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Review: Dreams From My Father, Barack Obama

We all know who Barack Obama is now, but how did he get here?  What motivated him?  From his childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia to his rougher college years and on to his time as a community organizer in Chicago, Obama writes eloquently and compellingly about serious issues that we all wish were in the past already, like racism, suffering, and poverty.

Yep, I voted for Barack Obama.  And I’m still quite proud that we, a country still astonishingly full of racism in so many ways, managed to elect a black man to the Presidency.  So ever since then, I’ve been very curious about where he came from and how he got to the point where it was reasonable that he might become President.  Unfortunately this book doesn’t go quite that far and ends right before he heads to law school, so his final motivations remain unclear.  But I think this memoir is valuable for a lot of the things he says but also because it was written before he ever thought to go that far, and as such I think he is somewhat more candid about his life than he would have otherwise been – he mentions drug use numerous times, for example.

I enjoyed how this particular memoir followed a narrative path.  Obama acknowledges in the foreword that he changed the names of people he knew and sometimes melded them together to make for an easier reading experience, which at first I wasn’t sure I liked but I’m sure those people are grateful for it now.  I definitely felt like I was on a journey, from the moment he realized that he looked different from his mother and grandparents for the first time, to the idolization of his father, to his eventual success and work on behalf of poor black communities in Chicago. I was impressed by how well the memoir was organized and written; it’s also a bit more academic and thoughtful in structure than I would imagine most memoirs written by political figures to be.  He doesn’t talk much about his truly personal life – he almost never mentions relationships with women – and I appreciated that a lot.

I was also surprised by how clearly I recognized his narrative voice.  I was impressed by how he could reflect on his own experiences and apply them to the wider world – how he was confused as a black teenager and in some way identifies with the teens of Chicago but also recognizes that he was more privileged than them.  He can acknowledge the faults of his family members even as it’s obvious how deeply he loved them.  I was surprisingly depressed by his experiences in Chicago and saddened by the situation that poor black families found themselves in, with little kids living in houses full of asbestos and public officials lying about its presence.  And I was astonished at the stigma that a mixed race couple experienced when he was in his twenties.  I have never understood such discrimination and it truly makes me sad when love is dismissed by society because it doesn’t look like the norm.

I truly believe that even people who are the opposite side of the political divide will gain value from this book.  It’s not political at all – which is why I chose this one and not his other book – and it is a surprisingly compelling story of a confused boy growing into a man who wants to help people.  His life story is fascinating and I was particularly intrigued by the parts of the book set in Kenya and Indonesia, two places I’d never really thought about in depth.  Obama’s outsider understanding of these cultures helped mark them out for me and gave me a lot to think about.  I am very glad I read Dreams From My Father and I’ve only touched on a few of the many parts of this book that made me think – it’s a valuable memoir that I fully enjoyed reading.

I am an Amazon Associate. I borrowed this book from my local library. They like Barack Obama in the UK.

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13 comments to Review: Dreams From My Father, Barack Obama

  • I’m so glad you reviewed this! I have been curious about it but not enough to buy it . . . yet. I like the fact that book is both personal and universal; I imagine that is not an easy task to accomplish.
    .-= Beth F´s last blog ..Weekend Cooking: Review and Giveaway of SOS! by Aviva Goldfarb =-.

  • Glad you enjoyed this one! I’ve had this book ever since I lived in Chicago, way before Obama came on the national scene! For some reason, I haven’t gotten to it but I will soon thanks to your review.
    .-= S. Krishna´s last blog ..Book Review: Waiting for Columbus – Thomas Trofimuk =-.

  • I read this book years ago, when it was first published, back before Obama was really known to the rest of the world, and also loved it. I am from Chicago, so I remember back when he was running for Senator and I think that was around the time that this book came out. If you are a fan of his politics (as I am, and I’m guessing you are because you voted for him!) I would definitely pick up The Audacity of Hope. Although it’s WAY more political and not as conversational, it’s a fantastic read and really gives insight on who he is as a person, what he really believes, etc.

    Great review!
    .-= Heather @ Book Addiction´s last blog ..The Confessions of Catherine de Medici by C.W. Gortner =-.

  • Eva

    I was impressed w/ Audacity of Hope, so I’ve been meaning to read Dreams From My Father. :) I heard a lot about it when he was running for Senate, but my college’s copies were always checked out!
    .-= Eva´s last blog ..TSS: Summer Lovin’ Beach Bum Style =-.

  • I haven’t read this one yet, but I have read 2 other books on Obama and boh of them were fascinating Renegade gave the politics but also a bit of the personal, so it would be interesting to hear about things from his own perspective.
    .-= Nicole´s last blog ..My Name Is Mary Sutter, by Robin Oliveira – Book Review =-.

  • Well, it’s hard not to like him.
    .-= heidenkind´s last blog ..Musical Notes =-.

  • I’ve been wanting to read this for a while. I’m really pleased to see that you enjoyed it – I hope my I can get a copy from the library sometime soon.

  • I have seen this book all over the place, but yours is the first review I have read. It does indeed sound like a really interesting book and like something I would probably really enjoy. I like the fact that he is so candid in this book and that he really lets the reader into his early life. Great review! I will be taking a closer look at this book! Thanks!!
    .-= zibilee´s last blog ..Forest Gate by Peter Akinti – 224 pgs =-.

  • I totally agree with your assessment of this book. I read it when I was moving to Chicago, back when Barack was just my Senator-to-be (well, he was already a Senator, I was the constituent-to-be), and I think it is a large part of the reason I adore him. That and the amazing time I saw him speak to a room of teachers so passionately about children’s books.
    .-= Jen – Devourer of Books´s last blog ..Motherhood is Murder by Diana Orgain – Book Review =-.

  • I was hoping to get this read before the election (how long ago was that?!), but still haven’t gotten to it. I like the fact that he wrote it before he knew he was going to run for President. I imagine that provided a little more honesty, like with the drug use.

  • Strange how everything old is new again. My writing takes place in the time of the last Great Depression, and now we seem to be in a new one, with a new President, who is sometimes compared to FDR in what he has to face. I hope what Obama has lived through will help him to guide the nation through the current troubles.
    .-= Shelley´s last blog ..Welcome =-.

  • I have a copy of this book but haven’t read it yet. I don’t generally read memoirs written by famous people, but I couldn’t help being interested in it. I am glad you got so much out of it, Meghan!
    .-= Literary Feline´s last blog ..(Nearly) Wordless Wednesday: Play Time =-.

  • I really liked his autobiography and read it long before the election. I think your observation about how he thinks about things in a larger sense is a good point. When you read his autobiography, written at a time when he wasn’t pandering for national votes at all, and realize how aware he is, it’s kind of cool. I’m glad you liked it too!
    .-= Becky at One Literature Nut´s last blog ..Lots to Do: Movie Mini Reviews & Bloggiesta =-.