United Summary

Cory Booker

United

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United Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature  detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of United by Cory Booker.

Modeled on such political biographies as Barak Obama’s The Audacity of Hope, former mayor and current US Senator Cory Booker’s United: Thoughts on Finding Common Ground and Advancing the Common Good (2016) is meant to introduce him to an audience outside his native New Jersey – potentially as an eventual candidate for the presidency. Describing his political philosophy and beliefs, it traces his career from a privileged childhood to working with the urban poor, to becoming Mayor of Newark, and then Senator. Using techniques familiar to audiences who have read similar biographies, Booker paints himself as a committed, idealistic optimist, who still manages to understand and learn from his mistakes. What makes United feel different, however, are two things: Booker’s willingness to give a seemingly unvarnished and self-critical examination of his errors of judgment early in his career; and his insistence on paying tribute, by name, to the many non-famous people who have had an influence on him during his time as a politician.

Booker grew up in a well to do family in a suburb of Newark, New Jersey. After high school, he earned a football scholarship to Stanford, where he majored in political science. His academic career’s high point was when he won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University – a mark of academic excellence. After Stanford, Booker attended Yale Law School. With credentials like that, his possibilities – and earning potential – after law school was limitless. But instead of becoming a high-status lawyer, Booker decided to continue the public service work he had been doing while at Yale – working with the poor in New Haven, Connecticut.

After graduating from Yale, Booker moved back to New Jersey and started working as a tenants’ rights lawyer with a non-profit in a poor section of Newark. But he wanted to close the gap between himself and the people he was helping, so he moved into a low-income housing unit near his non-profit’s clients. Booker describes himself at that time as full of naïve hope and idealism – qualities which spurred his dedication, but which could also be weaknesses that made it hard for him to see the reality on the ground. It took a long time for the people in Newark to stop seeing him as a well-meaning but useless carpetbagger and, instead, as a member of the community. Much of United describes the process of getting past the book-smarts he acquired when getting “more degrees than the month of July” and getting a thorough education in the situation in Newark. Post Yale, Booker says that his most revered mentors were not the high-status professors he was used to learning from but, instead, people with the wisdom and the vision to understand their locality.

Despite his years in his rough Newark neighborhood, it was hard for Booker to escape the “carpetbagger” tag when he decided to go into politics. Even his initials, “CB,” could be an abbreviation for the term “carpet bagger” his political enemies and mocking newspaper articles pointed out. Still, Booker successfully ran for a seat on the Newark City Council. But for all his attempts to use his new position to help the same people he had been working for earlier, Booker was an ineffectual councilman. Partly because he simply didn’t understand the levers of power in Newark, and partly because of the almost bizarrely personal vendetta that then-mayor Sharpe James had against him.

In 2002, Booker ran against James for mayor. The campaign was chronicled in the documentary Street Fight, which found evidence that the James campaign was regularly doing illegal things, including threatening the opposition with violence. Booker lost that race. However, when he ran against James again in 2006, he won and became mayor of Newark.

Booker’s eight-year-long mayoralty was considered highly successful. Not only did he use his charisma to give Newark national attention, but he was also able to reduce crime and lower drug use in the long-suffering city. Booker discusses at length his nuanced stance on crime and drug issues. While he is a strong supporter of the ideals promoted by “Black Lives Matter,” going so far once as to bodily intervene when a police officer was about to use excessive force against a black detainee, Booker is also committed to combating the problems that drug use and crime bring with them. One somewhat successful policy he implemented to walk this tightrope was to institute a disruption tent in the middle of a drug-dealing neighborhood to break up the drug trade without violence.

At the same time, although United also touts Booker’s commitment to improving Newark schools, it doesn’t mention at all the debacle of the $100 million donation from Facebook that resulted in a failed attempt at education reform. The gift was highly publicized during Booker’s mayoralty, but merits not even a passing glance in the book.

After his term as mayor was over, Booker relied on the many successes he had achieved to launch his bid for the US Senate. Winning his race in 2013, he became the first black Senator ever elected by the state of New Jersey.

The book ends with an exhortation that explains its title. Booker calls on his readers to work together across party, social and racial lines in order to accomplish the common good – to become a nation united by our common ideals rather than divided by rancor and enmity.