With Mr. Barack Obama (I googled how to address a former president…it’s “Mr.” though Barack Obama without “President” sounds awfully odd) officially out of the Oval Office I could think of no better book to read than one of his, for nostalgia’s sake, for escape from the present, and for inspiration. Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama was written before the former President of the United States was even a senator. It’s a book in which Mr. Obama recounts how his upbringing and his mostly absent father shaped his perspective. It’s particularly interesting to read this book with this article by Ta-Nehisi Coates in mind, if you’re at all curious about Mr. Barack Obama’s view of himself as an African American man in the United States. Ta-Nehisi Coates is also just an interesting and excellent writer in general so it’s worth the read.
I was not entirely sure what to expect going into this book. I know that most successful politicians are perfectly capable of selling a story, because that’s what all advertisement (including self advertisement) really is. Whether or not they can write a coherent and interesting story is a whole different question. I am happy to report that Mr. Barack Obama wrote a beautiful, coherent, and interesting story. He managed to balance reflection, both self and outward, with a story line that kept me turning the page.
It’s also interesting to see where Mr. Obama’s reflections match up with what we’ve heard him say and seen him do during his presidency. There was nothing majorly incongruent as far as I could tell, but this was clearly written from the perspective of someone that hadn’t yet experienced the presidency. It is worth mentioning that while I’m sure this book didn’t hurt his politics at all, this isn’t a platform on which he’s spouting off too much about where he stands on what issues. He meditates on politic related experiences that shaped how he views the world and himself, particularly in relation to his time in Chicago, where he worked as a community organizer.
Ultimately I saw this book as the perfect expression of practicing what you preach. Mr. Obama thoughtfully explores opinions outside of his own throughout. When he’s confronted with problems in his community he takes action to fix it. I’ll leave you with a quote from his farewell speech, because this book and everything after it is him walking the walk…
“If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the internet, try to talk with one in real life. If something needs fixing, lace up your shoes and do some organizing. If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself. Show up. Dive in. Persevere. Sometimes you’ll win. Sometimes you’ll lose. Presuming a reservoir of goodness in others can be a risk, and there will be times when the process disappoints you. But for those of us fortunate enough to have been a part of this work, to see it up close, let me tell you, it can energize and inspire. And more often than not, your faith in America – and in Americans – will be confirmed.”
-President Barack Obama
Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep listening. Keep creating.