Dreams from My Father

Today’s book is Barack Obama’s memoir, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance.  He wrote it shortly after he graduated from law school, when he attracted attention as the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, and it was reprinted in 2004 after his stunning keynote address at the Democratic Convention. 

I was a big fan of Obama before reading this book (see here and here), and it confirmed my enthusiasm for him.  He writes eloquently of the contradictions of his life — a black man whose only family as a child was white (he only met his father once, when he was 10, and didn’t meet the Kenyan side of his family until he was an adult), a community organizer who had instant credibility in inner city Chicago because of the color of his skin, but who grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia.  And he recognizes the contradictions of others’ lives, but points them out without judgement.  He’s capable of both acknowledging how important Harold Washington’s election as Mayor of Chicago was to many African-Americans and of pointing out how little business as usual changed as a result.

The American Prospect has a cover story on Obama this month.  It notes that he has been — deliberately — low profile in the Senate over the past year, but that he clearly dreams big.  The part I found most interesting was about his ability to disagree with people, to vote against them, and still leave them feeling respected and listened to.  That’s a rare, and powerful, talent.  I’m very much looking forward to seeing what Obama does when he’s no longer worrying about stepping on his colleagues’ toes.

5 Responses to “Dreams from My Father”

  1. Megan Says:

    Thanks for the recommendation — I’ve put the memoir on my ever-lengthening library list.
    I especially appreciated your comment about Senator Obama’s skill at respectful disagreement. That’s unfortunately rare in this day and age; I hope a lot of his colleagues learn from it and lead in the same direction.

  2. amy Says:

    It seems to me you need more than respectful disagreement. If you don’t have the steering hand on the colleagues’ shoulder and the ready balls-squeeze, all that respectful disagreement gets you is, well, my rep. Without making it completely obvious where I am, my longserving rep’s one of the few remaining House Gentlemen, and almost entirely irrelevant. As far as I can make out, the only time anyone drags him out for comment is when they need someone with famous good manners, and when I’ve seen him on C-SPAN, people let him speak, are polite back, then ignore him completely and resume conversation. He’s got a real knack for the not-quite-politically-relevant point.
    Don’t get me wrong, I like the guy. But powerful he ain’t.

  3. Rebecca Says:

    As a former resident of Illinois, you cannot imagine how proud I am to have voted for Barack Obama. In the case of that election, it turned out to be a real no-brainer (the Republican party, after Jack Ryan, their “family values” candidate was revealed to have asked his ex-wife to join him at sex clubs [digressing further into the parenthetical, his ex-wife was Jeri Ryan, and when my husband found that out he was horrified by how foolish that man was], decided that they weren’t yet irrelevant enough and imported Alan Keyes from Maryland to run against Obama), but I am still proud that such an outstanding human being could make it far enough in corrupt Illinois politics to be a contender for the office of senator.
    Regarding Amy’s comment, I get the impression that Obama is quite polite but charismatic enough that he has his hand on their shoulder (figuratively speaking) without them even knowing it.
    If that man ever runs for president he can count on my vote! We need somebody like him to lead us, not the brainless cowboy we have at present.

  4. Sheddean Says:

    I love Dreams From My Father so much. I didn’t need to read that book to fall in love with the person who wrote it. Just the sight of him I felt I know him both as a brother and a friend. The warmth of his smile and the gentleness of his voice is simply amazing. I was so disappointed by Obama’s recent statement of not running in the ’08 presidential election, but whenever he’s ready my vote will be right here waiting for him.
    I truly recommend his book to others. It tells a very touching story about his childhood growing up with a white only family, living in hawaii and then moving to indonesia, life as a college student and the struggle of being young, searching for yourself, and your place in society and much more. I can’t wait for his other books to come out, but until then I’ll be waiting.

  5. Genevieve Says:

    I agree, it was a marvelous book. I think it’s probably better than Obama isn’t running in ’08, because he’d be vulnerable to lots of charges that he’s too new an officeholder and hasn’t accomplished anything big yet – my hope is that he’ll run in ’12 or ’16! Maybe after being IL governor first? Seeing that presidents are so rarely elected right from the Senate.

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