One of the most frustrating aspects of how Behind the Smile, Jeannie Morris's behind-the-scenes story of the victorious 1992 U.S. Senate campaign waged by Carol Moseley Braun, has been received by reviewers is what I'd call the head-scratching element. By this I mean some reviewers' stated curiosity about why this book is being published, now, in 2015, telling as it does a story more than 20 years old now.
Here are three immediately apparent reasons why Behind the Smile struck us here at Agate as an important book. One: Last time we looked, Braun was still the only African American woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate. Her story is of indisputable historic significance. Two: President Barack Obama has stated that Braun's 1992 campaign was an important precursor to his own underdog victory for the same Illinois seat in 2004, when he first became a national figure. How and why Braun won in 1992 has much to do with why Obama ultimately bested two favored opponents twelve years later. And three: when the early favorite for the 2016 presidential election is another woman who's been exhaustively criticized for her relationship decisions, Braun's story is an important cautionary tale about the fraught ways Americans feel about the romantic lives of women in power.
Fortunately, this terrific piece by the Chicago Tribune's Rick Kogan gives Behind the Smile and its author their due. His essay is a great place to start if you want to learn more about this fascinating and important new book.