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In this lyrical, unsentimental, and compelling memoir, the son of a black African father and a white American mother searches for a workable meaning to his life as a black American. It begins in New York, where Barack Obama learns that his father—a figure he knows more as a myth than as a man—has been killed in a car accident. This sudden death inspires an emotional odyssey—first to a small town in ...
In this lyrical, unsentimental, and compelling memoir, the son of a black African father and a white American mother searches for a workable meaning to his life as a black American. It begins in New York, where Barack Obama learns that his father—a figure he knows more as a myth than as a man—has been killed in a car accident. This sudden death inspires an emotional odyssey—first to a small town in Kansas, from which he retraces the migration of his mother’s family to Hawaii, and then to Kenya, where he meets the African side of his family, confronts the bitter truth of his father’s life, and at last reconciles his divided inheritance.
Obama, the son of a white American mother and a black African father, writes an elegant and compelling biography that powerfully articulates America's racial battleground and tells of his search for his place in black America. 8 pages of photos.
Preface to the 2004 Edition
Almost a decade has passed since this book was first published. As I mention in the original introduction, the opportunity to write the book came while I was in law school, the result of my election as the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. In the wake of some modest publicity, I received an advance from a publisher and went to work with the belief that the story of my family, and my efforts to understand that story, might speak in some way to the fissures of race that have characterized the American experience, as well as the fluid state of identity — the leaps through time, the collision of cultures — that mark our modern life.
Like most first-time authors, I was filled with hope and despair upon the book’s publication — hope that the book might succeed beyond my youthful dreams, despair that I had failed to say anything worth saying. The reality fell somewhere in between. The reviews were mildly favorable. People actually showed up at the readings my publisher arranged. The sales were underwhelming. And, after a few months, I went on with the business of my life, certain that my career as an author would be short-lived, but glad to have survived the process with my dignity more or less intact.
I had little time for reflection over the next ten years. I ran a voter registration project in the 1992 election cycle, began a civil rights practice, and started teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago. My wife and I bought a house, were blessed with two gorgeous, healthy, and mischievous daughters, and struggled to pay the bills. When a seat in the state legislature opened up in 1996, some friends persuaded me to run for the office, and I won. I had been warned, before taking office, that state politics lacks the glamour of its Washington counterpart; one labors largely in obscurity, mostly on topics that mean a great deal to some but that the average man or woman on the street can safely ignore (the regulation of mobile homes, say, or the tax consequences of farm equipment depreciation). Nonetheless, I found the work satisfying, mostly because the scale of state politics allows for concrete results — an expansion of health insurance for poor children, or a reform of laws that send innocent men to death row — within a meaningful time frame. And too, because within the capitol building of a big, industrial state, one sees every day the face of a nation in constant conversation: inner-city mothers and corn and bean farmers, immigrant day laborers alongside suburban investment bankers — all jostling to be heard, all ready to tell their stories.
A few months ago, I won the Democratic nomination for a seat as the U.S. senator from Illinois. It was a difficult race, in a crowded field of well-funded, skilled, and prominent candidates; without organizational backing or personal wealth, a black man with a funny name, I was considered a long shot. And so, when I won a majority of the votes in the Democratic primary, winning in white areas as well as black, in the suburbs as well as Chicago, the reaction that followed echoed the response to my election to the Law Review. Mainstream commentators expressed surprise and genuine hope that my victory signaled a broader change in our racial politics. Within the black community, there was a sense of pride regarding my accomplishment, a pride mingled with frustration that fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education and forty years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, we should still be celebrating the possibility (and only the possibility, for I have a tough general election coming up) that I might be the sole African American — and only the third since Reconstruction — to serve in the Senate. My family, friends, and I were mildly bewildered by the attention, and constantly aware of the gulf between the hard sheen of media reports and the messy, mundane realities of life as it is truly lived.
Just as that spate of publicity prompted my publisher’s interest a decade ago, so has this fresh round of news clippings encouraged the book’s re-publication. For the first time in many years, I’ve pulled out a copy and read a few chapters to see how much my voice may have changed over time. I confess to wincing every so often at a poorly chosen word, a mangled sentence, an expression of emotion that seems indulgent or overly practiced. I have the urge to cut the book by fifty pages or so, possessed as I am with a keener appreciation for brevity. I cannot honestly say, however, that the voice in this book is not mine — that I would tell the story much differently today than I did ten years ago, even if certain passages have proven to be inconvenient politically, the grist for pundit commentary and opposition research.
What has changed, of course, dramatically, decisively, is the context in which the book might now be read. I began writing against a backdrop of Silicon Valley and a booming stock market; the collapse of the Berlin Wall; Mandela — in slow, sturdy steps — emerging from prison to lead a country; the signing of peace accords in Oslo. Domestically, our cultural debates — around guns and abortion and rap lyrics — seemed so fierce precisely because Bill Clinton’s Third Way, a scaled-back welfare state without grand ambition but without sharp edges, seemed to describe a broad, underlying consensus on bread-and-butter issues, a consensus to which even George W. Bush’s first campaign, with its “compassionate conservatism,” would have to give a nod. Internationally, writers announced the end of history, the ascendance of free markets and liberal democracy, the replacement of old hatreds and wars between nations with virtual communities and battles for market share.
And then, on September 11, 2001, the world fractured.
It’s beyond my skill as a writer to capture that day, and the days that would follow — the planes, like specters, vanishing into steel and glass; the slow-motion cascade of the towers crumbling into themselves; the ash-covered figures wandering the streets; the anguish and the fear. Nor do I pretend to understand the stark nihilism that drove the terrorists that day and that drives their brethren still. My powers of empathy, my ability to reach into another’s heart, cannot penetrate the blank stares of those who would murder innocents with abstract, serene satisfaction.
What I do know is that history returned that day with a vengeance; that, in fact, as Faulkner reminds us, the past is never dead and buried — it isn’t even past. This collective history, this past, directly touches my own. Not merely because the bombs of Al Qaeda have marked, with an eerie precision, some of the landscapes of my life — the buildings and roads and faces of Nairobi, Bali, Manhattan; not merely because, as a consequence of 9/11, my name is an irresistible target of mocking websites from overzealous Republican operatives. But also because the underlying struggle — between worlds of plenty and worlds of want; between the modern and the ancient; between those who embrace our teeming, colliding, irksome diversity, while still insisting on a set of values that binds us together, and those who would seek, under whatever flag or slogan or sacred text, a certainty and simplification that justifies cruelty toward those not like us — is the struggle set forth, on a miniature scale, in this book.
I know, I have seen, the desperation and disorder of the powerless: how it twists the lives of children on the streets of Jakarta or Nairobi in much the same way as it does the lives of children on Chicago’s South Side, how narrow the path is for them between humiliation and untrammeled fury, how easily they slip into violence and despair. I know that the response of the powerful to this disorder — alternating as it does between a dull complacency and, when the disorder spills out of its proscribed confines, a steady, unthinking application of force, of longer prison sentences and more sophisticated military hardware — is inadequate to the task. I know that the hardening of lines, the embrace of fundamentalism and tribe, dooms us all.
And so what was a more interior, intimate effort on my part, to understand this struggle and to find my place in it, has converged with a broader public debate, a debate in which I am professionally engaged, one that will shape our lives and the lives of our children for many years to come.
The policy implications of all this are a topic for another book. Let me end instead on a more personal note. Most of the characters in this book remain a part of my life, albeit in varying degrees — a function of work, children, geography, and turns of fate.
The exception is my mother, whom we lost, with a brutal swiftness, to cancer a few months after this book was published.
She had spent the previous ten years doing what she loved. She traveled the world, working in the distant villages of Asia and Africa, helping women buy a sewing machine or a milk cow or an education that might give them a foothold in the world’s economy. She gathered friends from high and low, took long walks, stared at the moon, and foraged through the local markets of Delhi or Marrakesh for some trifle, a scarf or stone carving that would make her laugh or please the eye. She wrote reports, read novels, pestered her children, and dreamed of grandchildren.
We saw each other frequently, our bond unbroken. During the writing of this book, she would read the drafts, correcting stories that I had misunderstood, careful not to comment on my characterizations of her but quick to explain or defend the less flattering aspects of my father’s character. She managed her illness with grace and good humor, and she helped my sister and me push on with our lives, despite our dread, our denials, our sudden constrictions of the heart.
I think sometimes that had I known she would not survive her illness, I might have written a different book — less a meditation on the absent parent, more a celebration of the one who was the single constant in my life. In my daughters I see her every day, her joy, her capacity for wonder. I won’t try to describe how deeply I mourn her passing still. I know that she was the kindest, most generous spirit I have ever known, and that what is best in me I owe to her.
Posted September 2, 2008
I had a very difficult time reading through this book. After I finally finished I felt like the whole book was about trying to make 'white people' feel bad about being 'white' and trying to make 'black people' feel like they should blame 'white people' for all the things wrong in the world. It angered me that he writes in the Forward how much he loves his mother and respects her, but it seemed that the whole book he was either criticizing her or not talking about her at all. I didn't understand how he could start out saying what a great influence she was and then not talk about her at all. It sounded to me that he wanted to forget that he even had caucasian relatives. With every turn of the page it what 'white people' this, 'white people' that . . . talk about sterotyping a whole race.
40 out of 82 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 30, 2007
I got it at the library and read the book because of all the buzz and adoration the author was receiving lately. I found it a sad memoir about a little boy always longing for an absent father. Psychologically speaking, Mr. Obama follows a typical path for those that have absent fathers at a young age. The author barely discusses a mother on whom he seems to have emotionally turned his back, as well as his elders in Hawaii. That doesn't speak well to me of his respect and admiration for the women or elderly in his life. There was not much mention of his time in Africa or what he did there. I found that odd since he was desperate to get there. There's a bit of mystery shrouding his experiences there that left me wanting to know more. It also seemed Obama has never outgrown idealizing his absent father and still puts this major deadbeat Dad on a pedestal. There is almost like a buried anger there at someone looking for an outlet. Overall, I did not care for the book. I felt it attmpted to manipulate the reader into feeling a certain way about the author. It is as if who he is is not who he is, but rather crafted by his psyche as who he wants us to see now.
30 out of 57 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 9, 2009
This is a great book to show the true nature of our President. It was written years ago before he entered politics. It was written by request. A publishing company offered Obama the opportunity to write an autobiography after they heard of his election as the first African American President of the Harvard Law review, a relatively conservative publication, and also heard about the interesting life story he had.<BR/><BR/>A must-read for anyone interested in Obama or politics, on the right, left or center. I recommend the hard cover. The ink and paper is not toxic smelling and the print is easy to read. It is a better deal than the paperback for the money. Great gift. Gave one to my mother and brother who are both republicans and they enjoyed it.
27 out of 36 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 16, 2008
Obama writes even better than he speaks, if you can believe it. As if his eloquence in speech wasn't enough, the man knows how to lay down some seriously beautiful words on paper. And what often struck me as campaign rhetoric before (like his ideas about "change" and "hope"), I now think he honestly believes in, after reading this very frank memoir. According to him, affecting "change" is also a very personal journey, in which he's constantly trying to find a society in which someone like him can truly belong. <BR/><BR/>Though he harbors similiar doubts about what it means to be a black man in America like Ellison and Wright, Obama never goes down Invisible Man or Bigger territory. He learns to accept all aspects of his experience, from his childhood overseas to his at-times frustrating run as a community organizer in Chicago to a final enlightening and deeply moving moment in front of his father's grave in Africa.<BR/><BR/>Obama's search for identity (and the perspectives he's gained through his ties to Indonesia and Kenya) will speak to anyone who straddles more than one culture - whether through race, upbringing, or simply from living on other shores.
25 out of 36 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 17, 2008
Posted September 4, 2008
I read this book because I wanted to know more about Obama. I wanted (and expected) to like him, but unfortunately I was disappointed. This book has a very whiny, 'poor me' kind of tone. Not to say that black people don't have a tough time, but there seems to be a lot of blaming 'the white man' and 'white folks' in general. News flash: we 'white folks' don't just sit around plotting how we can make black folks' lives difficult.
20 out of 44 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Too much fluff!
This book could have fit into 100 pages instead of 450 pages. There is just too much unimportant description. It is obviously written by a novice writer trying to show off his vocabulary.
The whole thing is about an angry young black (1/2 black) man's growing up in the "white Man's World" and of how everything wrong is "The Fault of The White Man. This should have been required reading for anyone who voted for this communist.
Barry's plan, all along, has been to take from the hardworking and give to the lazy.
Please buy something else from Barns and Noble they are a fine company but don't send any money to this creep.
19 out of 42 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 14, 2008
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All presidential candidates should have to write a book of this caliber to run for office. This is a vivid, deeply affecting portrait of the next possible leader of the free world. His writing is great and his experiences make him stand out from other politicians. I sincerely hope people read this to learn more about this great man.
16 out of 28 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 30, 2008
Quite frankly, I really didn¿t like this book that much. In fact, it was almost painful to read at times. I mean, it was really well written, I like Obama's writing, but it just seemed to lack a force to drive the story forward. There was no action or suspense that made you want to read more. In other words, it was kind of boring. <BR/> It¿s a very emotional story, Obama gets deep into his thoughts and feelings, and by the end of the book you start to understand him. The problem is, the emotion isn¿t reached until the end of the book. For the first half of the book, I could barely even understand what the conflict was. Plus, the emotions are all mixed together with a lot of unnecessary information. The book is almost like a bad biography at times.<BR/> The story is separated into three parts: Origins, Chicago, and Kenya (or, as I like to call them, Confusing, Boring, and Slightly Interesting, since the story does get better at the end). The first part jumps around to several different time periods in Obama's life, making it very hard to understand what¿s going on. The second part has a lot of thought and philosophy in it, but it also has a lot of boring and random information. The third part is pretty good; it¿s understandable, full of emotion, and, for the first time in the book, enjoyable to read.<BR/> But the book isn¿t all bad. Obama¿s writing still is pretty unique, and I find it to be very effective. He uses some cool punctuation in his sentences that add variety to his writing, and is good at using his broad vocabulary in the writing. There were a lot of times that I didn¿t have a clue what some words meant, and I have a fairly decent vocabulary. All in all, Obama is a good writer.<BR/> Now, I am a high school student, and this book is more of an adult book. So, that might be why I don¿t particularly like it. But still, I¿ve read more adult books before, and I liked, and understood, them. But, for whatever reason, I really just don¿t like this book.
13 out of 20 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 9, 2008
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An amazing read. Very well written. It's refreshing to see a politician with the drive for artistry. This biography reads more like a novel, in that it is amazingly written. The only drawback is that it reads very slow, there's so much information to take in, despite the quality of the writing. Pleasantly suprised. Did I mention well written?<BR/><BR/>----------------<BR/><BR/>Oh my god!!! Hooray for humanity!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
10 out of 18 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 25, 2008
I expected a more balanced, articulate read. Mr. Obama plays the race card early in the book stating that 'white people brought their dogs to the black street to defecate' when he lived in NYC Give me a break. Let's get past this type of nonsense.
10 out of 22 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 13, 2008
I've admired Barack Obama's intelligence and leadership abilities for years, but it wasn't until I read this book that I realized the depth of his experience.<BR/><BR/>This is an engrossing book that is well written. It also lends a significant amount of insight into the life and experiences that brought Barack Obama to this place in history.
9 out of 15 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 31, 2008
In 1995, after finishing law school, Barack Husein Obama published DREAMS FROM MY FATHER: A STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE. In 2006 Senator Obama issued his second book, THE AUDACITY OF HOPE. In its Acknowledgements, he thanked his editor Rachel Klayman for persuading Random House/Crown Publishing to reissue DREAMS FROM MY FATHER 'long after it had gone out of print' 'p. 363'. *** Given the Senator's meteoric rise in public consciousness since his 2007 presidential bid, it might be decades 'if ever' before DREAMS FROM MY FATHER goes out of print again. This book is a classic coming of age memoir. As sinning as a young Saint Augustine, as believing in his special God-ordained positioning at birth as the future Cardinal Newman, Barack Obama mulls over his racial antecedents, his place in time and his need to understand what made him himself and where those facts might lead him. *** His white grandparents and his mother did all the heavy lifting of raising Barack Hussein Obama. They were not religious people. His anthropologist mother showed caring but detached appreciation of religion as a cultural force. Obama's Kenyan father, whom the youngster barely knew, had been reared muslim but had become an atheist. Barack senior called himself Barry when he came to study in Hawaii on a scholarship. And until his college years family and friends called young Barack Barry as well. *** DREAMS FROM MY FATHER is a much and well reviewed book. There is therefore little for me to add to what others have already noted. Striking is how self-centered, or better, self-centric, Barack Hussein Obama is. He himself recognized that early on. Close friends threw it up to him: he had to see everything in terms of how it related to Barry/Barack. He was constantly asking himself: who am I? At one point he decided that if he could only understand his black Kenyan father, he would understand his mixed-race self. His heroic image of his gifted father was, however, challenged when Barry/Barack traveled to Kenya for the first time just before going to Harvard law school. He saw very clearly then his deceased father's unheroic side, his clay feet, his failures, his amours. *** Young Obama's social work with black churches in Chicago convinced him that to be effective with them he had to join one -- which one, a pastor advised him, was not important. There were, Barack became convinced, effective limits to dealing with churches from the outside as a detached anthropologist. He sketches the impact upon him of Rev. Jeremiah Wright and his sermon, 'the audacity of hope' '292ff'. This was about Hannah in the Book of Samuel, a meditation on a fallen world. Barack wept to see a congregation thanking God for all their troubles. The author lays out what attracted him to be baptized into Trinity United Church of Christ: including Reverend Wright's emphasis on scholarship and blackness. Senator Obama returns to the theme of religious conversion in Chapter Six, 'Faith' in his book issued eleven years later, THE AUDACITY OF HOPE. *** Barack Obama developed a sense that God wanted him to start life both white and black. But it would be his personal choice which side to emphasize. At one point 'I was too young to know that I needed a race' 'p. 27'. The race he chose in Chicago was black. And membership in a black Chicago Protestant church socialized and gave a transcendental framwork to insights both into who he was and what steps he could take to be of use of other men of other colors. *** Take up this book. Open its pages. There is something in it for everyone. -OOO-
9 out of 18 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 23, 2009
Hard to review now with the knowledge that Bill Ayers wrote it. (confirmed by new book on the Obama marriage).
The praise given Barack is not deserved. He LIED.
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Posted November 5, 2008
Dreams from My Father provides remarkable insight into Senator Barack Obama's struggle for identity and ultimate reconciliation with his place in his family and society. The book chronicles the experiences that inform the President-elect's vision and policies, at the same time as it provides a beautifully written memoir of self-discovery.
8 out of 14 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 5, 2010
The book was clearly an attempt for Barack Obama to generate money. It was full of incorrect and conflicting information.
Not a credible or interesting book.
7 out of 12 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 30, 2009
This is the closest you can get to meeting President Obama without meeting him personally. He introduces you to himself from the beginning to the present day. You appreciate his journey and come to trust him more as the President. You understand where he is coming from when he gives a speech better than before having read the book. I was able to relate to him and his family issues. This man has been analyzing budgets and organizing people to help themselves since before Law School and remained true to his mission. Where once his father's name was laughed at when he was down and out, now his name is known EVERYWHERE and held in high regard. While his father comes off as being a proud fool, his manner had purpose. Through his stubborn pride he gave his children something to believe in, he made them strong. He stood up for what he believed in even to his own detriment. That strength of character we now see was passed on to his children as one of them is OUR PRESIDENT. His mother gave him a sense of adventure and the courage to go where his heart lead him and to follow the opportunities that got him where he is today; that nothing good came easy. He was taught acceptance and tolerance. He has touched many lives and continues to do so. I have less than 100 pages to finish and I cannot even begin to tell you EVERYTHING I got out of this book. He is definitely a thinker and that is what he makes you do. THINK. This should be required reading for Seniors in High School. It will help them to make good career decisions and to understand how important starting from the ground up is. And how important it is to know where you come from and to remember where you came from so that you always know who you are and how to get to where you want to be through hard work and perseverance.
7 out of 14 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 24, 2008
What can i say that besides this is a great man we have as a president!!!! In this book he really tells about his childhood and family. This book is good to know alittle more about how he grew up and gotten into politics. He is a very intelligent man.Obammmmaaaa
6 out of 15 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 25, 2008
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I enjoyed reading this book. I like how Mr. Obama was trying to find the pieces to his reality puzzle and wanting that father bonding when he was a child. I also loved the ancestral stories of his father's family and background. Some people thought this book was similar to The Color of Water, but to me they are different in thier own way.
6 out of 13 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
I have thoroughly enjoyed reading Dreams from My Father written by Senator Obama. It is such an inspiring and an enlighten book. It allows you to see the real person that Senator Obama is, as well as, that he is also "human.¿ I recently had the pleasure of meeting Senator Obama in person and having my picture taken with him. Even though we briefly talked, Senator Obama made me feel that that I was and what I had to say was important to him. I will be giving this book as gifts to family and friends for birthdays, holidays, and special occasions. I recommend this book to all, as it gives you an idea of who Senator Obama really is. I know that my Father, who is in heaven, is looking down on Senator Obama and wishing him well. I wish him and his family well.
6 out of 15 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.