The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream

The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream

by Barack Obama


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307237705
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 11/06/2007
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 10,022
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

BARACK OBAMA is the 44th President-elect of the United States.

Read an Excerpt

The Audacity of Hope

By Barack Obama

Random House

Barack Obama

All right reserved.

ISBN: 0307237699

Chapter One


It's been almost ten years since I first ran for political office. I was thirty-five at the time, four years out of law school, recently married, and generally impatient with life. A seat in the Illinois legislature had opened up, and several friends suggested that I run, thinking that my work as a civil rights lawyer, and contacts from my days as a community organizer, would make me a viable candidate. After discussing it with my wife, I entered the race and proceeded to do what every first-time candidate does: I talked to anyone who would listen. I went to block club meetings and church socials, beauty shops and barbershops. If two guys were standing on a corner, I would cross the street to hand them campaign literature. And everywhere I went, I'd get some version of the same two questions.

"Where'd you get that funny name?"

And then: "You seem like a nice enough guy. Why do you want to go into something dirty and nasty like politics?"

I was familiar with the question, a variant on the questions asked of me years earlier, when I'd first arrived in Chicago to work in low-income neighborhoods. It signaled a cynicism not simply with politics but with the very notion of a public life, a cynicism that–at least in the South Side neighborhoods I sought to represent–had been nourished by a generation of broken promises. In response, I would usually smile and nod and say thatI understood the skepticism, but that there was–and always had been–another tradition to politics, a tradition that stretched from the days of the country's founding to the glory of the civil rights movement, a tradition based on the simple idea that we have a stake in one another, and that what binds us together is greater than what drives us apart, and that if enough people believe in the truth of that proposition and act on it, then we might not solve every problem, but we can get something meaningful done. It was a pretty convincing speech, I thought. And although I'm not sure that the people who heard me deliver it were similarly impressed, enough of them appreciated my earnestness and youthful swagger that I made it to the Illinois legislature.

Six years later, when I decided to run for the United States Senate, I wasn't so sure of myself.

By all appearances, my choice of careers seemed to have worked out. After spending my two terms during which I labored in the minority, Democrats had gained control of the state senate, and I had subsequently passed a slew of bills, from reforms of the Illinois death penalty system to an expansion of the state's health program for kids. I had continued to teach at the University of Chicago Law School, a job I enjoyed, and was frequently invited to speak around town. I had preserved my independence, my good name, and my marriage, all of which, statistically speaking, had been placed at risk the moment I set foot in the state capital.

But the years had also taken their toll. Some of it was just a function of my getting older, I suppose, for if you are paying attention, each successive year will make you more intimately acquainted with all of your flaws–the blind spots, the recurring habits of thought that may be genetic or may be environmental, but that will almost certainly worsen with time, as surely as the hitch in your walk turns to pain in your hip. In me, one of those flaws had proven to be a chronic restlessness; an inability to appreciate, no matter how well things were going, those blessings that were right there in front of me. It's a flaw that is endemic to modern life, I think–endemic, too, in the American character–and one that is nowhere more evident than in the field of politics. Whether politics actually encourages the trait or simply attracts those who possess it is unclear. Lyndon Johnson, who knew much about both politics and restlessness, once said that every man is trying to either live up to his father's expectations or make up for his father's mistakes, and I suppose that may explain my particular malady as well as anything else.

In any event, it was as a consequence of that restlessness that I decided to challenge a sitting Democratic incumbent for his congressional seat in the 2000 election cycle. It was an ill-considered race, and I lost badly–the sort of drubbing that awakens you to the fact that life is not obliged to work out as you'd planned. A year and a half later, the scars of that loss sufficiently healed, I had lunch with a media consultant who had been encouraging me for some time to run for statewide office. As it happened, the lunch was scheduled for late September 2001.

"You realize, don't you, that the political dynamics have changed," he said as he picked at his salad.

"What do you mean?" I asked, knowing full well what he meant. We both looked down at the newspaper beside him. There, on the front page, was Osama bin Laden.

"Hell of a thing, isn't it?" he said, shaking his head. "Really bad luck. You can't change your name, of course. Voters are suspicious of that kind of thing. Maybe if you were at the start of your career, you know, you could use a nickname or something. But now... "His voice trailed off and he shrugged apologetically before signaling the waiter to bring us the check.

I suspected he was right, and that realization ate away at me. For the first time in my career, I began to experience the envy of seeing younger politicians succeed where I had failed, moving into higher offices, getting more things done. The pleasures of politics–the adrenaline of debate, the animal warmth of shaking hands and plunging into a crowd–began to pale against the meaner tasks of the job: the begging for money, the long drives home after the banquet had run two hours longer than scheduled, the bad food and stale air and clipped phone conversations with a wife who had stuck by me so far but was pretty fed up with raising our children alone and was beginning to question my priorities. Even the legislative work, the policy-making that had gotten me to run in the first place, began to feel too incremental, too removed from the larger battles–over taxes, security, health care, and jobs–that were being waged on a national stage. I began to harbor doubts about the path I had chosen; I began feeling the way I imagine an actor or athlete must feel when, after years of commitment to a particular dream, after years of waiting tables between auditions or scratching out hits in the minor leagues, he realizes that he's gone just about as far as talent or fortune will take him. The dream will not happen, and he now faces the choice of accepting this fact like a grown-up and moving on to more sensible pursuits, or refusing the truth and ending up bitter, quarrelsome, and slightly pathetic.

Denial, anger, bargaining, despair–I'm not sure I went through all the stages prescribed by the experts. At some point, though, I arrived at acceptance–of my limits, and, in a way, my mortality. I refocused on my work in the state senate and took satisfaction from the reforms and initiatives that my position afforded. I spent more time at home, and watched my daughters grow, and properly cherished my wife, and thought about my long-term financial obligations. I exercised, and read novels, and came to appreciate how the earth rotated around the sun and the seasons came and went without any particular exertions on my part.

And it was this acceptance, I think, that allowed me to come up with the thoroughly cockeyed idea of running for the United States Senate. An up-or-out strategy was how I described it to my wife, one last shot to test out my ideas before I settled into a calmer, more stable, and better-paying existence. And she–perhaps more out of pity than conviction–agreed to this one last race, though she also suggested that given the orderly life she preferred for our family, I shouldn't necessarily count on her vote.

I let her take comfort in the long odds against me. The Republican incumbent, Peter Fitzgerald, had spent $19 million of his personal wealth to unseat the previous senator, Carol Moseley Braun. He wasn't widely popular; in fact he didn't really seem to enjoy politics all that much. But he still had unlimited money in his family, as well as a genuine integrity that had earned him grudging respect from the voters.

For a time Carol Moseley Braun reappeared, back from an ambassadorship in New Zealand and with thoughts of trying to reclaim her old seat; her possible candidacy put my own plans on hold. When she decided to run for the presidency instead, everyone else started looking at the Senate race. By the time Fitzgerald announced he would not seek reelection, I was staring at six primary opponents, including the sitting state comptroller; a businessman worth hundreds of millions of dollars; Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's former chief of staff; and a black, female health-care professional who the smart money assumed would split the black vote and doom whatever slim chances I'd had in the first place.

I didn't care. Freed from worry by low expectations, my credibility bolstered by several helpful endorsements, I threw myself into the race with an energy and joy that I thought I had lost. I hired four staffers, all of them smart, in their twenties or early thirties, and suitably cheap. We found a small office, printed letterhead, installed phone lines and several computers. Four or five hours a day, I called major Democratic donors and tried to get my calls returned. I held press conferences to which nobody came. We signed up for the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade and were assigned the parade's very last slot, so that my ten volunteers and I found ourselves marching just a few paces ahead of the city's sanitation trucks, waving to the few stragglers who remained on the route while workers swept up garbage and peeled green shamrock stickers off the lampposts.

Mostly, though, I just traveled, often driving alone, first from ward to ward in Chicago, then from county to county and town to town, eventually up and down the state, across miles and miles of cornfields and beanfields and train tracks and silos. It wasn't an efficient process. Without the machinery of the state's Democratic Party organization, without any real mailing list or Internet operation, I had to rely on friends or acquaintances to open their houses to who ever might come, or to arrange for my visit to their church, union hall, bridge group, or Rotary Club. Sometimes, after several hours of driving, I would find just two or three people waiting for me around a kitchen table. I would have to assure the hosts that the turnout was fine and compliment them on the refreshments they'd prepared. Sometimes I would sit through a church service and the pastor would forget to recognize me, or the head of the union local would let me speak to his members just before announcing that the union had decided to endorse someone else.

But whether I was meeting with two people or fifty, whether I was in one of the well-shaded, stately homes of the North Shore, a walk-up apartment on the West Side, or a farmhouse outside Bloomington, whether people were friendly, indifferent, or occasionally hostile, I tried my best to keep my mouth shut and hear what they had to say. I listened to people talk about their jobs, their businesses, the local school; their anger at Bush and their anger at Democrats; their dogs, their back pain, their war service, and the things they remembered from childhood. Some had well-developed theories to explain the loss of manufacturing jobs or the high cost of health care. Some recited what they had heard on Rush Limbaugh or NPR. But most of them were too busy with work or their kids to pay much attention to politics, and they spoke instead of what they saw before them: a plant closed, a promotion, a high heating bill, a parent in a nursing home, a child's first step.

No blinding insights emerged from these months of conversation. If anything, what struck me was just how modest people's hopes were, and how much of what they believed seemed to hold constant across race, region, religion, and class. Most of them thought that anybody willing to work should be able to find a job that paid a living wage. They figured that people shouldn't have to file for bankruptcy because they got sick. They believed that every child should have a genuinely good education–that it shouldn't just be a bunch of talk–and that those same children should be able to go to college even if their parents weren't rich. They wanted to be safe, from criminals and from terrorists; they wanted clean air, clean water, and time with their kids. And when they got old, they wanted to be able to retire with some dignity and respect.

That was about it. It wasn't much. And although they understood that how they did in life depended mostly on their own efforts–although they didn't expect government to solve all their problems, and certainly didn't like seeing their tax dollars wasted–they figured that government should help.

I told them that they were right: government couldn't solve all their problems. But with a slight change in priorities we could make sure every child had a decent shot at life and meet the challenges we faced as a nation. More often than not, folks would nod in agreement and ask how they could get involved. And by the time I was back on the road, with a map on the passenger's seat, on my way to my next stop, I knew once again just why I'd gone into politics.

I felt like working harder than I'd ever worked in my life.

This book grows directly out of those conversations on the campaign trail. Not only did my encounters with voters confirm the fundamental decency of the American people, they also reminded me that at the core of the American experience are a set of ideals that continue to stir our collective conscience; a common set of values that bind us together despite our differences; a running thread of hope that makes our improbable experiment in democracy work. These values and ideals find expression not just in the marble slabs of monuments or in the recitation of history books. They remain alive in the hearts and minds of most Americans–and can inspire us to pride, duty, and sacrifice.

I recognize the risks of talking this way. In an era of globalization and dizzying technological change, cutthroat politics and unremitting culture wars, we don't even seem to possess a shared language with which to discuss our ideals, much less the tools to arrive at some rough consensus about how, as a nation, we might work together to bring those ideals about. Most of us are wise to the ways of admen, pollsters, speechwriters, and pundits.


Excerpted from The Audacity of Hope
by Barack Obama Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Prologue     3
Republicans and Democrats     17
Values     53
Our Constitution     85
Politics     121
Opportunity     162
Faith     231
Race     269
The World Beyond Our Borders     320
Family     383
Epilogue     417
Acknowledgments     429
Index     433

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Audacity Of Hope 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 395 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Absolutely amazing. Although I disagree with some of Obama's views, he presents them in a way that requires one to reexamine their ideas and beliefs. For every argument he makes, he shows a real-world example and provides a practically flawless arguement. I am a high school senior and he writes in such a way that I understand the issues he's discussing, even if I hadn't previously deeply thought about them. This should be required reading for AP Government classes.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Audacity of Hope completely reaffirmed to me why I am voting for Barack Obama for President. Brilliantly written, this book is intelligent, thought-provoking and even-keel. Barack did a fantastic job. This book is clearly written and explains what he believes and why. It completely proved to me that he has the intelligence, experience and good judgement to make the best possible 44th President of the United States.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have to wonder when it became unpalatable to dream big in this nation. When did we stop believing in the power of our dreams? Yes, Obama wants what we all want for our country. But why is that a bad thing? I don't know if I believe he can fully achieve all that he talks about doing in this book, but he can definitely lay the groundwork for change. To me, that is what he is saying more so than 'I am the one who will come in and change this country.' He may not be able to change this country but I think the point is that he inspires us to want to change our country. We shouldn't let our fears and insecurities about something new stop us from wanting change as well. I found this book uplifting and it made me smile. Sorry if some think that those who support Obama aren't living in the 'real world'. But it's our very existence in this 'real world' that makes us WANT to support him.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm still in high school, and this is the last election that I won't be able to vote in. As a result of Barack Obama's amazing and inspirational speeches, I've become more involved in the events of this election than ever before. I picked up this book not sure what to expect, another political nonsense book or something pure art like his first book. To my great surprise I found an outstanding, beautifully written meeting of the two. It is a book filled with the problems of our time as well as the solutions, put into the beautiful writing styles of Senator Obama. I'd recommend this book for anyone waiting for inspiration in a time when all hell seems to have broken loose.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is not a book guided at one party and does not harp on any one belief to simply justify it. What it is, is an inside look at what makes this country tick. The laws, the people in charge, how it all came together and how it works. You WILL want to know more about your government after ready AUDACITY. It is the most patriotic voice today without preaching. And, I feel, that somewhere, somehow in a special place in my personage, I'm better for it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a great read and a wonderful insight into SEN. Obama's thinking. This man has the ability, like that of JFK, to see all sides of an issue. While the more conservative reader may not agree with many of the changes he seeks in this book, it should please moderates and liberals. It is extremely well written and enjoyable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Obama= 100% talk, 0% do it!
pbirch01 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Barack Obama follows up his speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention with a book aiming to deal with almost every political issue and cater to a wide range of readers (presumable American voters). The idea is interesting in theory, but ends up being a litany of problems with few solutions offered. There are general solutions offered and most of them involve more social programs, increasing taxes and promises that could be difficult for any politician to deliver on. Obama also covers how difficult life is as a politician. He mentions how difficult it is for a bill to be passed and the public does not understand how much effort it takes for a bill to pass in its original form. The book does have some interesting parts which are mostly centered around his upbringing as well as personal encounters with members of Congress, State politicians, as well as the President. Unfortunately, these parts are not enough to carry the entire book and I felt I was audacious in just trying to finish it.
Anonymous 8 months ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wow, so... having a socialistic dream of demolishing the American way of life and masking it with unjustified entitlements that no one can afford and people still think he is the right president for this country. He would be the ideal president of a country that is an enemy of the USA. Currently holds the record for the lowest public approval rating but wait, what he writes about is really what he wants for us? Actions speak louder than words and despite whatever he writes about in a book, the history will show what his intentions really were and are. All you two-star rating and above, how does that Cool Aid taste?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I saw something on twitter th other day the alabama football coach nick saban was talking to presidant obama and he said i inhereted a mess to but look at my last four years
emed0s on LibraryThing 21 days ago
After watching Obama's great talent as an orator, and despite not being a US citizen, I decided to buy this book.In the book he speaks of the great goals that he pursues and that are based on the greatness of the human spirit. But he doesn't forget to propose some policies that, I think, are of common interest for the middle class of the Western countries in the globalized economy.And through the book one can read about the personal experiencies that have taken him to his current opinions.
john257hopper on LibraryThing 21 days ago
Published in 2006, in this book the then US senator sets out his views on American domestic and inernational issues and the way forward he sees for his country on a whole range of issues. A persuasive and fluent writer, this also offers insights into his family and what makes the man tick.
soylentgreen23 on LibraryThing 21 days ago
Barack Obama's second book is an amazing piece of political writing. It's no wonder that the American people elected him their first black president; he is fair, honest, and understands the power of nuance, a power that is rarely seen in political debate these days.
theboylatham on LibraryThing 21 days ago


A personal manifesto that is suprisingly weak on big ideas and simplistic. Nice writing style but missing any kind of serious points.

JonArnold on LibraryThing 21 days ago
Or as it should probably be known, Barack Obama's first election manifesto. Obama is unquestionably the most exciting political figure in the Western hemisphere in my lifetime. Rather than the tired dogmas that have dragged down previous election campaigns he ran on a platform of positivity and hope, summed by his simple and brilliant slogan 'Yes, we can'. It was inclusive and challenging to the electorate, invigorating.The hook here is to see what we can divine of Obama's possible actions as President. It's clear from the book that he's genuinely unaffected by the cynicism that often develops in politicians, but that his enthusiasm is tempered by intelligence and thoroughness, setting forth what he sees as the major issues facing modern America and possible solutions.And instead of rendering politics a dry, dead subject, as professional politicians often do, Obama makes the subject engaging. Policy is never talked about in abstract terms, he always gives a human dimension to the issues and has a gift for striking imagery that encapsulates the ideas he's trying to get across (speeches to an empty Senate chamber, the stunning view from a jet). And the prose itself is beautiful, although occasionally becoming flowery. It's a book you couldn't imagine any of his recent predecessors (particularly the immediate one) having the sincerity, compassion or way with words to write. Whereas the previous regime tried to link compassion with conservatism, one read of this book should show them what compassion truly looks like, and in this case it isn't just a hollow word.Obama himself comes across as a man of rare perspective, probably due to his eclectic, catholic (the small c is crucial there) upbringing. He seems open to ideas and genuinely thoughtful as to the wide ranging effects policies may have. His beliefs and conclusions are based on thoughtful analysis tempered with human compassion - almsot too good to be true. I actually finished the book even more fascinated by the possibilities of Obama's term. If he is a man of deeds as well as words, and he's alllowed to follow the guidelines he sets down here, then his Presidency may live up to the hope and expectations placed upon it.
jessicariddoch on LibraryThing 21 days ago
Not truly an auitobiography but more the ramblings of a politicial explaning his position. On realising this I wondered why i should want to pay to read this when he is trying in so many ways to force his opinion down my throat. But as it declaires on the cover that it is the new york times best seller and has a sticker on this sticker saying it was shorlisted fo the galaxy british book awards 2009 there has to be something more.The style of the book is easy to read. There was no point that I was left mulling over what I had read trying to work out what he meant by a particular portion. His voice was clear and simple and designed to reach into the very soul of who we are.There seems no effort of persuasion, merely the belief that he sees things the way that they are and has the answers for what ails the american people and economy. I have to admit that not having seen much of obama other than the usual scilent hand shaking of offical events on tv it was interesting to see where this man was comming form and how he managed to reach the position that he has.I do wonder about his claims on clean politics that he has followed in the past but am reassured that were their any glaring inconsistancies these would have been splashed across the papers to such a large degree that even I would have heard of them after all the book is not that oldThe effect of this book was actually to leave me with the hope that america may have a reasonable leader this time. Those of us in the rest of the world can only hope that a man with family connections outwith the motherland may actualy be able to see that the rest of the world exsists, not just america
sharlene_w on LibraryThing 25 days ago
At this pivotal juncture in history I felt it was important to read President Obama's personal statement on how he sees this country. I especially enjoyed listening to him read it. I am very impressed with him and his vision of our country's future. For those of you who haven't taken the time to get to know something about him, I recommend that you read this book (mom, I am talking to you!). I think you will be reassured that the country is in good hands.
hemlokgang on LibraryThing 25 days ago
President Obama is so very eloquent and articulate. It is a pleasure listening to him read his own book. I am so moved by his ability to see beyond the superficiality of partisanship. It is a little difficult reading this knowing it was written as part of a campaign strategy, yet that does not diminish my wholehearted support of his values and goals.
wdwilson3 on LibraryThing 25 days ago
Listening to this audio book, two years into the Obama presidency, made me somewhat sad. Was Obama hopelessly naïve and unused to the ways of Washington when he spoke so reasonably of compromise and meeting Republicans in the middle? It certainly hasn¿t worked out the way he hoped, has it? Has the country become so polarized that the middle road has no support? Is the art of compromise dead?The book still has its virtues ¿ it presents many issues relatively evenhandedly. Obama speaks charmingly of his personal life. Enjoyable anecdotes are interspersed. The issues of race, religion, and values are discussed in a way that politicians generally shy away from. I couldn¿t help wondering what Obama will write after his presidency. Will his ideals remain as high, his belief in the American system of government as passionate?
davidpwithun on LibraryThing 25 days ago
Very interesting and encouraging to read. I don't always agree with him, but I can see his reasons for believing as he does. I think that his book gives a very honest and positive assessment of America and its politics.
JimmyChanga on LibraryThing 25 days ago
A 3 and a half if I can give it that. It DOES have dry patches, but what the book accomplishes is something kind of rare. It manages to talk politics in a way that incorporates more than just policies, but morality, faith, history, and personal biography. It manages to do this with very elegant writing as well. Even if you disagree with him, you must at least admit that Obama is a guy with great integrity. And even if you think his hope is "naive" (which I disagree with), you must admit that he must at least hold SOME key to getting things done in the real world despite his lofty ideals... i.e. this is the guy who WON a Senate race AND a democratic nomination withOUT accepting money from lobbyists. If that seems naive, it's only because it seems impossible. There's nothing wrong with naivety if you can turn the impossible into the possible, which is what Mr. Obama has done. How did he do it? He is fiercely intelligent and a great observer of people. Along with his integrity, what I admire about Obama is that he does not dumb down complicated issues in order to communicate to the lowest common denominator. He understands that the average American (who liberals thumb their nose at) is actually quite intelligent and can grasp the complexity of an issue if given the chance (most politicians, on the other hand, prefer sound bites). As an example, just listen to his "race" speech that he gave after the Jeremiah Wright scandal (available on youtube and on his website, if you're curious). Instead of avoiding the issue or trying to make excuses, he opted to give an adult speech, one which tackles the race issue head on. This is such a risky move. I can think of no other politician of the last 20 years who would do this. He basically tried to put the whole race conflict in context, a VERY complicated thing, and something that liberals would think most Americans wouldn't be able to understand. But he had the guts to believe that normal people can, if not grasp the complexities of what he was saying, at least understand it intuitively, and he was right.I guess this doesn't have much to do with the book itself, except to say that the book lives up to the promise of the man. And that man is a rare and extraordinary person.
Clif on LibraryThing 25 days ago
Is the American electorate wise enough to elect a candidate who gives intelligent but nuanced answers to complex problems? In this book Obama writes insightfully about politics, religion and social problems. He offers his ideas on how he believes American can best live up to it¿s potential. At the time of this writing the results of the presidential elections are not known. If Barack doesn¿t win it may indicate a lack of popular appreciation for intelligent nuanced views of the world.Obama¿s discussion of his values and faith are presented in a clear and heart felt manner. He is one of very few politicians who articulates views of religion with which I can feel comfortable. This book is Obama¿s autobiography with occasional forays into discussions of various political and social issues. His skill at writing is equal to his ability to inspire the public with his speeches. I recommend the book to anyone who wants to gain insight into one the of brightest lights on the American political stage today. The audio version of the book is particularly interesting because it is narrated by the author. His description of his meeting with George Bush is fascinating because he does a good job of impersonating the President¿s manner of speaking.
ValerieAndBooks on LibraryThing 29 days ago
An intelligent book by a man who now happens to be our current President. I learned quite a bit by reading this. The opinions that Obama presents are well-thought out. It's readable, too!
SmokeJumper on LibraryThing 29 days ago
Excellent book written by, and on, a leader whom I believe will go down in history as a great leader. He will already be in the history books as he was elected as the first black president of the United States.