I have just finished reading Barack Obama’s memoirs ‘Dreams from My Father’. I read the Audacity of Hope when it first came out, so I don’t know quite why it has taken me so long to get around to his earlier book but I really loved it.
I know Obama wrote the book before he reached national prominence, but I can’t recall a similar occasion when a President or any politician has written with such honesty and eloquence.
Firstly, it is very well written. Obama has a knack for capturing a particular person or moment. His trip back to Kenya is both sad and funny in equal measure. At times, you sense that he feels isolated and alone but you are really gripped by the journey he is on to discover who he is and where he came from.
Secondly, the memoirs also help to personalise him. When you read of his time on Chicago’s South Side, you suddenly understand what it means for Americans, and in particular African Americans, to see Obama elected. The Bushes, Clintons and Reagan’s didn’t sweat and worry with the poor and the underprivileged in the way Obama did. He doesn’t just empathise with people or ‘feel their pain’, he experienced it. For the first time you understand that his own troubled identity as the son of an African man and a white, American mother gives him a vantage point which is unique amongst American leaders. His experience as a grass roots organizer means he knows what being poor and hopeless can lead people to do. In a perverse way, this gives you confidence and hope that the man sitting in the Oval Office will make the right types of decisions.
You also get the sense that Obama is a different man now from the man who wrote ‘Dreams from my Father’. His professorial, cool demeanour contrasts with the emotive, anxious young man who is in a hurry to get somewhere that he writes about in ‘Dreams…’ This is probably about age and experience but it is interesting to know what he was like before and where he has come from.
Even if you are not that interested in politics, I would still recommend reading this book.