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The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream
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2,157 of 2,555 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
All too often here on Amazon, we review only those books and authors with which we totally agree...or totally disagree...and give little regard to the quality of the actual contents of the book. And then, our fellow Amazon viewers come along and rate our reviews strictly on the basis of their own partisan biases. This is not very helpful.

I set out to read and review Senator Barack Obama's latest book, not because I agree with everything he has to say, but because in some ways, I had respected him because he seemed to be a thoughtful and eloquent American with a compelling story. I give the book 4 stars for style and significance in our culture, but much less for substance.

The Senator has a generally warm and inviting style of communicating that portrays himself as an agent of change in American politics. In terms of writing style, THE AUDACITY OF HOPE is a good, though sometimes "preachy" read; at times, it seems a bit too earnest or striving for political correctness. Obama deserves credit for being able to discuss his values and faith in a manner that is more comfortable than many of his political contemporaries. And, in the book, he does a reasonable job of articulating why and how his faith and values cause him to think and act in the way that he does.

At times, the reader may wonder if he is too ambitious - or even naive. One can respect his energy and commitment to change, even as one firmly disagrees with his policies and plans.

And, I certainly do take issue with some of the Senator's actual policies and worldview that he discusses. His health care plans may sound noble, but they would likely lead to significantly decreased quality and choice for most Americans and soaring taxes and budget deficits...big government at its worst. Furthermore, given the overall poor performance of government in other programs, do you really want government managing your health care? Another issue: while I do believe there is strong evidence to suggest a change in the earth's climate, Senator Obama and I would disagree on the primary causes and "cures" for this change. I don't believe that cutting taxes for those who pay taxes (aka "the rich") is unfair; I may go so far as to say that Obama's affinity for radical and government-forced redistribution of wealth reeks of socialism (though it's socialism masked by a warm smile). Another point: I don't believe that a "pro-choice" position offers adequate choice for the unborn child; Obama's rhetoric in the book is moderate, but his voting record on abortion is very extreme. And, some of his associations are troubling, particularly with some radicals who seem to have shaped a significant portion of his worldview and helped launch his career.

I do agree with Senator Obama that America must overcome our addiction to foreign oil, though his opposition to many reasonable remedies is curious. I do agree that more emphasis needs to be placed on strengthening families and upholding traditional values; on reducing teen pregnancy and the root causes of poverty. However, it is difficult to align many of Obama's expressed ideas here with the numerous radical and ridiculous statements of Obama's pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright - a man who preached one sermon that inspired the title of this book.

Senator Obama's stated efforts to transcend partisanship are laudable, but it would be helpful if he acknowledged that partisanship is not only the province of "right wing Republicans" but also a staple of many of his Democratic brethren.

In the meantime, whether one is a "conservative" or a "liberal," there is much to gain in terms of insight into one of the most significant individuals on the American political stage today by reading this book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In the prologue to THE AUDACITY OF HOPE, Barack Obama sets out his primary goal for this book: "how we might being the process of changing our politics and our civil life." What he means is that political discourse has become like a game, more interested in scoring points off the other side than in working together to sincerely tackle pressing problems. He means that we need "a new kind of politics" that tries to bring the country together, to recreate the shared assumptions that bind us all together as one people.

This is an important idea, and one that Obama makes the case for eloquently. Indeed it is one that has rocketed Barack Obama from an obscure seat in the Illinois state senate into a legitimate candidate for President of the United States. But it is an idea, in the end, for a speech or for an essay--not a book.

THE AUDACITY OF HOPE is very well written, and its readers cannot help but get the sense that Obama is an honest, thoughtful, and highly impressive person. He lays out his thoughts on politics, family, race, faith, opportunity, and "the world beyond our borders." As campaign literature, it is entirely successful. Yet also a word of caution for fans of his previous book: be wary of setting your expectations too high. DREAMS FROM MY FATHER is a genuine achievement, a lasting contribution to American letters. Don't expect that here. There are a fair amount of revealing anecdotes and brilliant turns of phrase in AUDACITY. But for the most part, the book is too unfocused to have the expressive power of DREAMS. Simultaneously, it ranges too broadly to really include a deep or complete treatment of specific issues (Obama leaves no political stone unturned).

What AUDACITY fundamentally lacks is a sense of overarching narrative, something that connects all the different things Obama talks about into one idea, one movement. He attempts to find this idea in his call for common ground, for a new kind of politics. But this vision is too vague to sustain the entire book. Consequently, each of the ten chapters more or less stands alone, some being stronger than others. The third chapter on "Our Constitution" is uniformly excellent; Obama's thoughts on "Opportunity" and "Race" are weaker. As a general matter the analysis is always sharp. But it must be said that he is more adept at diagnosing problems than at offering solutions. Obama is at his best when he is telling stories and exhorting readers to chase their dreams and to imagine what is possible, playing to his formidable skills as a literary writer. The book stutters, though, when it comes to concrete policy proposals. For example, his answer to the black ghetto is a federal job program. The gulf between the vastness of our national problems and the smallness of AUDACITY's proffered solutions is large.

To bridge this gulf Obama instead offers us inspiration and dreams: that is, "the audacity of hope." But whose inspiration, and inspiration in what? Inevitably, this "sense of possibility" is drawn to a single source: the author himself, Barack Obama as the receptacle for our collective hopes and collective dreams. Yet there comes a point when hope isn't enough, when dreams clash against reality. And what then, when he is buffeted all around by the storms of fate, will Obama do? Will he sink or will he swim?

This is an open question, and THE AUDACITY OF HOPE, for all its merits, does not provide an answer.

The book is still very much worth reading. For the layperson and the political junkie alike, it is a refreshing look at what an inclusive, common sense politics could be. There are also a few startlingly memorable sections that the reader will not soon forget. Obama relates an anecdote about a reporter who had enjoyed reading his first book: "`I wonder,' she said, `if you can be that interesting in the next one you write.' By which she meant, I wonder if you can be honest now that you are a U.S. senator. I wonder, too, sometimes."

He is. For a serving American politician, that is high praise. Four stars.
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31 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on March 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I usually get through a book in a day or two; this book took over a month. I find Senator Obama's style of talking appealing; but he writes exactly as he talks - - - parenthetically. He has a soaring vision of emotional patriotism, freedom, and equality; but when it comes to practical solutions, not so much.
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386 of 537 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Well written, but it feels like there is nothing new presented about politics. If you are from the left side of the spectrum, you will find yourself nodding in agreement with Senator Obama's views, and if you hail from the right side, you will likely be shaking your head throughout most of the book.

There is a lot of apparent chastisement of political parties in general, but the author specifically cites examples from the republican party. Though I hail from the left, I got frustrated that he would present an argument that would seem like common sense, talk about how we need to centralize our political system, and then rip the republican side apart... doing just the opposite of what he says we need to stop doing!

By the end of the book, it felt more like a political stunt to discredit republicans and get ready for the White House than a book about changing the country. Ironically, I felt more sympathy towards republicans than I felt at the beginning of the book. A nice subtitle to the book would have been "The Audacity of Hope: Why the Republican Party Is Supremely Evil and Powerhungry".

A little less ripping on the republicans and following his own advice to politicians would have netted 4 or 5 stars.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Obama's first book Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance was written before he went into politics, and reads like a biography - although he brings up certain societal concerns, it is about his journey to discover himself as someone of mixed heritage that grew up without the presence of his father. "The Audacity of Hope" is written after his unlikely ascension to the national stage as a U.S. Senator and speaker at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. It is not nearly as biographical as his first book, with each chapter focused on a certain aspect of our nation ("Republicans and Democrats" about partisanship, "The World Beyond Our Borders" about foreign policy, etc.). It is basically a conversation with Obama about these issues, as he explains his views of what the problems are and some ideas about how they may be approached. Although they are not the focus, personal anecdotes are used throughout the text, and very few portions of the book read like something that could have been generically written by anyone with some knowledge of the issues - Obama's voice and the personal importance of these issues to him easily comes off the page.

In a section of the book in which he explains a conversation he had with Senator Byrd, Obama writes: "He told me I would do well in the Senate but that I shouldn't be in too much of a rush - so many senators today became fixated on the White House, not understanding that in the constitutional design it was the Senate that was supreme, the heart and soul of the Republic." When this book was written, thoughts of Presidential candidacy in 2008 couldn't have been absent from the Senator's mind, and although the book's purpose isn't to make the case for Obama as President, it's hard to read it without sincerely believing he would be a great man for the job. I'd strongly recommend this book for anyone that wants to learn more about why Obama might (or, if you decide so, might not) make a good President, HOWEVER there are several portions of the book that are excellent regardless of your views on the man - the chapter on "Politics" (which explores the process by which and the reasons well-intentioned politicians might become unscrupulous), "Faith" (which discusses the reconciling of this issues and today's politics), and "Our Constitution" in particular.
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26 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on November 29, 2006
Format: Hardcover
In most democracies, whenever politicians bid their time, suspicious electorates watch with apprehension. When they write, readers peruse with caution. These defensive impulses are natural; so as not to be consumed by the fanciful fireworks, which only serve to overshadow a hidden agenda. But, Barack Obama is different. He thrives on a superior realm: diligent, down-to-earth, and true to his word. He is one man who remains tenaciously honest: even to his own political disadvantage. Such men are worth their weights in gold. They are what our contemporary America longs for. But they are rare!
With engaging narrations and indepth analyses, "The Audacity of Hope..." presents a logical and convincing discourse on how the U.S.A. could go about reinventing itself. This book did a good job in uncovering the delicate truths regarding how to go about learning from past mistakes and making amendments. It relentlessly highlighted how best both good ideas and their masterminds could be resourced for the benefit of the American society. Anyone who reads it would agree that it is devoid of any self-serving political interest. Rather, it is a fountain of knowledge and wisdom. Very frank! Most honorable!! And very educative!!!
This book brims with patriotic vision. It is commendable; and truly imbibes all the essential know-how required for the goal of 'Reclaiming the American Dream'. Another brilliant exploit from the esteemed Illinois Senator!
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58 of 80 people found the following review helpful
on November 4, 2008
Format: Paperback
After reading Dreams from my Father, which I consider one of the finest political autobiographies ever put to paper, I understandably had some pretty high hopes for this one. Alas, it was not to be. Obviously it's a different kind of book, but somehow I wasn't prepared for the extent of the boilerplate on offer. Take the basic issue positions of any center-left Democrat in the country, write them down in a row, and here's what you'll get. Obama has precisely nothing new or interesting to say here: abortion is bad but making it illegal is worse, religion is a great thing for many people but let's not get crazy with it, we've made a lot of progress on race but not enough, our politics suffer from too much acrimony, and so on. It doesn't matter that it's basically all true; it's just that so many people have already said it that I see no reason why Obama feels the need to say it again.

Interestingly, I think the greatest weakness of the book is what has proven to be Obama's greatest electoral strength: his personal story is interesting but his political story really just isn't. He's a standard Democrat who happens to be a little smarter than usual and a little calmer than usual. There's absolutely nothing scary or radical about this guy.

I would be remiss if I didn't say a few nice things, though. Obama is an extremely talented writer. His gift for words and his emotional honesty, so effective in Dreams from my Father, are on display here as well, even if they are used in the service of not-that-interesting ends. And the fact that he turns out to be just a regular guy means that it's extremely easy to identify with him. When he describes his family or his love for Michelle, Malia, and Sasha, it's instantly believable. His politics aren't exactly electrifying, but he does come across as a genuinely good man. Maybe that isn't such a bad thing.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on April 8, 2012
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I just finished reading two very enlightening books. I am not in the habit of writing book reviews, so I do not intend to do so here. This will be a very short blog. What I do want to say is that I just finished reading "The Audacity of Hope" by Barack Obama. I immediately picked up "No Apology" by Mitt Romney. I highly recommend that every person in the United States do this, even though I know that most do not read and will not. But this may have been the most revealing study I have ever made.

Two years ago I read "Dreams of My Father" by Barack Obama. I found it very foreign. But it has faded in my memory and I thought I should read something more current and reflective of his campaign for President. I suppose neither will be remembered as great literature. But they will reflect the stark differences and futures of these two men and our country.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on January 25, 2008
Format: Paperback
Barack Obama moves and shakes in a way that is so appealingly moderate and reasoned that even his detractors might catch themselves chanting "Fired up" and "Ready to go". Part of what makes his rhetoric so powerful is the ease with which he articulates the every day fears, frustrations, and aspirations of Americans.

Maneuvering through history, personal anecdotes, and this broad but powerful idea of hope, Obama touches on the great issues of our time. He speaks honestly, and probably pays a price for it. In trying to reconcile all directions on the political compass, he may make some enemies, but his message is convincing. He critiques all, including himself, and engages in the kind of questioning that is lacking in todays politics.

Obama gives us a look into his own historical conception of America and in doing so crystallizes his own viewpoints in the framework of the great American politicians, philosophers, activists, and thinkers. Referring back to his days as a Professor of Law, Obama makes great discussion of interpreting documents such as the US Constitution, Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers. Moving on, he discusses the legacy of figures such as Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison as agents of the same American lineage of radicalism that bred the revolution. Perhaps what is most impressive is his grasp of scripture and his evolution into a man of faith. His respect for believers and non-believers, and comfort with his own faith is refreshing in an age that seems caught in a battle between the secular academic and the bible beater.

His understanding of race as a defining feature of American society is quite informed, and he has optimism that racial healing can occur. His brand of hope is not a cheap brand of American optimism, but rather what Cornel West, author of Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism, would describe as a blues optimism.

Anyone of voting age ought to read this book to help in making an informed choice in 2008.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on February 8, 2012
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Ok, I am not a fan of President Obama. I am not anti-Obama either. I was soured on him when he won a Nobel Peace Prize just for being elected. I never understood why so many people who actually did something for the world were passed over and he got an award for basically running for president without yet acomplishing anything. I have to wonder if they had waited if he would still receive the award today. Well I am getting off on a tangent. That being said, I still gave the book an open minded read. What is in it is most of his catch phrases from speeches. I was hoping there would be some backing and research for his views but that was completely absent. As another reviewer said "it is a mile wide and an inch deep intellectually speaking."

That is my opinion too.
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