Dreams from My Father


in Books and literature, Politics, Writing

Tristan Laing on Parliament Hill

For those hoping to gain an understanding of the life and thinking of Barack Obama, his first book is probably a better resource than his second. Given his new position of power, it is impossible to read Dreams from My Father while thinking more about the ideas than about the man expressing them. While reading the full story certainly provides a grit and nuance that is lacking in the campaign speech version of Obama’s autobiography, the book doesn’t take the reader up to the present day. Both chronologically and conceptually, it leaves a big gap between Obama’s decision to leave Chicago for law school (after visiting Kenya) and his subsequent political ascension.

The major topics covered in this book are Obama’s family history and the development of his views on class and race. There are hints about the emergence of his personal politics and religiosity, but those are definitely not the major thrust of the account. All told, the book is best understood as a description of the process through which Obama answered key questions about himself, thus leaving him in a position to move forward with that foundation under him. Actually, the book doesn’t even go that far; it leaves the reader with the sense that Obama has collected the basic materials for that foundation, but ends before giving a clear image of the shape and structure that it will ultimately have.

One unescapable question that arises from the book is whether the author has an essentially perfect memory, or whether he was willing to take considerable liberties in describing his thoughts and conversations. The introduction makes it clear that this was not the book he originally set out to write, and that he didn’t have voluminous primary source recordings to draw upon. That produces the major question of just how accurate and complete an account this really is.

It will be very interesting to see the expansion of this biography, both by outside scrutineers and Obama himself, once his time as president has come and gone and his attentions have turned to other things.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

oleh February 3, 2009 at 1:26 am

An interesting title “Dreams from my Father”. Yet Obama’s father had little direct contact with Obama. Obama’s father visited Obama’s family for a while Obama was in high school. He had little contact with his son. Yet it is his father’s genes that result in Obama being the first African – American president. It seems his real African-American roots are almost adopted. He takes up with the African-American community of the South Side of Chicago. I think Obama’s strength may lie in being able to choose what he wishes to be and what he wishes to represent. Writing “Dreams from my Father” was probably one of the key cornerstones in that journey.

I can recommend it not only for those who want to understand Obama, but also to help understand America.

oleh January 14, 2010 at 3:04 am

Yesterday evening, my book club discussed “Dreams from my father”. We had the liveliest discussion of any night I can remember. The concensus was that Obama was a very good writer. We were also unabashed fans of Obama, although two or three within the group had serious reservations about some of his recent decisions. Returning to the subject of this book, it was a great hit within the book club

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