Remnick quotes Obama's long-time Chicago political ally Valerie Jarrett recalling Obama's 1990s in Chicago (p. 274):
"... I think that he has never really been challenged intellectually. ... So what I sensed in him was not just a restless spirit but somebody with such extraordinary talents that they had to be really taxed in order for him to be happy." Jarrett was quite sure that one of the few things that truly engaged him fully before going to the White House was writing Dreams from My Father. "He's been bored to death his whole life," she said.
Later, after Obama got elected to the U.S. Senate [p. 444]:
The truth was, David Axelrod told me, "Barack hated being a senator." Washington was a grander stage than Springfield, but the frustrations of being a rookie in a minority party were familiar. Obama could barely conceal his frustration with the torpid pace of the Senate. His aides could sense his frustration and so could his colleagues. "He was so bored being a senator," one Senate aide said. ...His second book, a polemical memoir / campaign kickoff book, has nine chapters, an epilogue, and a prologue. So, apparently, Obama devoted about three months to writing the book while also serving as Senator. In comparison, his first book took several years, some of it full time.
His friend and law colleague Judd Miner said, "The reality was that during his first two years in the U.S. Senate, I think, he was struggling; it wasn't nearly as stimulating as he expected." ...
The one project that did engage Obama fully was work on The Audacity of Hope. He procrastinated for a long time and then, facing his deadline, wrote nearly a chapter a week.
In other words, it's safe to conclude that he had a lot of help from staffers and others on his second book. You can compare it to Sen. Jim Webb's recent book, A Time to Fight, which is much less polished than Obama's Audacity. Webb has a considerable track record as a novelist, but you get the sense that he felt the taxpayers were paying him to be a Senator, not a writer, so, in contrast to Obama, Webb didn't put his best efforts nor those of his staff into his book.
This was not your average senator writing a book," one aide said. "His whole soul went into it, so it meant that there was less of him to go around elsewhere. In the office, he was distracted. He wasn't thrilled to be living the life of a senator, even on the best of days. The job was too small for him -- because his mind was on systemic change, not on votes.
"So he was punching the clock during the day then coming alive at night to write the book," the aide went on. "The book was about a mortgage and cashing in on the success of the first book. And the book was a way to think through who he was what he stood for."
The funny thing, of course, is that for all of his acolytes' claims that Obama is bored because his mind is always on higher, intellectual things, he seems to spend a huge amount of time doing the same things George W. Bush did: watching ESPN SportsCenter, exercising, and playing golf.
There is very little evidence in his life of systematic grappling with ideas beyond developing the ability to restate each side's current position in an eloquent fashion so that people will shut up and not keep repeating themselves to him as if he doesn't get it or as if he'll change his mind.
Dreams is a literary work, with a sense of style but quite weak analytic content. Audacity is a polished but shallow positioning of himself for the 2008 election. He avoided debate with colleagues at the U. of Chicago. What else has he written? A few dozen op-ed columns for his local newspaper when he was a state senator.
The overall picture is of a facile, not particularly hard working egoist whose chief intellectual and aesthetic interest is himself.