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New Bio Looks to Cash In on ‘Obamamania’

If you haven’t heard yet, Sen. Barack Obama is a political rock star. And like any good rock star, the Illinois Democrat is a boon for the publishing industry’s bottom line.

Steve Dougherty’s “Hopes and Dreams: The Story of Barack Obama” comes out this week and kicks off what is sure to be an avalanche of books aimed at tapping into the public’s appetite for the self-described “tall, skinny guy with big ears and a funny name.”

The book, which frequently invokes the rock star comparison, was rushed into print by Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, a purveyor of affordable nonfiction books, because, according to Dougherty, “I think what happened was the publisher realized there were no books about Obama, and he had a feeling he was going to announce.”

The premonition turned out to be correct. Obama officially declared his candidacy for president over the weekend.

Dougherty, who said he wrote the book in three weeks with the help of “a Nexis search” and “everything [Obama] wrote and everything written about him,” has never met his subject, nor did he try to interview him for the 127-page, soft-cover, fanzine-style publication.

The book is chockablock with inspiring photographs (complete with lengthy captions) of Obama in a variety of modes. There’s Obama the serious policy wonk kicking back in his Capitol Hill office, Obama the devout Christian praying in church, Obama the sportsman throwing out the first pitch at a baseball game, Obama the community-minded do-gooder painting a house in New Orleans and, yes, even Obama the hunk, frolicking bare-chested in the surf — so much for Obama’s recent criticism that the media has been obsessed with “how I look in a swimsuit.” The biography recounts Obama’s trajectory from his birth to a Kansan mother and a Kenyan father to his youth in Hawaii to his Harvard Law School days to his emerging political consciousness and forays into elective politics in just five easy chapters, with titles such as “Obamamania,” “Man on the Go” and “Senator Obama Takes Off.”

“It’s mostly a picture book,” Dougherty conceded, aimed at the mass American market. “It says what his supporters love about him and what his detractors say about him.”

The book marks a bit of a departure for Dougherty, who spent nearly two decades on the staff of People and still writes freelance pieces for the magazine. He earlier penned “Amateur Night at the Apollo” with Ralph Cooper, which recounted Cooper’s experiences hosting a weekly amateur night at the famed Harlem theater. Dougherty, who often contributes pieces to The New York Times travel section, is currently working on “a very funny novel” based on “an experience [he] had at a celebrity magazine” that was not People, he said.

Dougherty copped to being a Democrat who has “made the mistake and voted for a Republican a few times,” but he said he didn’t “really know much about” Obama before he started writing the book. Still, he was impressed with what he turned up. “I might even vote for him,” he said.

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