Like Obama's own joke about having been named "Barak" (meaning 'blessed') by his father, and having been named "Hussein" by someone who obviously thou...moreLike Obama's own joke about having been named "Barak" (meaning 'blessed') by his father, and having been named "Hussein" by someone who obviously thought he would never run for president, I have to think that this book was written by someone who may not (on some level) have known that about himself, yet, either.
There are a number of fascinating themes in this book: about the complicated roles of race and class in America's social heirarchy, about tribalism in Africa and how astonishingly similar it is to the kinds of group identities present in American sociey; about the compromises to be made in the achievement of power and wealth, which, ironically, seem to prerequisits to remaking society to more closely reflect one's ideals. There is also a refreshing portrayal of the role of simple, sustained hard work, discipline, and self-sacrifice in every kind of achievement, from uncomplicated, concrete things like physical comfort and wealth, to satisfaction with life, well being, happiness, and love.
But the main theme, Obama's quest to understand the father he never knew, and thereby to better understand himself, is riveting in all the unexpected places it takes him, and us. Now that I have read this book, I am more astonished than ever that this odyssey led him to the presidency of the United States, even though the ideals bequeathed him by his absent father set his feet upon that path.
In a way, this book is really all about Obama's mother. Through her, Obama made his way through his childhood judging himself against an inhuman standard: not against the obviously flawed, though deeply loved and loving family who raised him, but rather against the idealized image of his father that his mother created for him: a man both hard-headed and idealistic, brilliant and tirelessly diligent, someone who believed not just in the equality of man as an abstract idea, but who also believed that such equality was not just attainable in his lifetime, but inevitable. A man who made such a dream seem not just possible, but already upon us.
Compared to the idealized image Obama had of his father, the men who were present in life must necessarily have seemed hopelessly flawed: Gramps and his stepfather in Indonesia, Lolo, each had much to teach him, but their lives were as much cautionary tales--how not to live one's life--as examples of how to be a man. When Obama at last discovered that his father was just as human, and just as flawed as the men he knew as a child, it was already too late: he had already made his map of the world, and his place in it, based upon an abstract ideal.
The book is well written--much better than anyone would have any reason to expect from a politician--and full of love and humor. I enjoyed this book, and find myself challenged and inspired to work harder to understand myself and my world, and to make both better.
I've read and re-read this many times; this is one of my favorite books of all time. It's enormously entertaining but also one o...moreA gem of a biography.
I've read and re-read this many times; this is one of my favorite books of all time. It's enormously entertaining but also one of the most awesome glimpses of what it is that makes us human that one could hope to get. Many of Feynman's insights inform my worldview to this day--this is a must read for any scientist, whether they study basic science, clinical medicine, social science, or are informal observers of the world, natural and man-made. (less)