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on 26 March 2008
Forgetting for a moment who wrote this book; this is an engaging, thoughtful, intelligent, perceptive read. This is a real meditation on race and specifically, on what it means to grow up and search for one's racial identity in modern America. And yet, it is beautifully written. Rich in descriptive detail and almost novelistic vignettes, it is also pacey and hard to put down.

Returning to the author, it is truly hard to believe that this was written by a politician (although he wasn't at the time of writing). It is such a good read and provides such a thoughtful and open account of Obama's views and experiences, that it is truly breathtaking in this age of political posturing.

Read this to learn more about Obama. Read this to learn more about the divisions of America. Read this to learn about the black experience both in the US and in Kenya. Read this for the beauty of its writing, but above all, read it, you won't be disappointed.
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on 31 January 2009
First of all the opening paragraph is a complete surprise, when you realise that this is brilliantly-written by the man himself.Then, as the book progresses, you come to understand that this is a coherent and illuminating account of a manifestly intelligent mind in development. It outlines how he has come to adopt his political viewpoints through his own personal experiences. It recounts his personal struggle to understand what being black in America (and around the world) means. His love of his white mother and grandparents never allows him to retreat into denigrating all whites, beacuse they are white; as his experience in Kenya doesn't allow him to accept all blacks just beacuse they are black. He develops a wider viewpoint and confidence as the book goes on (as he did in reality). It is awesome and inspiring. A seminal book from a great man.
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on 27 April 2007
I have never before read a politician's memoirs - but then, Barack Obama is no ordinary politician. This is a searingly honest account of the growing up pains of a mixed race, highly intelligent young man, searching for identity and meaning. I thoroughly recommend it - both to people who want to know more about this very inspiring man, and to those who simply want an absorbing read.
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on 16 July 2008
Given the events unfolding in the US election cycle I wanted to know more about the man many see as the next leader of the free world. I had already read 'Audacity Of Hope' which is basically his manifesto of policies and views and wanted something more personal.
And I wasnt disappointred by this book.
Written around 10 years ago before Obama entered into politics this book is a brilliant autobiography by a man with an amazing life story.
The son of a black Kenyan and a white American, estranged from his father, raised for periods by his grandparents, living for a time in Indonesia and fighting the whole time to find his place in the world - Obama's is a truly unique story.
As Obama says in the new introduction for this reprinted edition the honesty here could never have been shared by a man running for the highest office in the land, so this then the unfilitered view of the mans early life, warts and all.
The book splits his life into three sections: one about his childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia, the mid section about his life as a community organiser in Chicago and finally his trip back to Kenya to reconnect with family and roots and try to gain a sense of who he really is.
Although my life has little in common with Obamas I still found the book to be gripping and inspiring. It also serves to demonstrate a gifted writing style that could easily transfer to great prose. Having read this I hope Obama is elected in November and I look forward to future volumes of autobiography after his second term.
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on 29 July 2008
What a great read this is.

It is amazing to have such an insight into the man who may soon be President of the USA, arguably still the most powerful position in the world. This book was written even before he became a Senator, I'm sure a lot of what he has written would be edited out if it was published today!

What is so incredible, and I think what makes him seem so personable, is that he comes across as just another ordinary guy. He doesn't come from a famous or affluent background. He talks so openly about the difficulties of growing up as a black man, confused about his origins and what they mean. He grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii... and then worked for very little money as a community organiser. And now he's running for President!

This is a thoroughly enjoyable read and is highly recommended...
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on 9 September 2004
It is a rare privilege to have such a personal insight into the life and background of a prominent politician. Often it is written about leaders that nobody knows what they are really like as people. But in Barack Obama's case, it is laid out in quite frank detail in this book.
Like most people outside Illinois, I had not heard of Barack Obama until he gave his speech at the Democratic Convention on 27 July (it can be read on his website: [...] and I was fortunate to find the last copy of his book in a Chicago bookshop in August. The opening of the convention speech is a brief outline of the background that formed the book. His father was a Kenyan who went to study in Hawaii, and his mother was living in Hawaii having grown up in Kansas. They parted company soon after Barack was born.
The book is about his childhood and how he adapted to life after his father left his mother. She remarried an Indonesian man, and they went with him to live in Indonesia for some years. Barack returned to the US to finish high school. After graduating, he went to work in Chicago among underprivileged black communities there before deciding to go to law school in Harvard.
Obama's style of writing is extremely personal and analytical of how he dealt with certain issues in his life - his absent father, the colour of his skin, the remarriage of his mother, how he learnt of his father's death, his work in Chicago, his decision to become a lawyer and his rediscovery of his roots in Kenya (including his grandmother, uncles and aunts, and various half-brothers and sisters). Despite having led a very different life in a different part of the world, I was regularly struck by similarities between his life and mine - and can only assume that every reader would have the same reaction.
On a slightly critical note, the book is written at times in quite a fictionalised style that took some time to get used to. It cannot really be believed that Obama remembered every word and pause in quite so many conversation (not to mention what he saw through the window during the many pauses in conversation).
That aside, this is a great book which appears not to have been written with an eye on a political career (future Republican opponents will doubtless make great play out of a small, passing reference to drug use). It was first published in 1995 when Obama was fresh out of law school, commissioned as a result of his having been the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review. Even if his political star were to fade without the widely tipped shot at the 2012 presidency, I would recommend anybody to read his book.
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on 18 December 2010
(written before the 2008 presidential elections)

The book was a Christmas gift from the scribe's sister Rosemary and was received with the usual mild surprise that accompanies the reception of a book you don't really want to read.

highwayscribery enjoyed Obama's colorful and deftly delivered speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention (included in the book put out by Three Rivers Press). But in ensuing months it seemed the newly elected senator's name popped up too often in association with positions a little beyond his experience, like vice president or president.

There's a Democratic Party discussion in there somewhere: Is the glass half full because Obama's rise among what former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Georgia) used to call "the great mentioners" reflects his amazing talent? Or is it half empty because a guy starts jumping ranks thanks to his world beat name and a decent speech two years ago?

The highwayscribery creed encourages the acceptance of given books as a kind of natural instruction from the world itself, from forces beyond our own (book) consuming impulses.

And the book is quite good as it goes about detailing Obama's unique, yet quintessentially American pedigree and journey. A kind of Tiger Woods to the progressive political world, Obama is African-American, without the tragedy of slavery separating him from old country forebears.

He knows his lineage, his father, his grandfather. He returns to his native Kenya where a grandmother explains how, "First there was Miwiri. It's not known who came before. Miwiru sired Sigoma, Sigoma sired Owiny, Owiny sired Kisodhi, Kisodhi sired Ogelo, Ogelo sired Otondi, Otonidi sired Obongo, Obongo sired Okoth, and Okoth sired Opiyo. The women who bore them, their names are forgotten, for that was the way of our people."

His father, a scholarship student from Kenya to the University of Hawaii, met his mother in that distant American outpost. She came from Kansas stock, her father a soldier of fortune and westward drifter on the trail of the big break.

His place in time as a man educated in the west at the height of the African liberation from its European colonizers forces the senior Barack Obama home, abandoning the young boy in Hawaii for good.

That is the DNA, much explained and dissected for it is the point of the book, and somewhat the point of the politician - race and its subtleties.

The greatest surprise was the book's prose. Obama was, at one time, editor of the "Harvard Law Review." highwayscribery has never had occasion to read that particular publication, but must admit to a sense that brand name conjures up ponderous articles short on good and engaging narrative content.

But it may be a place where good writing is encouraged because he possesses a comfortable mastery of the written word. We're not talking the heights of prosodic beauty, but a facile ability to render crucial insights his unique path and intelligence have provided, into the written word. One thing is to have led an interesting life, it is another to successfully convey why.

The highpoint of the book may be the following passage. The set up is that Obama Sr. has come to meet his son, who is ten years old, and it really doesn't go too well. As the father is leaving, he decides to play a recording of music from the families tribe, the Luo:

"`Come Barry,' my father said, `You will learn from the master.' And suddenly his slender body was swaying back and forth, the lush sound was rising, his arms were swinging as they cast an invisible net, his feet wove over the floor in off-beats, his bad leg stiff but his rump high, his head back, his hips moving in a tight circle. The rhythm quickened, the horns sounded, and his eyes closed to follow his pleasure, and then one eye opened to peek down at me and his solemn face spread into a silly grin, and my mother smiled, and my grandparents walked in to see what all the commotion was about. I took my first tentative steps with my eyes closed, down, up, my arms swinging, the voices lifting. And I hear him still: As I follow my father into the sound, he lets out a quick shout, bright and high, a shout that leaves much behind and reaches out for more, a shout that cries for laughter."

So you get an idea that it's not some kind of policy book or rhetorical disquisition. It's a young man's story and takes the reader through Obama's developing sense of the black reality in America, his clumsy first steps as an organizer on Chicago's South Side, a rare portrait of the legendary Mayor Harold Robinson, and over to Africa in discovery of family lore and luggage.

Obama's rise to prominence represents something of a bellwether in less than obvious ways. Sure, he's one of only a handful of blacks ever to serve in the U.S. Senate, but in this story he weaves the consumption of marijuana, alcohol and even cocaine into the fabric without using overly bright colors and without trying to sugar-coat it either.

He plays basketball, he "adopts" in his own parlance an identity from those being offered-up by the pop culture of the 1980s - the years of his flaming youth. And now he's a senator and all of that without having had to live like a Mormon.

And that's good, as there is much else good about Obama, a writer to rank with those who make a permanent vocation of writing, an intelligent fellow with the honesty to talk about black-on-black gripes, to wrestle with the loss of blackness success in the white world represents, to convey the suffocating sense that the white world is the only game in town.
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`Dreams From My Father' is Barack Obama's heartfelt memoir looking at his childhood, organisational career in Chicago and return to visit his families roots in Kenya. It is extremely candid and portrays his frustrations and anxieties growing up as a black man in America, as well as his attempts at affecting change in run down areas of Chicago and the effect this had on him. You quickly become immersed in the story he tells and the descriptions of the people in his life are richly detailed and vivid. The part where he returns to Kenya is both fascinating to read and moving and makes for the most engrossing part of the book. His early life in Hawaii and Indonesia also makes for interesting reading and you realise what a diverse life he has lead. Used by his opponents to garner negative information about him, it is a shame that such a personal and heartfelt memoir could be twisted for more negative ends. It should primarily be appreciated for what it is, an honest, open look at one mans life and the journey he took to reconciling his past fears with his future aspirations. Considering he is now the American president this book is bound to gain more attention than it may have previously, but never the less this makes for an interesting read that leaves you with a deeper insight into what moves the man behind the politics. Worth a look.

Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.
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on 21 October 2008
Long before he was a candidate to be President of the United States, or even a candidate for the state legislature, Barack Obama wrote "Dreams from My Father". He had been elected as the first African-American president of the "Harvard Law Review", and if that had been the end of his public career, this book would have long been out of print. But, with Obama running for the U.S. Senate, it was reprinted, and now his Presidential run has undoubtedly increased the interest in this work.

This is an interesting book, though certainly Obama's skill as a writer does not match that of his skill as an orator. The book is divided into three sections: "Origins", a look at his younger days; "Chicago", his decision to move to Chicago and work as a community organizer; and "Kenya", about his visit to see his extended family in the country where his father was born. The edition which I read also includes two introductions: one written for the original release of the book; and a second introduction written for the 2004 edition during his run for U.S. Senate. The book closes with a brief epilogue, and an excerpt from his second book "The Audacity of Hope".

"Origins" is an interesting look at some of the aspects of his growing up. This section is focused primarily on race, which is not surprising considering the reason he was asked to write the book. This section also contains key stories about his family, and most importantly his father, but I wish he had spent more time on that part of his life in this book. The section starts with the period prior to his realizing that race was important, and moves through a brief example of his being embarrassed by it, to a longer period of his taking on what is often considered the typical lifestyle of young black men. Finally he seems to break out of the trap he was falling into and embraces who he really is. The stories are rather a sparse collection from his childhood, so this is by no means a full biography, but one does get a glimpse of the road he took to get to where he is, including a detour into drugs, and touches on the death of his father. It is a story which takes him from Hawaii to Indonesia; to California and on to New York.

"Chicago" covers the period when he decided to become a community organizer. At the time he was in New York City, and initially he seems to be pulled away from his decision by corporate America. He then rededicates himself to his decision, and after some initial difficulties he meets Marty Kaufman, who offers him a position in Chicago, which he decides to take once he realizes that he has not connected with New York. His stories of his initial attempts and initial failures are interesting and insightful. It is in the last chapter of this section where he meets Reverend Jeremiah Wright Jr., and is introduced to the workings of the Trinity United Church of Christ. This occurs after he has decided to attend Harvard, and it is clear that Reverend Wright had a huge impact on him. It is here that he talks about the "Audacity of Hope" sermon, after which he would title his second book. Reverend Wright has become a controversial figure, and there are some signs of his controversial views in Obama's description, but the real impact appears to be in helping Obama find a connection to his faith, and not a case of Wright's opinion's or views leading Obama away from who he is.

"Kenya" covers Obama's trip to Kenya to meet his relatives before he goes on to attend Harvard. For me this was the most interesting section of the book, as it gives the reader a look at Obama's extended family, and the interactions between the members. It is also a look inside life in Kenya, and Barack's search to get to know his father. It is also in this section where Barack Obama realizes exactly who he is. Barack forms a fairly strong relationship with his half sister Auma, in spite of the distance and the difficulties which it creates. Both of them seem to be searching to define themselves in the world in which they live.

Oddly enough, though it was his being the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review which caused this book to be written, there is very little mention of his time at Harvard included; just a couple paragraphs in the Epilogue cover that period. That is perhaps the weakness of this book, as there are many gaps in his story which are not covered or receive only passing mention. What are included, are undoubtedly the events which he considers the most significant in his search for who he is.

I would have liked to learn more about some other parts of his life as well. The strength of this book is that it was written before Barack had entered the political arena, so while it is certainly possible that he had already decided to pursue such a career, he could not possibly have known how successful he would be, or how far he would go. Thus I believe he was very honest in the telling of his story. Overall, this is not a literary masterpiece, but it is an interesting read and provides insight into a man who is very likely to become the first African-American U.S. President.
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on 14 January 2011
I primarily bought this book after the inauguration of Barack Obama in the United States of America.

The book was written by Obama when he became the first African-American President of the Harvard Law Review and is divided into 3 sections "Origins", "Chicago" & "Kenya". The book commences with a biography of Obama as he grew up and the different countries he moved to throughout. It then follows Obama as he volunteers in Chicago to try and reduce the huge deficit of racial inequality and racial poverty that is and to some extent is still very evident in the US. The final section deals with when Obama returns to Kenya to meet with his family and extended family.

I have to say that I was a bit disappointed with this book. Having seen Obama orate on various forums I expected the book to flow with the same charismatic and eloquent style, but it does not and I did find myself putting the book down and returning to it several times. Although the style of writing does slow the pace I would state that this book is important not only in the sometimes graphic racial divides that were and are still evident in America, but also for illustrating racial and cultures differences and disadvantages. Overall an informative read, if a little bogged down with writing style.
Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance
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