44 - Barack Obama

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44 - Barack Obama

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Jan 5, 2009, 9:34pm

Obviously there isn't much to read yet, but Dreams from My Father is probably the best option. He really didn't sugar coat the not so good stuff in his life.

Jan 5, 2009, 9:36pm

I'm sure that in the next few years we'll get more books to choose from.

Fev 10, 2009, 7:05pm

Finished Obama: From Promise to Power by David Mendell today. I was really stalled on this. I read non-fiction slower than fiction, to be sure, but this just took me ages. I think also I've been incredibly busy with work, but still.....from January 25 to now to get through this!

So, I wanted to read a biography of Obama - I wasn't ready to read an autobiography until I read an outside party's perspective.

Mendell is a Chicago Tribune reporter who has been covering Obama since he began his campaign for the Senate.

Obama: From Promise to Power covers Obama's entire life, although it's much more detailed during the time Obama was in Chicago, and very detailed from the beginning of Obama's Senate campaign. It ends with Obama's announcement of his presidential campaign.

The book is heavily notated, with a great deal of material coming from personal interviews with Obama's family and people working on his campaigns. In addition, he does quote Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope as well.

Mendell is not totally fawning and it does have criticisms of Obama, but I would say Mendell likes his subject. It does offer opinions different from Obama's own memoirs.

Although I was interested in learning more about Obama, this book did not hold my interest. At 387 pages, I expected to be through it pretty quickly. Yet I was mired down in the middle of the book, where eight chapters (albeit not very long ones) covered the bulk of his Senate campaign. It wasn't until the about the end of his campaign, and the chapter on his speech to the 2004 Democratic National Convention that the book started to move a little more quickly. Perhaps this was just a little too much detail for me.

Towards the end, there were three chapters on his trip to Africa, which I found very interesting, and then finally the last chapter leading up to Obama's declaration of his run for the presidency.

So, I liked parts of it and I learned a lot, but it was slow going.

Jul 13, 2009, 3:15pm

This is probably the only president I've read so far. I read Dreams from my Father. It's an alright book, it only goes really until his marriage to Michelle. I think The Audacity of Hope covers the senate years. I found the book it a little hard to keep up with in the begininng. He tells you one story and the flashes back to another time then continues into a different story, but then comes back to the original story. Towards the end, the book seems to come together.

I must say I do find it great that we now have a president who has spent significant time abroad! I'm sure that gives him a unique perspective of foreign affairs and the global economy!

Jul 14, 2009, 4:54pm

I have read both of President Obama's books also, and I have to agree that from his background he brings a much different perspective to the White House than his predecessors, especially his views on foreign policy and America as an imperialist power. He has definitely lived an interesting life.

I actually really liked Dreams from my Father. You can tell from reading it that he wasn't planning to go into politics then since he makes some embarassing confessions, and it is just a very honest and personal story of how he comes to grips with his racial identity. It is really interesting how he comes to identify himself along his father's race (African) even though he was really raised by his mother's side (white, Midwestern). In this book, he was very outspoken about racism and very critical of the Reagan administration and the impact it had on the streets of Chicago where he was working as a community organizer.

For me anyway, it almost seemed like The Audacity of Hope was written by somebody else. In his first book, he very much identified himself as an African-American liberal, but in his second book, he is more post-racial and post-partisan (now even praising President Reagan). There is no criticism of anything, and he really he has no opinions to offer - it is more like here is the liberal side, here is the conservative side, both have good points of view, and let's be bi-partisan and find a middle ground. In other words, more like politician speak, not wanting to offend anyone.

The Audacity of Hope has some interesting stories, but for someone wanting to learn more about President Obama's background, I would stick with Dreams from my Father. I would actually recommend that book even if Barack Obama never became a famous public figure just because it is such a great story and so well-written.

Jul 27, 2010, 10:09pm

The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama by David Remnick **** 7/26/10

Written by New Yorker editor David Remnick, this lengthy journalistic look at Barack Obama's life examines the influences which shaped him, the choices he's made, and the events which have propelled him to prominence so quickly. The story begins with the lives of Obama's grandparents, the story of his parents' brief marriage, and his childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia. Broad-ranging information is also given on the history and leaders of the civil rights movement and the impact on Obama of the African-American heritage he investigated and made his own in his teens and later. A large section concerns his time in Chicago, and the last couple of chapters cover the race aspects of the 2008 presidential election. Much of the book is based on interviews with hundreds of people, from Obama and his far-flung family to his advisors, detractors, and adversaries. Perhaps as befits a biography of someone still at the beginning of his administration, there is not a great deal of analysis. Instead, the author delves into facts, reminiscences, and materials written by Obama and others.

I picked up this book hoping to get a better grip on who Obama is, what makes him tick, and how he works at problem-solving among people with so many competing agendas. I have profound respect for the President, a brilliant, charasmatic and highly-educated man who approaches those who disagree with him with patience and respect. I'm not sure how successful this will be in a field crippled by habitual distrust, hate, and lies, but if we have any chance to dig ourselves out of the hole in which partisanship has buried us, such an attitude is imperative.

Some of my questions, such as the details of his early life and the influences on it, were answered. Others, such as why he identifies as black rather than as white, say, are less clear to me, although the answer there may simply be a matter of what is allowed for a mixed-race child in our society. (Although Obama doesn't seem to have been embraced particularly warmly by black America, either, where his appeal to non-blacks has sometimes been used as proof that he isn't black enough.)

While it will be years before we know how successful Obama will be in finding others who will reach across the aisle (or even support his efforts from the same side of the aisle), I now have a much better idea of why he appeals to so many and what tactics he will use to promote America's well-being and future.

Jul 28, 2010, 5:23pm

Thanks. I have The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama on my shelf, and am looking forward to reading it after I'm finished with Zachary Taylor. Jonathan Alte has a book on Obama's first year as well.

As far as why he identifies with being black more, I'm biracial and can give you some insight. A lot of it has to do with just skin color, and how you are treated as a result. But a lot of it as to do as well with the underdog syndrome. When you see the racism that certain family members or friends of yours have to deal with, you are naturally defensive toward that area of your heritage.

If you really want to know about this, you MUST read Dreams from My Father. That is what the book is about. The book spoke to me as a biracial person, and it is one of my favorite books of all time. I think it will tell you a lot too about what kind of President he is and will be.

Jul 28, 2010, 6:17pm

Hi Ted,

Thanks for the insights. Remnick refers to and quotes at length from Dreams of My Father, but I'll have to read it myself. I was looking at the Jonathan Alter book this morning and wondering if I wanted to read it, and I think I will.

The more I've come to like Obama the more I wished he could identify as biracial (which is what he is), but I do understand that's probably impossible in a society that thinks in such black and white (pardon the pun) terms. It says a lot about him that he still has such broad support across racial lines. He seems to have the magic touch in that regard, which still surprises me, given the racial hate still evident in this country.

Jul 29, 2010, 9:23am

Thanks Ted for your perspective. I think the problem is that although Obama is as much white as he is black, white Americans automatically see him as black and have no doubt done so his entire life. At the end of the day, the election turned out to have very little to do with race -- except for those who could not bring themselves to vote for a "black" man.

I also admire Obama very much, although I continue to wish he would compromise less with the right and forge ahead with a more liberal agenda. His enemies call him a socialist, but thiu far his administration has been surprisingly right-of-center on almost every substantive issue. (Even in health care reform -- which surely belongs to the left -- the bill that passed was the most "conservative" version.) My own take is that he is following more of a JFK course than an FDR one -- and I voted for FDR-Obama -- waiting for his second term to move forward with a more aggressive progressive agenda. Of course he may not get that second term and like JFK's heir Johnson, the war(s) may sink him.

Jul 29, 2010, 6:37pm

Here's a link to his appearance on The View today. At the 17 minute mark, Barbara Walters asks why he doesn't classify himself as biracial, and he talks about it a little.


I admire Obama a great deal, and I voted for him for the opposite reason. I thought he would be a JFK Dem all along. Dreams From My Father was the main clue. His very identity is a clue. He is an incrementalist, and an accomodator. It's in his DNA, as it is in my mine. That's not to say that all biracial people are that way, but in reading Dreams From My Father, Obama's experience is in many ways similar to mine. The struggle to find out who you are, and which side you fit into, only to realize that you are you, and you should embrace your own differences and not try to just fit in with one side.

I disagree with you that his positions are right of center. Health care is Romneycare. It was passed in Massachusetts, which is not a right of center state. The individual mandate is a liberal idea, and the bill's regulations on rescission and pre-existing conditions are not right of center. The compromise was that health care would stay based in private care, but the government is regulating it. I don't think financial regulation is right of center either. I would even argue that his positions on state secrets and national security are more left of center than right of center, because they involve expanded government power, but they are viewed as right of center merely because Bush started them. In that way, Obama is like FDR. And as far as Afghanistan goes, he did exactly what he said he was going to do in the campaign: draw down in Iraq, focus on Afghanistan.

The clues were all there to what kind of a President he would be. I think people are frustrated with him because he has not been able to impose his will on Congress. But if this reading challenge has taught us anything, it's that NO President can impose his will upon Congress.

Sorry to get somewhat political here, but when discussing Presidents, politics come into play.

Jul 29, 2010, 6:52pm

>11 TedV:

Ted, this challenge has taught me exactly that - that today's politics are not only business as usual, they're business as it's always been. It's discouraging. Given the political climate, I see Obama's successes as pretty impressive. It's the Democratic Congress I get really angry with.

Jul 29, 2010, 11:53pm

Ted -- I'm still a big fan, especially when I'm reminded of the alternative. And I recognize that there must be compromises. But the right has moved the center and the right sets the agenda and the right sits in unyielding and uncompromising judgement. A failure to actly boldly could lose the game. That is what worries me.

Dez 28, 2010, 5:17pm

Just finished a ton of reading on our current President. Chose to read about him after I finished Lincoln. I'll talk about Lincoln in the other post.

I've read Obama by Mendell. It's a good book if you don't know much about the man, but I think that's a tough sell for anyone in this group. Dreams From My Father is a great biographical sketch by the man itself, and should be read more for how he views himself than the actual detail. I wasn't a fan of The Audacity of Hope. It was better than most presidential campaign roll outs, but it was a pretty sterile stating of policy views in my opinion. Served its purpose, but you don't really learn much about the man. I've started Remnick's book with my wife, but it's slow going. For a guy who is the editor in chief of The New Yorker, he sure could have used an editor for the book. Very poor prose.

I just finished three straight books about the administration. Overhaul was penned by Steven Rattner, who was in charge of the auto bailouts and restructuring. There is not a lot in the book about Obama, but it is a great look at a very misunderstood (aren't they all) aspect of the Obama Administration. For example, the suggestion that the government buy a controlling share of GM was made by...the only Republican in the team, and yes, the unions did make large concessions. If you learn anything about the president from this book, it's that he is willing to let those around him make decisions without micromanaging, since at the time, he was busy with the banks and the stimulus package.

The Promise: President Obama, Year One by Jonathan Alter was a great read that not only lists the fights of the first year, but tells you something about Obama's personality and the people around him, like Rahm Emanuel. It describes ome of the minor infighting, and the leadership style of the president.

Obama's Wars by Bob Woodward delves deep into the afghanistan decision, with all its conflicts in personalities and the different strategies that the Pentagon and Joe Biden wanted to use. It also shows a young president pushing back against a military that wanted to limit his options and box him in. Woodward's books are always compelling because of the wealth of sources that he has at his fingertips. you come away really understanding how tough the decision was, how emotionally invested everyone in the room is, and how the president wants to get out of there just as badly as liberals do, but that he feels now is not the time.

Fev 26, 2011, 2:55pm

Just finished Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President by Edward McClelland. The book was about how Chicago molded Obama as a politician. It wasn't an arching biography on his life, but the narrow-focus of his time in Chicago. Definitely an interesting book for those who want to know more about Obama.

Also read Alter's book on Obama's first year. Another must read....

Set 1, 2011, 11:54pm

Is kinda eery to have read The Breakthrough: politics and race in the age of Obama recently rather than when it came out - mainly because its a book on current affairs but the affairs were no longer current.

While other black politicians, female and male, are interviewed and given attention and brief bios, Obama and the 08 election is a theme interwoven throughout.

Ifill's main point was that race (and gender) was indeed an issue, but that the way this has played out - and its success rate - has changed over the course of generations. In some cases she has a hard time coming out and stating that her points though, trying to let others make them for her through the interviews. Possibly, it is simply because she is weaving together lot of different people's personal stories and make see what comes out as common threads.

Not a biography, but lots of big names interviewed. Interesting, overall, and somewhat nostalgic for the shmaltz and slime of a past political season, now that we are well into the throes of another.

Out 23, 2011, 6:51pm

When I first joined this group a while back, I read The Faith of Barack Obama by Stephen Mansfield. Mansfield also wrote a similar book about GWB. I didn't expect an in depth analysis of the religious influences on Obama, since the book was written before his election and primarily for personal inspiration. That being said, while it did touch very briefly on his Muslim upbringing and black liberation theology, Mansfield decided to focus more on Obama's search for God and his eventual conversion to Christianity. (For what it's worth, Mansfield does make it a point to show that Obama is not nor never was a Muslim, and that secularism had much more of an influence on his childhood than Islam did.)

Editado: Out 26, 2011, 5:35pm

>17 neverstopreading:. I'm just curious. How do we know that Obama is a baptized Christian? Who baptized Obama? Do we know? This is a pretty simple question that could be easily answered, yet I've never seen it answered anywhere. Have you? If someone wanted to find my baptismal record, they would have little trouble doing so. Has anyone found Obama's?

Certainly, and this is a fact, Obama attended a Muslim school where he was registered as a Muslim and learned to recite the Koran in Arabic. He attended special classes to learn the Koran. Obama's father, stepfather, and grandparents were all Muslims.

I don't really care one way or the other: Muslim or Christian or atheist--I'm fine with that. What bothers me is the constant and consistent story telling, depending on what group he's speaking to. Stephen Mansfield admits that he didn't interview Obama for this book. Where and when did this "conversion to Christianity" happen? If Obama is a committed Christian, then why hasn't he found a church to attend in Washington D.C., except for Easter, maybe Christmas, and the 2010 election season where the photographers can catch him attending church with the family?

I don't mean to be critical of you personally. I just don't understand why so many people are completely incurious about Obama's religion. With what is happening in the Middle East these days, shouldn't it be important to know where the U.S. president stands, personally, as far as his religion is concerned? People are all twisted up that Mitt Romney is a Mormon. Why isn't the same critical standard used on Obama and his religion?

Editado: Out 26, 2011, 7:28pm

#18 You are obviously a fringe right-winger. It's that smarmy "I don't really care but ..." Rush Limbaugh bullshit. Ignorant and offensive.

Out 29, 2011, 4:35pm

#18--Good point and well said.. Isnt it funny it is always fringe right wing and not fringe left wing. I guess depends on which side your bread is buttered on.

Editado: Out 29, 2011, 4:54pm

We are not supposed to get political on this Presidents thread, but I have certainly broken the rule myself.

You have to ask yourself though -- in order to qualify for not being a fringe right-wing -- why did no one ever ask where George W. Bush was born or what he really believed in? I mean the guy acted like a friggin alien and he actually had regular conversations with god ...LOL ... that didn't frighten you but you are worried that Obama is some kind of secret foreigner and a sleeper Muslim? I'm sorry, sounds like crazy talk to me ...

As for Romney, the vast majority of the attacks are coming from the evangelical right (not the Democrats) who cannot support him because the Latter-Day Saints aren't Christians in the strict sense of the word. To me, the Mormon beliefs aren't anymore rational than any other Christian or Muslim creed, but to each his own in America, right? Nixon was stark raving mad and he was a Quaker. It doesn't mean much in the real world as POTUS what church you belong to.

Personally,I would prefer if it was against the law for any political candidate to discuss his supernatural beliefs in public.

PS We actively disown our fringe left-wingers, for the most part. I think it is fine to object to Obama's foreign or domestic policies based upon ideology, but to question his place of birth or his religion as if it was some kind of conspiracy sounds pretty nutty to me ... I'm just sayin' . . .

Out 30, 2011, 1:38pm

18 (labwriter):
* How do we know that Obama is a baptized Christian? Who baptized Obama? Do we know?
Is baptism a requirement? I'm asking out of curiosity and ignorance. I think of Christianity as a set of beliefs, with many variants.
* Certainly, and this is a fact, Obama attended a Muslim school where he was registered as a Muslim and learned to recite the Koran in Arabic. He attended special classes to learn the Koran. Obama's father, stepfather, and grandparents were all Muslims.
Yes. I consider this a useful experience. On the other side, his mother and her parents associated with Unitarians, who tend to have a blind-men-and-elephant perspective on religion.
* What bothers me is the constant and consistent story telling, depending on what group he's speaking to.
Typical of a politician: I'm one of you, I understand where you're coming from, etc. Emphasis on this or that depending on the audience.
* If Obama is a committed Christian, then why hasn't he found a church to attend in Washington D.C., except for Easter, maybe Christmas, and the 2010 election season where the photographers can catch him attending church with the family?
What have other presidents done? Not something I pay much attention to, so I don't know. I might roll my eyes at the photo op, but Obama would not be unique in this respect.
* I just don't understand why so many people are completely incurious about Obama's religion.
I suppose I'd be one of the people you don't understand. Religion is not a core feature of my life, and the people I know best tend to be similarly inclined. I think of religion as a personal thing, difficult to discuss with people outside the community, assumptions and stories and symbols with layers of meaning, peculiar if evaluated literally. So if someone's world hangs together with a bunch of odd stuff, well, probably my world does too and I wouldn't want strangers inquiring. I get alarmed when the religion is rigid and insistent and aspires to theocracy.
* With what is happening in the Middle East these days, shouldn't it be important to know where the U.S. president stands, personally, as far as his religion is concerned?
To an extent. I'd be wary of a president who proclaims a Truth in conflict with a large portion of the world.
* People are all twisted up that Mitt Romney is a Mormon. Why isn't the same critical standard used on Obama and his religion?
My impression is that the people who are twisted up about Romney's religion are the same people who are twisted up about Obama's. No?

Nov 6, 2011, 1:50am

#22-there are some Christians who believe that baptism is a requirement to being Christian. Most would disagree, even if they believe it is a requirement to belong in their particular church

Nov 7, 2011, 9:55am

23: Thanks.

Nov 7, 2012, 11:32am

I wonder what type of new Obama books we can expect now that he's been re-elected.

I notice the ticker was never updated to include The Faith of Barack Obama that I read. :(

Nov 8, 2012, 5:57pm

Now that he was re-elected we can relax a little and go back to the books IMHO

Nov 21, 2012, 11:50am

I read Dreams From My Father in 2009. I need to add it to my books.

Mar 26, 2015, 11:32pm

I read Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama. It's been reviewed by people more skilled at literary criticism than I will ever hope to be and who have described it well. Me? I loved it! And I gave it 5 stars.