AERICA LOOKS DIFFERENT from the other side of the Atlantic. As I watched the twists and turns of the presidential campaign in the fall of 2008, I was following the drama from a distance. Living in England, lecturing to students at the University of Cambridge on the American political tradition, and trying in countless informal conversations to explain the unexpected emergence and election of Barack Obama, I began to see connections that had eluded me. Reading and rereading Obama’s books, listening closely to his speeches, and thinking about the dynamics of American culture that made possible his rise to the presidency, I began piecing together the patterns traced in this book.
Barack Obama’s intellectual and political persuasions emerged from a particular matrix, formed not only from his personal experience but also from the dynamics of American history. Obama’s sensibility was shaped both by the period of his own intellectual formation—the years between his birth in Hawaii in 1961 and his ascent to national prominence with his election to the United States Senate in 2004—and by the longer history that stretches from the Puritans to the present. Perhaps because I was thinking about Obama simultaneously in relation to my