large swaths like election-season cable news banter.

Interesting fact I learned: Sheldon Adelson's donations alone were funding half of the pro-Romney Super-PAC ads "by the end" of the campaign. (There again, "by the end" being an ir
Gary Land
Sep 22, 2013 Gary Land rated it really liked it
Although I follow the news regularly and knew about many of the events described in this book, it was helpful to have my scattered memories put into an organized narrative. The background or "inside" information that I knew little about was very interesting and helped give meaning to the more public events. Alter believes that the 1912 election was pivotal, for if Romney had won the social/economic safety net would probably have been unraveled. This is a very interesting book and as "instant his ...more
Aug 26, 2013 Callie rated it it was ok
This man is clearly a fan of Obama (as am I) but that made me less trusting of his reporting. Some chapters were fairly absorbing others extremely tedious, so I skimmed them. Still, I got a cute anecdote from reading it. My kids asked me the title since they can identify Obama and I told them it was 'Obama and his enemies'. My five year old son who is really into fighting asked eagerly, "Who are his enemies, mom?" Before I could reply, my seven year old daughter interjected, "his enemies are Mit ...more
Oct 06, 2013 Chad rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed this book which covered the Obama administration from the 2010 midterm elections through the 2012 election. I was especially interested in the chapters that talked about how Obana's campaign used data to drive its decisions. I also ended up respecting Obama more when reading how he doesn't really enjoy the artificiality of much of politics, be it glad handling donors, debates, sound bites, etc.
Jan 19, 2016 Kinksrock rated it liked it
A very well-written book about Obama's re-election, focusing on the years from the disastrous mid-term election of 2010 to the presidential election of 2012. It is, however, pro-Obama to the extreme, sometimes a ridiculous extreme. If you are anti-Obama and can't stand to hear him praised, steer clear of this book. (I could not have stood to read an equivalent book about George W. Bush.) Even as an Obama supporter, I think that this book could have stood to examine Benghazi more.
Peggy Page
Jun 28, 2014 Peggy Page rated it really liked it
Highly readable account of highlights on the 2012 campaign focused mainly on the Obama team naturally enough. While obviously an admirer of both Obama and his team, Alter is by no means unfair to Romney. I was oddly gratified that he did not make more of Romney's election night inability to believe he had lost. Alter provides a fascinating argument that Big Data may henceforth replace Big Money as the key to electoral success.
Nov 15, 2013 Leanna rated it liked it
I've never read a post campaign accounting before and I am not hot on political books, but I have to say this one was really interesting to me. I feel like I learned many things from this account. Confusion on my part that now has more clarity concerning the way in which many events unfolded and were skewed by the media. I really was interested in the insider account of the White House and it didn't disappoint.
Paul Byers
Nov 08, 2013 Paul Byers rated it it was amazing
This is a great book! It's not just because I love President Obama. This talks a lot about his arrogance and insularity. But it also talks about the massive volunteer effort it took to get him re-elected and the computer savvy his people used to target only the most important voters. Mitt spent tens of millions on commercials and it only wasted the money. Good read!
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Jonathan Alter is an American columnist and senior editor for Newsweek magazine, where he has worked since 1983. Alter is a Chicago, Illinois native and resident of Montclair, New Jersey. He is a contributing correspondent to NBC News, where since 1996 he has appeared on NBC, MSNBC, and CNBC. When the shows were on the air, he could often be heard on Imus in the Morning and The Al Franken Show on ...more
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