439 of 538 people found the following review helpful
U.S. Senate hopeful Barack Obama has an inspiring story to share, and yet he doesn't simply rest on his laurels in this critical evaluation of his life and in his continuing search for himself as a black American. He wrote "Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance" almost ten years ago, but his stock has obviously surged since his star-making speech at the Democratic National Convention last month, perhaps to the chagrin of Hillary Clinton...unless she is dreaming of a Clinton-Obama ticket in 2008! Growing up mulatto in Hawaii and Indonesia, Obama discusses trying to come to grips with his racial identity through a period of rebellion that included drug use, becoming a community activist in Chicago and traveling to Kenya to understand his father's past. It is in Kenya where he discovers a nation with forty different tribes, each of them saddled with stereotypes of the others. It is also in Kenya where he recognizes the dichotomy that has been his lifelong existence between the graves of his father and his grandfather. His description of this defining moment is worthy of a passage in Alex Haley's "Roots".
Obama is also candid about racism, poverty and corruption in Chicago, and he pulls no punches in his account of this period. Because the book stops in 1995, it does not get into much detail on his learning experiences, culminating in both missteps and triumphs, as a state legislator. For all the value the book provides on Obama's history, I would have appreciated a more substantive update than the preface on the last decade, as he gained political prominence in Illinois, so that we understand more why his time in the spotlight has come at this moment. Perhaps that will be Volume 2. I was also disappointed he spent so little time writing about his mother and the influence her side of the family has had on him, a narrative gap Obama acknowledges and over which he expresses regret in the preface. Perhaps inclusion of such details would have made for a less compelling story from his originally intended Afro-centric perspective; but at the same time, I think a more balanced look at his own racial dichotomy would have made his story resonate all the more given where he is now.
Obama is open in the preface about using changed names and composite characters to expedite the flow and ensure privacy of those around him, but it does somewhat lessen the impact of his story when one starts to wonder who was real and who was a fictionalized character. Regardless of these literary devices, this book is still a very worthwhile look into the background of someone who is on a major upward trajectory in the current national political scene.
374 of 486 people found the following review helpful
Barack Obama is obviously an articulate, intelligent man; but his "story of race and inheritance" may leave readers scratching their heads at times. The story of his life, the son of a Kenyan man and a white woman who divorced when he was a young child, is atypical. His father, an extremely book smart man, polygamist, big talker and eventually sometimes embarrassment to the family who was known as the Old Man to his many children, seems an unlikely source of the "dreams" of which the title speaks. The author met his father but once, when he was ten years old. Dr. Barack Obama was already married (p 422) when he met his namesake's mother while studying in the States. He returned to Africa alone, married again (and again) and had more children. His mother then married (and later divorced) an Indonesian man and they moved to Djakarta, where he spent his early years until moving in with his maternal grandparents in Hawaii. He ended up in Chicago, where he signed on to help organize African-Americans to work together to gain funding for projects to improve the quality of their lives and those of their children. Three years and much success (after a bumpy start) later, he headed off to graduate school, but not before finally attending services at a large, popular, local church. Readers may wonder if, during the several page section rounding out Part 2 (Chicago), he may have experienced some sort of spiritual awakening: the signs pointing ambiguously to "maybe," making one wonder why the event was included at all. The latter thirty percent of the book covers his first trip to Kenya (his father having already passed away) and his interactions with a convoluted web of relatives: aunts, uncles, cousins, and half and step siblings: the details of which, although unusual, will probably be of no more interest to readers than the tales of their own genealogical connections (a family tree would have been clarifying). Although Dreams From My Father is a good story about a smart, well-intentioned, accomplished man (with complicated family connections) who has lived an interesting life, its hard not to question his focus on his (absent) father in lieu of his mother.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 2009
"Where once I'd felt the need to live up to his expectations, I now felt as if I had to make up for all his mistakes"
So says Barack Obama of his father in the sentence which is at the core of this fascinating memoir.
Written 15 years ago when the unknown Barack Obama was the first black President of the Harvard Law Society the book sold modestly. Unsurprisingly now back in print it is a best seller. Most politicians write their memoirs after, rather than before the event justifying and glorifying their actions. Or they write political tracts full of self promotion. This is neither of those sorts of book. Instead we enter the mind and inner thoughts of the 33 year old Obama as he tries, at times painfully, to grapple with the sense of his own identity and purpose.
Obama's autobiographical details are as unusual as they are intriguing and offer some sort of explanation as to the man he was later to become. Born in Hawaii to a black Kenyan academic and white university student who hailed from Kansas he spent his primary school years in Jakarta before returning to Hawaii to live with his maternal grandparents and attend a private high school. The only memories he retains of his father are from aged 10 when "the old man", as Obama calls him, returns from Kenya for a brief, tense family Christmas in Hawaii. When the Old man, now in his third marriage and with numerous children, is killed aged 45 in a Kenyan car accident Obama is robbed of the opportunity to establish a relationship.
Obama writes lucidly with wonderful turns of phrase and if his chosen profession fails to work out he has another readymade as a writer. We sense his confusion and resentment at school where he is known as Barry, kids run their hands through his tight curls, give him high fives and treat him like a cool street rapper. He hangs out with his white grandfather in black bars and at card games and tries to grasp his grandmother's fear of being robbed by a black man at the bus stop. We follow his progress as a student where he lives in a flat eating soup from a can and even sleeping rough in New York when he is locked out of his apartment. A growing desire to try and understand the place of the black man in America takes him to Chicago and there are some moving insights to his work as a Community Organiser; surely the most thankless of tasks. We read of his efforts to motivate communities where on cold weeknight evenings he speaks in church halls at woefully attended meetings. He tries to understand the paradox that as many of the black people in this most divided of cities become successful their communities break down; they retreat to soulless suburbs and lock their doors. The final section of the book is cathartic as he visits Kenya and meets his large extended family: "My name belonged and so I belonged, drawn into a web of relationships, alliances and grudges that I did not yet understand".
Some strong characters emerge from the pages:
His rather sad maternal Grandfather, Gramps, so full of dreams and aspirations but who finishes as a failed insurance salesman. His streetwise assistant in Chicago, Johnnie, who was as happy discussing "..jazz, black women's backsides or Federal Reserve Bank policy..".His wonderful Kenyan half sister Auma who because of intelligence and verve finds herself supporting the extended Kenyan family. And inevitably his father who transforms from debonair, wealthy , bright high level public servant to womanising, drinking, feckless failure and then back to somewhere in between over the course of the narrative.
Criticisms of such a brave book seem harsh. His mother appears briefly and is not well drawn yet we know she was his most powerful influence. The subject matter is by nature introspective and though never self indulgent or pitying may have benefitted from more wit. Some sections are overly long.
What else can "Dreams from my Father" tell us about the 44th President of the United States? His intelligence and eloquence go without saying but here is a man who is also self critical, analytical, sensitive and contemplative. He will need a full hand of all these talents as he embarks on his greatest challenge to date.
One senses however that he no longer feels the need to either live up or make up for the dreams of his father.
45 of 61 people found the following review helpful
on October 25, 2008
This reviewer decided to read Barack Obama's 1994 revised autobiography "Dreams from My Father" in the fall of 2008 since he was one of the US presidential candidates in 2008. This revised version of the book was released in 2004.
Autobiographies are very useful means to learn from the author's experiences. Autobiographies by authors that were highly successful in their lives, or had a major impact on history, can provide information revealing as many of the valuable lessons the author has learned and recorded for the benefit of the reader. Autobiographies also reveal how authors think.
Overall: the author only believes everything in terms of his liberal dogma beliefs. He is highly critical of blacks that want to just get along and fit into the mainstream. He advocates "social justice", a euphuism for mob justice. He only rationalizes lawless behavior and will not label anything bad except what contradicts his liberal dogma beliefs. He believes that all the black problems are due to the whites.
The cover of the Three Rivers Press paper-back version states that it is: "A Story of Race and Inheritance," and indeed it is. The author presents all of his experiences and acquired knowledge in terms of race and a quest to learn of his Kenyan dad's background. These two issues thoroughly permeate the entire book.
He interprets every experience and thing he knows of in terms of liberal sociological and psychological teachings. It comes through, often seemingly illogically, in his interpretation of every experience and thing he acquires knowledge of on almost every page of the book.
At the end of his Columbia University days, he decided to become a community organizer (or social activist). The author had previously transferred from Occidental college (Oxy) to Columbia University in New York city since most blacks at Oxy wanted to get along with and be successful in the mainstream and were not interested in social activism. He viewed Columbia as being "in heart of a true city, with black neighborhoods in close proximity." Oxy is located near Pasadena, a highly enviable and pristine town near Los Angeles, noted for its prosperity and resistance to crack-pot ideas and politics (from what this reviewer knows of that town). The author describes the Oxy environment as being similar to Hawaii, "The students were friendly, the teachers encouraging," and the author labels any such behaving blacks as "compromise."
While at Oxy, he preferred to associate with: "The more politically active black students. The foreign students. The Chicanos. The Marxist professors and structural feminists and punk-rock performance poets. We smoked cigarettes and wore leather jackets. At night, in the dorms, we discussed neocolonialism, Franz Fanon, Eurocentrism, and patriarchy. When we ground out our cigarettes in the hallway carpet or set our stereos so loud that the walls began to shake, we were resisting bourgeois society's stifling constraints. We weren't indifferent or careless
or insecure. We were alienated." And the author appeared to be diligent about being as alien and uncivil in society as he could be with this group of clones of his maternal grandfather.
The harsh and bleak realities of portions of New York City that he stayed in and visited while at Columbia compel the author to cease using drugs and practicing other related dissipations that he indulged in while at Oxy. In other words, he fits very comfortably into the harsh and bleak areas of the NYC environment, but could not tolerate the relatively plush, prosperous, and pristine Pasadena environment. This attitude appears to this reviewer as being a very familiar symptom of firm blessed-be-the-poor type beliefs, whose roots comes from the Roman Catholic Church, which is the mother of socialism (minus the church's assorted deities).
The author has little else to say about his Junior and Senior years at Columbia. The highlight of his stay at Columbia is a visit from his mother and his sister, to check up on him and to show her daughter all the sights to see in the city as well as other locations in the continental US.
After college, he became a research assistant in a consulting house to multinational corporations -- with the intent of staying only long enough to pay off his college expenses. He described himself as "spy
behind enemy lines," still in the mind-set of an hostile alien. He was the envy of the other black employees at that firm and they were proud of him but disparaged of his plans to become a community organizer. After he was promoted to financial writer, he left the company (and it leaves him in excellent financial condition) to pursue his community organizer interests. His initial community organizer work proves to be unprofitable (and leaves him in poor financial condition).
Then he interviewed with a Chicago based community organizer (highlighting that he looked very out-of-shape and unkempt, and was Jewish). The community organizer asked him, "Hmmph."..."You must be angry about something." The author replied: "What do you mean by that?" The community organizer answered: "I don't know what exactly. But something. Don't get me wrong -- anger's a requirement for the job. The only reason anybody decides to become an organizer. Well adjusted people find more relaxing work." So this preferred career choice showed that the author had developed a large measure of anger about race.
His dad (Barack Obama, Sr.) was from Kenya. His dad was resourceful and intelligent enough to get a scholarship to attend college in Hawaii. That is where he met his white mother (Ann Dunham). He digressed to describe her parents (Stanley (family familiar: "Gramps") and Madelyn (family familiar: "Toot") Dunham) and their backgrounds. It is his white grandparents who perform a major portion of the author's upbringing (the cover photographs show that author bears a striking resemblance to his white maternal grandfather - the text makes no mention of this). His white grandfather always preferred the company of blacks as he was something of a wild rebel and simply did not fit into main (white) society. This likely influenced his daughter's decision to marry Barack Obama Sr.. His daughter's marriage only lasted a short while. Barack Obama Sr. Received a scholarship to do graduate work at Harvard, so he just left the author at about age two and his mother in Hawaii with the grandparents and went to Harvard. He turned downed a more generous financial offer from another university in New York city that would have allowed the entire family to go there but he preferred the prestige of Harvard - but with its less generous financial offer. So he went to Harvard by himself.
Meanwhile, Stanley Dunham received a long and harsh letter from Obama Sr.'s severe father (Hussein Onyango) denouncing the marriage and it became apparent to her from the other contents of the letter that Barack Obama Sr. was still legally (or by local tradition) married to his first Kenyan wife and so she divorced him since she did not approve of polygamy. Before the marriage, Barack Obama Sr. had told Ann Dunham that he had separated from his first Kenyan wife that he had been married in a traditional village marriage. The narrative later explains that polygamy is a Kenyan tradition (ditto the rest of sub saharan Africa) and when a Kenyan marriage ends, the children go to the father, if he wants them. African traditions are like laws and are treated as having more authority than civil laws (the book does not discuss this matter but you cannot miss it if you know any Africans or have visited the continent). Hussein Onyango was vehemently opposed to that marriage since he had become very familiar with western culture (he had immersed himself in it when the British showed up in order to learn their ways and to learn how to defeat them) and knew that no white woman would put up with a polygamous African husband. His long and harsh letter to Stanley Dunham effectively torpedoed his daughter's marriage to Barack Obama Sr. once she had read it.
After Harvard, Barack Obama Sr. went back to Kenya with his next American white wife (Ruth, 2 children) while still married to the first Kenyan wife (2 children). He worked for the local Shell oil division and then used his connections to get a government job in the Ministry of Tourism. It lasted until his well known imperious manner got him into trouble with Jomo Kenyatta himself. He had to scrape by on handouts until Kenyatta died and then he got another government job in the Ministry of Finance. Meanwhile, he routinely became drunk so that his third wife Ruth left him after his first DUI car accident that killed the other driver (a white farmer). The author only saw him for a few days while he was living in Hawaii (when his dad came to stay to recover from his first major auto wreck). He then had a young fourth wife (1 child). Later his dad got killed in his final auto wreck.
This missing dad later motivates the author to search out information about him since he was never really raised by him at all and only sent him a number of short general type letters. His dad was spread too thin from one continent to another, one wife and the children by her (not "her children" according to Kenyan tradition), and with other wives and the children by them. Therefore, he ended up not being an effective real-time dad to any of the children he fathered. Only one of the author's male Kenyan relatives realizes that polygamy simply does not work. The author was somewhat shattered by what he found out from his relatives in Kenya about his father.
The author's mother married an Indonesian student (Lolo) after divorcing Barack Obama, Sr. and moved to Indonesia with the author. His step-father fathered his half-sister Maya. The author's step-father took a genuine interest in his development and upbringing, teaching him how to survive and cope in a hazardous, corrupt, and wretched society. This training appears to be the basis of the author's unrivalled political skills. This marriage lasts until the author's mother decided that this husband was too cooperative with that country's corruptive practices to get by (her impractical idealism clashed badly with his practical reality methods) and did not like how the author was being treated in the local schools (since Asians are intolerant of racial differences). The author's step-father tried hard to provide for and shelter his family -- at a level far above the norm for Indonesian society, but the author's mother resented it all since none of this conformed to her ideals of absolute ideological perfection. One can afford to have these ideas, courtesy of a rule-of-law society, such as in the US, whether these impractical ideas work or not, anywhere at all -- but not in a social Darwinist type society, such as Indonesia, where no one can survive on the ideals of absolute ideological perfection. So in the end, ideological incorrectness ended the marriage. The author labels his step father as a compromiser, despite all the survival skills he taught him that he very effectively uses for politics.
On the other hand, the author's mother was, to some degree, justified to object to the corrupt practices present in Indonesian society since that is what make a third world country a third world country. This reviewer has encountered a number of people from the third world who were raised on social Darwinist principles. They always look only after themselves, they will take advantage of you every time you have to work with them, they take credit for your work, they hide information you need - even if you have requested it, they walk all over you, they make you appear to be useless, and in the end - they cause you to be booted out.
The author's mother then took her children back to Hawaii (when the author was about 10 years old) to have their grandparents raise them while she was working on her social work and then divorced Lolo. That's right, her social work was more important than than raising her children. Sound familiar? The Dunhams seem to have been already immersed in the lower end of US self-serving, self-righteous, and all about-me social behavior.
Back in Hawaii, his maternal grandfather's boss used his alumni connections to get the author admitted to Punahou, a private secondary school in Hawaii. The author completed grades 5 to 12 at Punahou. A notable incident there was a white high-school friend's discomfort at an all-black party that made the author feel as if he was regarded as societal alien by all whites and this angered him very intensely. This incident appears to stir up his festering anger about race.
Later, his grandmother insists on being driven to work on a day following an incident where a black man had harassed her at the bus stop. This incident cements his anger about race.
The book even explains how he developed his renown smooth-saying abilities (from pages 94-95 of the Three Rivers Press and Crown Publishers paperback versions):
"...and one day she" (referring to his mother) "had marched into my room, wanting to know the details of Pablo's arrest. I had given her a reassuring smile and patted her hand and told her not to worry, I wouldn't do anything stupid. It was usually an effective tactic, another one of those tricks I had learned: People were satisfied so long as you were courteous and smiled and made no sudden moves. They were more than satisfied, they were relieved -- such a pleasant surprise to find a well-mannered young black man who didn't seem angry all the time."
So there you have the explanation for his smooth-saying: an effective tactic, that uses a courteous demeanor and reassuring smile to trick people into being satisfied with whatever he was saying (while hiding his anger). Moreover, he explains that is also an effective means to deceive (trick) people. No wonder he defeated Senator Clinton in the democrat primary in 2008. She was merely a talented deceit-sayer. On the other hand, her opponent was a much more talented and seasoned smooth-sayer and deceit-sayer. This also explains why he manages the amazing feat of continuing to maintain his associations with radicals of all types while maintaining his popular appeal to the mainstream (it looks like the Lolo taught survival skills).
Those two pages of the revised 1994 autobiography grabbed the reviewer's attention more than any other portion of the book since they explain so very much about this author.
Until about three fourths into the autobiography, he views western religions (but not eastern religions) with some disdain except that he enjoys the singing and music (that is, the entertainment). During his community organizer career period in Chicago, a number of people he was working with advised him to see a very popular minister (a Rev. Jerimiah Wright, Jr.) who was very effective with getting social type work done. So he went to see Jeremiah Wright at the Trinity Baptist Church. The narrative radically changes its character here to portray Jeremiah Wright as a saint. Jeremiah Wright is the only adult male he describes positively and non-critically that he experienced up to 1994 in the book. Rev. Wright explains his background and how he got to be where he then was to the author. He explains that he sampled Islam and activist issues, but in the end, he decided to return to his religious "Christian" origins and obtained a PhD in the history of religion. He explains that the Trinity Baptist Church emphasizes African history and scholarship.
While visiting the Trinity Baptist Church that day, the author picks up a silver brochure entitled ""Black Value System" - that the congregation had adopted in 1979. At the top of the list was a commitment to God, "who will give us the strength to give up prayerful passivism and become Black Christian activists, soldiers for Black freedom and the dignity of all humankind." Then a commitment to the black community and black family, education, the work ethic, discipline, and self-respect." This black religious activism blends more-or-less homogeneously with the authors secular activist ideas and beliefs. The author highlights a portion in the brochure that encourages the pursuit of income but discourages the pursuit of class status. This specific anti-socialist principle explains the sustained growth and success of the church and the success and prosperity of the church's members. Other black activist churches limp along with their socialist baggage but the Trinity Baptist Church long ago dumped this specific socialist baggage it may have had and this apparently caused it to enormously prosper. Ingenious!
Rev. Wright also describes his social work and this impresses the young author since that is what he was focusing his career on. This motivates the young author to follow a suggestion by Rev. Wright to attend one of his sermons in the Trinity Baptist church a short while later. The author has a so-called "religious experience" during the very first service, no doubt boosted by Rev. Wright's inflammatory black activist rhetoric. If you watch any of those sermons on YouTube, you will see Wright's radical inflammatory black activist rhetoric (G-- D--- America!, etc.) and how it puts the Trinity Baptist congregation into a rapturous state of ecstasy and joy. And in one of those videos, he gets the congregation so stirred up and excited, that one of the church officials has to rush up to Wright from behind to merely touch him, as if to reap the benefit of touching a god. Now that's entertainment! - and a incredibly very false religion too!
Before that point, the narrative mostly criticizes the state of the blacks in this country, blames all their problems and pathologies on everything and especially the whites but except themselves, and there is nothing good he does not condemn and nothing bad he does not rationalize and justify to himself. He even witnessed a street shooting (two black punks chasing a third) in Chicago that he has to dive out of the way from, but proceeds to rationalize the shooters deadly conduct once the action has passed. The narrative resumes its prior dogmatic tone after passing by the effusive description of Rev. Jeremiah Wright (who seems to be an idealized version of the author's not-so-ideal father).
Scattered in a few spots in the book, he singles out President Reagan with seething contempt and scathing criticism (pages 133 & 203).
Near the end of his Chicago community organizer days, he decides that politics would be a more effective means to achieve his community organizer related objectives. He then decides to enroll in the Harvard law school, where he was extremely successful.
The author describes several trips to Kenya to visit his dad's relatives in the last portion of the book. His female half-sisters and aunts tried valiantly to describe how the Kenyan traditions oppress them but he could only see their complaints due to the white colonists. Colonialism never erased any of the African traditions in any African country since they are so very intensely institutionalized. This portion of the book is very interesting but the author interprets everything in terms of liberal dogma and this detracts from it.
Later, the author is married by Rev. Jeremiah Wright in the Trinity Baptist Church.
The book shows that once he wins the election, he will surely appoint judges that believe in "social justice" and will rationalize and excuse every imaginable act of lawlessness.
Reading the 1994 autobiography was a thoroughly unpleasant and down-throwing experience. I have never read a book that was as unpleasant as that one. Even "Quotations from Chairman Mao," stuffed with nothing but highly repetitive totalitarian dogma is more uplifting than "Dreams from My Father." The author is obviously very articulate and has excellent powers of recall (he seems to possess a photographic memory) but there is far too much negativism, endless brooding, and bitterness in his thinking. And all that negativism is all written down in "Dreams from My Father." The book more or less provides the foundation that proves that the mixed raced society in the US is a total comprehensive failure.
Well yes, his dad thoroughly abandoned him, his mother often left him with her parents to do her self-fulfilling self-righteous social work overseas, and his liberal grandparents did most of his upbringing. But he grew up mostly in Hawaii, except for a brief time in Indonesia (where he was well provided for), attended mostly private schools in Hawaii (courtesy of the "connections" his maternal grandfather was able to exploit), and graduated from an renown and respected college, and was a successful high achiever at the prestigious Harvard law school. So he was generously provided for, not necessarily by his parents, but by the people left to raise him. This enabled him to capable of becoming highly successful at earning a living. So he had a much more privileged upbringing than most people in the US had but had a similar very faulty upbringing that many others have had in the US. The mixed race upbringing instilled much anger in him and it does not seem that he knows entirely how to live. And the author was the successful winning candidate to become President of the United States. And the news media overwhelmingly cheered him on as if he was the messiah (or 12th mahdi, depending the point of religious reference that applies). And finally, how will all that anger inside come out while he is the US President? The book suggests that in whatever it will be, this anger will come out smooth and sugar coated, but with nothing but terrible consequences inside.
One could argue that his the authors views have changed since the book was revised in 2004 but that wasn't very long ago. The book explains the foundation of the author's opinions and beliefs.
As for rating the book, it is well written and detailed, and provides excellent insights into the author's thinking and experiences (a 5 rating). However, what it reveals is very negative and the book drones on and on throughout with the author preaching his dogmas and all of this makes the book a very unpleasant read, but it was a valuable experience (a 1 to 2 rating). So I gave it an average 3 rating overall. The narrative does not flow chronologically and the account needs to be pieced together as in the manner of solving a puzzle. That is a common literary style and I did not use that for the rating. Anyone that carried out their "civic duty to vote" in November 2008 ar any other time in the future should read or have read this book beforehand no matter how pleasant or unpleasant they may find it to read. It will be a basis for a much more informed experience than all of the useless noise emanating from all of the political campaigns.