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The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama
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The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama

3.61 of 5 stars 3.61  ·  rating details  ·  238 ratings  ·  49 reviews
In The Breakthrough, veteran journalist Gwen Ifill surveys the American political landscape, shedding new light on the impact of Barack Obama’s stunning presidential victory and introducing the emerging young African American politicians forging a bold new path to political power.

Ifill argues that the Black political structure formed during the Civil Rights movement is gi
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Hardcover, 288 pages
Published January 20th 2009 by Doubleday (first published January 1st 2009)
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Community Reviews

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Beth Oppenlander
I find that perhaps the book is even more relevant 5 years after it was first published than it was during the height of the euphoria many felt about Obama's political victory. In an age where race once again is becoming a commonly discussed issue, the concept of breaking through toward real reform is profound. The book is easy to read and candidly discusses the strengths and weaknesses of the racial divide in politics. In Ifill's own words, "Perhaps breakthroughs are on the verge of becoming en ...more
Keith
An extended blog post masquerading as a book. So much more could have been done with this book but it again highlights the dangers of insta-history.
Kaara
The introduction was fairly scattered and stream-of-consciousness, but once Ifill settled in to tell the stories she found, I was completely absorbed and interested. Her style is conversational, casual yet controlled, and detached, as a journalist should be, but with enough occasional passing personal commentary to remind the reader of Ifill's unique vantage point to the phenomenon she is exploring.

The two most interesting points she elaborated on, in my mind, had to do with a) the generation ga
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Andy
A fascinating look at the "post-civil rights" generation of African American politicians in light of Obama's primary and general election victories. In one chapter, Ms. Ifill looks at the issues the up-start generation of black pols had "snatching the torch" from the established civil rights leadership of the African American community. In another, she documents the internal conflict felt by many African American women during the 2008 Democratic primary of whether to cast a historic vote for Hil ...more
Glen Demers
This is the book that got Ms. Ifill in trouble as she prepared to moderate the Vice presidential debate. All in all, it's less about Barack Obama and more about the new "Joshua generation" of African-American leaders. Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark, NJ, Deval Patrick, Governor of Massachusetts, Artur Davis, Alabama congressman in the House of Representatives and many others are profiled. This new group of politicians has not necessarily made the marches, fought to be served at lunch counters or be ...more
Minnie
I read this book from time to time when things settle down with my writing. I love it that I can look back from today's political scene and see what Gwen Ifill predicts in this book for the future of politics. What caught her off guard was the election of Barack Obama as President of the U.S.A. I have to say she wasn't the only one. And some folks are still trying to "get over it." IMO, politics is a stage play of comedy and tragedy and all politicians the actors. I think she captures that well. ...more
Continualknowledge
Gwen Ifill gives a cursory overview of several "breakthrough" black politicians across the United States. By breakthrough she means those African Americans in positions across the country that we wouldn't expect to find black politicians (mayors, governors, and in some instances congressmen). Ifill mentions quite a few names that we would expect (Deval, Booker, Franklin and Sellars). She talks about how these politicians rose to power against the established Civil Rights politicians and this is ...more
Gary Miller
T

How far along have we come in regard to race and politics and how does one measure success?

A poll done in 1958, more than half of Americans said they would not vote for a black candidate. Ifill gives us the history of how we got from 1958 to electing our first African American president.

During the last presidential campaign Obama went to the Boston Commons in Massachusetts and stood there with the governor of the state. They raised their hands in the air as thousands cheered. The bandstand, whe
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Crease
Let this review serve as an open letter to Ms. Gwen Ifill:

Ms. Ifill,

I found this book on Amazon for $4.00 USD...and I have never felt more guilty by a purchase. I owe you AT LEAST 20 more dollars.

The intimacy, skill and nuance with which you approach not just the subject of black politics in America but also the generational differences between those scions of the civil rights movement and todays "New Age" black politicians is outstanding. Each and every profile taught me something about the su
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Jeremy
This book was a great disappointment. It failed to teach me much of any utility or freshness. Written almost entirely from journalistic sources, and based on a lot of interviews, it is a staid, standard, static analysis of racial politics, lacking originality and courage, as well as solid prose. Just to give you an example of what awaits you as a reader--her great analytic insight is "sandpaper politics". What's that? The friction that arises when one generation gives up power to the next, or on ...more
BooksAndTea
I really wanted to like this more than I did. Conceptually it's a good read: going over the rise of black politicians from names like Obama to Patrick to Booker, as well as some rising stars like Kamala Harris or Kasim Reed. The book also covers some bases like the intersection with gender as well.

But, overall the style is stilted and difficult to get through. There were a few chapters that I found interesting when discussing the successes and stumbles of African American politicians. But I foun
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Carol/Bonadie
Long a favorite new commentator of mine, Gwen Ifill is as sharp in print as she is on television. She uses the backdrop of the election of the first African American president to explore the dichotomy between the previous generation of civil rights activists (Jesse Jackson, Jr., Al Sharpton, Andrew Young, et al) and the current and up-and-coming generation of black activists and politicians (Harold Ford, Jr, Corey Booker, et al). She draws distinctions between the outlook of those steeped in the ...more
Larry Zieminski
Gwen Ifill's book is a very well written look at the current state of African-American politics. It highlights the current crop of black leaders and shows how they view themselves and their place in American politics. The most interesting aspect of the book is the apparent division between the civil rights era leaders and the current leaders, who view their roles differently. While Obama's election is a pivotal moment in race relations in America, the book doesn't really focus on him alone, but ...more
Larisha
Gwen Ifill examines both old members and young members of politics who have made breakthroughs in their own right, and she leaves the reader thinking about how race will continue to play out as a factor in politics. Without pressing a singular opinion throughout the book, she presents both quotes and interviews from others establishing ground for us to form our own opinions and ideas.

Breakthrough is insightful and interesting, capturing a topic that would surely intrigue anyone living in the age
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John
Jun 18, 2009 John rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: African-American interest and political junkies
The first part likely meets expectations better - how the presidential race was seen in the black community, with the strongest chapter being the race vs. gender "quandry" of the primary season among African-American women. Second half consists of a sort of "Who's Who in Black Politics", almost entirely male, which Ifill admits in the brief audio postscript interview she found disturbing.
She does better than many authors in reading her own work (admitting in the interview it was a tough job); th
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Amir Powell
I would love to know what Ms. Ifill thinks now after seeing Mr. Obama's presidency.
Stephanie
Very dated, even just a few years out.
Shanley
Gwen did an excellent job with this book. It was a compelling and interesting read. Though many of the issues may not be all that new, she provided a more in-depth review of the many perspectives of race in politics than I have seen in a single piece elsewhere. I loved the chapter on race and gender, and I thought that the profiles of the new generation of government leaders were really interesting. I appreciated learning about some of the inspiring people in state and local government that don' ...more
Julie Johnson
I found this to be a very well researched & unbiased book on modern politics by this journalist. I learned a lot, esp. about some of the new upcoming figures, and particularly one who may be running for governor in AL. where I live. Written shortly before Obama was elected, it gives one a better understanding of the fine line that politicans and voters face when it comes to race/gender issues and differences between the civil rights generation and current one. Leaves the reader with question ...more
Sheila
Jun 16, 2009 Sheila added it
Recommends it for: Sarah, Tim, Micah, Sherri
I waited for my turn to get this book from the library for months...it was worth the wait. A very quick read. Ifill did interviews with a lot of up and coming African American politicians in addition to President Obama and tracks their paths to leadership in a very interesting way. I only wish she had featured--or even mentioned--Keith Ellison. The chapter on how these new young leaders deal with the continual question of whether they are "black enough" or "too black" is worth reading all by its ...more
Bill
I really enjoyed this book. I think Ifill captured this new generation of politicians' quandary between serving the black community and the larger population quite well. She also did well describing the ambivalence the Civil Rights generation towards these new leaders. I wish she would've delved more into Kwame Kilpatrick, though. As the exception to the perceived rule of this new generation, I think his plight could've been far more illuminating than this book gives it credit.
Shawanna
If you want to brush up on the who's up and coming in the world of black politicians, this is the book for you. Ms. Ifill gives a background on politicians form the civil righst movement on up to today, highlighting today's new leaders. The book was published around election time 2008. She also gives some information on the conficts between the old guard politicians/civil rights leaders and the new jacks (Obama, Fenty, Booker and Jealous).
Mary Kathryn
PBS's Gwen Ifill brings her razor-sharp intellect to Obama's contemporaries, the post-Civil Rights era black politicians whose appeal extends beyond black and white. She profiles Artur Davis, Cory Booker and Deval Patrick, focusing on legacy politics, generational divides, and the race-gender clash. Along the way, we also learn about key black women politicians such as Shirley Chisholm, Carrie Meek, Donna Brazile, Kamala Harris and Karen Bass.
Zach
It was interesting reading this book at the beginning of this election cycle. It reminded me of several things I forgot about from 2008. The book examines this generation of black politicians who have benefited from the civil rights struggle, but whose identity isn't defined by it. Ifill examines the conflict between the previous generation and today's. There are chapters on Deval Patrick, Corey Booker, Artur Davis and Barack Obama.
Kelly
Lacking a noticeable thesis or even a narrative thrust, this one was a little disappointing.
Darrell Fisher
This was a very insightful book. It breaks down the difference between black leaders during the civil rights era and leaders today. Many during the time of martin Luther King and others have a extremely different view of where our country is and are resistance to a new paradigm. This book highlights the differing opinions of both eras

If you are interested in the politics of Black America this is a good book to read
Mary
A fascinating portrait of AfroAmericans in politics and the "new way" they see their core mission. The first person to "nail" my conflict between Clinton and Obama during the campaign(I'm sixty and female)and ended up supporting Obama. I liked the decoding of many events that I only partially understood but emotionally felt at the time.








Sarah
I thought Ifill had a lot of insight in the first several chapters, but her momentum kind of slowed down by the end. She also overused the metaphor of "sandpaper politics" in my opinion. But I enjoyed reading especially her account of the 2008 presidential campaign. Read as a campaign book or a book about Obama, this is quite satisfying.
MariAn Nyce
Excellent read of the many African American persons who have contributed to the place in history we are now experiencing - an African American President. Gwen is a journalist on PBS and hosts the show - Washington Week in Review - weekly. Very knowledgeable - she hosted one of the debates during the primary campaigns.
Amy
I just gave up 50 pages in. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood, but really, it was pretty dry...

I've started picking through this book and I'm not quite sure what I think yet. It's weird hearing Gwen Ifill's snarky tone after being so "objective" on News Hour. We'll see...
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