A review of the new book “Joe Biden” by Evan Osnos

This is not so much a biography as an extended profile written by a staff writer on the “New Yorker” and adapted from an occasional series of articles written by the author for the magazine. It was rushed out for publication the week before the presidential election of November 2020 on the assumption that Biden would win the presidency which, of course, he did. So the book is both short (167 pages) and topical. 

Osnos quotes Biden’s friend Ted Kaufman:

“If you ask me who’s the unluckiest person I know personally, who’s had just terrible things happen to him, I’d say Joe Biden. If you asked me who is the luckiest person I know personally, who’s had things happen to him that are just absolutely incredible, I’d say Joe Biden.”

So, on the one hand, Biden had to contend with a childhood stutter which is not entirely absent now; days after his first Senate victory, he lost his wife and baby daughter in an horrific car accident which also injured both his sons; at the age of 45, he suffered a cranial aneurysm which resulted in him being in hospital for three months and out of action for seven months; he lost his elder son to a form of brain cancer; and his younger son has struggled with addiction to drugs and alcohol. Politically he made two very poor runs for the Democatic nomination for presidency. 

On the other hand, Biden was elected to a Senate seat for Delaware, still only 29 on election day but (as required) 30 by the time he actually took his seat; his long service in the Senate included chairing the Foreign Relations Committe; he spent eight years as Vice-President to Barack Obama; and, when he ran for the Democratic nomination for the presidency a third time, he finished a distant fourth in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire before winning South Carolina by 29 points and on Super Tuesday taking 10 out of 14 states; and, in the actual election for the White House, Trump’s card of a strong economy was wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Osnos recalls some of the many political mistakes made by Biden including opposing bussing, drafting the 1994 Crime Bill, and supporting the invasion of Iraq. He refers often to Biden’s verbosity and proneness to gaffs: “a harrowing tendecy to put his foot in his mouth”. But Osnos admires Biden’s resilence in the face of so much personal tragedy and he quotes lots of ancedotes underlining Biden’s humanity and empathy. 

The tone of this book is: cometh the hour, cometh the man. Osnos hints that, in spite of Biden’s unlikely assendency to the post of POTUS and him being the oldest person to move into the office, given his special qualities and the remarkable times Biden could turn out to be a far more progressive and successful president than one might have ever imagined and that “for a people in mourning, he might offer something like solace, a language of healing”. Let’s see … let’s hope …


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