Well, I, on the other hand, found it a completely absorbing read. It's well-written and an interesting story. I wish everyone could read it; there are so many misunderstandings about Barack's life. While I'm sure there are parts that have been changed, dramatized, shifted around, the theme behind the events that Barack chronicles is evident. It's the story of a boy trying to comprehend who he is, to reconcile with the fact that he looks undeniably different than his mother and grandparents, to cope with the mysterious, absent figure that is his father.
The book provides a better understanding of not only Barack Obama's life, but a greater understanding of who Barack Obama is and why he is the way he is. This book, of course, only presents one side of who Barack Obama is - and the side that Obama presents himself. So, as with all autobiographies, I took it with a grain of salt. But after reading it, I had a much greater respect for him... he worked for years as a community organizer, and it wasn't until I read his book that I realized how hard that work was.
The book follows Barack through his childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia, his community work in Chicago, and his journey to meet his father’s family in Kenya. Along the way, he has to come to terms with the death of his absent father, being raised primarily by his white grandparents (you don’t hear about this much), and learning the ropes of being a community organizer in inner city Chicago.
The thing that amazed me most about the book was watching Obama:
1) work through problems and
2) analyze both sides on an issue. These two traits came through in two different ways in the book: in personal situations (how he comes to understand and accept his troubled father and his Kenyan ancestry) and in political situations (how he comes to understand the long-standing and deep problems facing the urban poor).
It would have been very, very easy to have bad guys in this book. Evil high-up government officials who prevent community centers and jobs from reaching the impoverished in Chicago. His adulterous and alcoholic father who seemed to abandon his loved ones at every turn. But Barack thinks his way through these simple binary good/bad categories and goes far beyond them. He is constantly striving to 1) understand situations from all points of view and 2) think his way through to a solution. He has an uncanny ability to step away from the emotions of a problem and then systematically chip away at it. He understands very well that you have to know why things are as they are before you develop a plan about how to fix it.
The best example of this might be his work in Chicago. Although it’s unheard of for anyone to criticize the black ministers who organize the urban black communities in Chicago, Obama quickly began to understand the huge problems that come with church-based activism in black communities. Churches would rarely work together to solve larger problems and ministers would rarely do more than preach (which, to be fair, is their job). The action that should have followed a sermon simply wasn’t organized. Because many black leaders were ministers, many black leaders were also, essentially, just talk. What followed was three years of work in which Obama not only made major, innovative steps in Chicago but in which he also learned how to inspire both individuals and small groups into action.
I was also impressed by what Barack Obama didn’t leave out of the book. He made a lot of mistakes, he deals with a lot of anger, and he doesn’t succeed at everything. Still, you can not only see him learning from his mistakes, but immediately applying those lessons to his next challenge.
The book, as a more general read, was good as well. The writing wasn’t stellar (something Obama is quick to point out in the forward to the reprint) but it was still much better than one might expect from someone who isn’t primarily a writer. Getting to see the inner struggle of a biracial person growing up in 60s and 70s America was also really fascinating.
There are a lot of great candidates in the upcoming election, and I feel positive about more than two of them. But especially after reading this book, my doubts about Obama’s lack of experience are gone. He has something that trumps years in Washington: a stellar judgment and an almost eerie ability to put himself in someone else’s shoes and understand both sides of an issue. More than that, his ability to inspire individuals to action is something that America could truly benefit from. You can even see it in his campaign: ordinary people stepping up and acting, even if they’ve never been involved in politics before.
Barack Obama has led a life no one else could really understand, but everyone can relate to in some capacity. I know one of the arguments against him as president is that he doesn't have a lot of experience in office, but after reading this book, one might argue that he has plenty of experience in far more important areas that would serve him better if he were elected again for USA.
He is nothing less than inspiring..
“To be Black was to be the beneficiary of a great inheritance, a special destiny, glorious burdens that only we were strong enough to bear.”