Joe Biden is a paradoxical figure. He’s been well-known in US politics for the best part of 50 years, joining the senate in 1973. He ran as President twice. He served as Barack Obama’s Vice President for years and even became a pretty popular internet meme for a while.
And yet, to many, he’s a bit of an unknown figure. It’s hard to pin down his political beliefs, which have often shifted with the times. In the opening stages of the Democratic contest, he seemed doomed to fail, being portrayed as a has-been by more progressive candidates.
But then, he shocked everyone, including probably himself. He won the Democratic nomination and eventually beat President Trump, during an economic crisis and global pandemic. Many believe that Biden’s blank slate politics and love of compromise is what set him up to beat Trump – he was the only competent candidate to unite the Democrats and win over those swing republicans.
But, reading Osnos’ short, well-researched biography, we learn Biden is not the politician you might think him to be. Prone to gaffes, with a fiery temper as testy as Trump on occasion, Biden has an iron will, and the political skill to get things done when he wants them to be. He’s also prone to gaffs, and has an emotional openness rare to most politicians.
His life has often been tragic; the chapter on the death of his wife and daughter is heartbreaking to read. So too is the death of his son Beau, made all the more appalling by the toxic political attacks on his other son Hunter, which Osnos covers in some detail.
His arrival in the Senate is fascinating, so too are the past scandals around plagiarism, and how he dealt with a stutter which affected him so harshly when growing up. It’s also interesting to hear about the Biden family – a marked contrast from the Trump clan.
This book is not an exhaustive biography, and it is very much a short summary of Biden’s life before the Presidency, with interesting thought given to what a Biden president will look like, informed by interesting interviews with Biden himself, his family and other political figures, including Barack Obama.
It remains to be seen of course wether or not history will judge Joe as a transformational President ala FDR, or a cautious repeat of the Obama administration. But if you’re looking to find out more about the man who is now tasked with making the United States united again, this is a book I’d recommend.