Dreams from my father : a story of race and inheritance

by Barack Obama

Paperback, 2004




New York : Three Rivers Press, c2004.


"[I]n New York ... Barack Obama learns that his father--a figure he knows more as a myth than as a man--has been killed in a car accident. This sudden death inspires an emotional odyssey--first to a small town in Kansas, from which he retraces the migration of his mother's family to Hawaii, and then to Kenya, where he meets the African side of his family, confronts the bitter truth of his father's life, and at last reconciles his divided inheritance"--Container.

Media reviews

All men live in the shadow of their fathers -- the more distant the father, the deeper the shadow. Barack Obama describes his confrontation with this shadow in his provocative autobiography, "Dreams From My Father," and he also persuasively describes the phenomenon of belonging to two different worlds, and thus belonging to neither.

User reviews

LibraryThing member TadAD
I approached this book with a desire to learn more about what formed and makes up the man who is President, a man who is clearly intelligent, driven, articulate and whose message is one of inclusion and unity. I was only partially successful in this quest. The book definitely shows the intelligence and the articulate nature of the man, but less is revealed of him than I expected.

We do get pictures his childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia, and his youthful years in Chicago. These are told with refreshing candor: no "I didn't inhale"-type evasions about having lived the typical and normal life of an American youth in the 70s and 80s, no real attempts to hide the aimless periods, the screw-ups of adolescence. During these episodes, there is a real glimpse into what went into forming the man we see today.

However, a major portion of the book is also simply recounting of events, with little or no sense of how they affected or shaped him other than his presence during their occurrence. We sit through extensive discussions of his organizing efforts in Chicago, plus his contact with many churches during that period, but are given no clue as to whether these experiences affected him: did he find himself becoming more religious spending this time with pastors he respected? Or, perhaps, less religious as he saw the political side of big-congregation churches? Did the failures of organizing lead him to believe that these are effective efforts, or did his decision to leave it and go to law school reflect discouragement? The last third of the book tells of his first visit to Kenya, his father's birthplace, and his encounters with his father's family. We get many anecdotes about meeting the various members but, in the context of this book, it was like me describing my family reunion to someone else—ultimately of little interest to outsiders.

Perhaps the most significant disconnect for me was the subtitle of this work. To be fair, trying to understand his relationship with the man he barely knew is an issue in this book. However, having been raised by his mother and maternal grandparents, and I do not think the book satisfies the natural curiousity of why these three people aren't an even bigger source of his dreams, and why a story of race is focused solely on the black side of his heritage.

All-in-all, it was a pleasant enough read, but not ultimately completely satisfying.
… (more)
LibraryThing member sanguinity
His "since this book was first published" forward in the 2004 edition blew me away. He's so... regular-author-kind-of-guy. There's alternating hope and despair about how the writing was going; the tension of whether or not anyone would show up for his readings; relief that the entire authorial experience didn't involve too much humiliation; second-guessing about how he would have written it now... I'm generally used to this kind of emotional intimacy from authors -- that's one of the great author-reader traps, isn't it, for the reader to think that s/he knows the author in an almost-personal way? -- but I am not used to feeling that intimacy about almost-Presidents. While I was reading Dreams I pretty much had to completely put aside the knowledge that this man is President-Elect, because otherwise it was just. too. freaky-intimate.

He was asked to write this memoir in the early nineties, after a rash of publicity over being the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. Instead of publishing a "how I got here" explanation for his exceptionality -- which is what most famous people end up writing -- he wrote a personal memoir about identity. This memoir almost wholly skips all the conventionally "interesting" events, as well as all of his legal career path, favoring the "smaller," emotionally-significant, interpersonal events of his life: pivotal conversations and experiences that worked as catalysts toward his understandings about race, class, community, and self-identity.

(Did I say earlier that it felt freakishly intimate to be reading this, knowing that he's now President-Elect? Because yes.)
… (more)
LibraryThing member Citizenjoyce
Barack Obama shows himself to be an African American, a citizen of the world, a student of history and a worker for human rights. No wonder republicans hate him so.
LibraryThing member lauralkeet
In the summer of 2004, we had just returned to the U.S. after 4 years in England. Those years had been a time of change and turmoil in my home country. We were eager to reconnect with, and understand, the political landscape and the people who would shape the future. At the Democratic National Convention in August, a "young" (my age) politician named Barack Obama gave an inspired keynote address that left me both awestruck and hopeful. When I came across Obama's book at a library book sale recently, I thought it was time to learn more about the man behind the powerful rhetoric. First published in 1992, Dreams from my Father describes Obama's childhood, his early career as a community organizer, and his first visit to Kenya, his father's homeland.

In one respect, this book is about a search for identity, with Obama exploring his "uneasy status: a Westerner not entirely at home in the West, an African on his way to a land full of strangers." (p. 301) As part of this search, Obama gains an increasing awareness of race issues in American society:

- A friend of his grandfather's, as Obama was preparing to leave his home in Hawaii for college: "They'll give you a corner office and invite you to fancy dinners, and tell you you're a credit to your race. Until you want to actually start running things, and then they'll yank your chain and let you know that you may be a well-trained, well-paid nigger, but you're a nigger just the same." (p. 97).
- Describing a campaign by the Nation of Islam to sell branded products: "The the POWER campaign sputtered said something about the difficulty that faced any black business -- the barriers to entry, the lack of finance, the leg up that your competitors possessed after having kept you out of the game for over three hundred years." (p. 201)
- On those in Chicago who had marched for civil rights and yet, "...at some point had realized that power was unyielding and principles unstable, and that even after laws were passed and lynchings ceased, the closest thing to freedom would still involve escape, emotional if not physical, away from ourselves, away from what we knew, flight into the outer reaches of the white man's empire -- or closer into its bosom." (p. 277)

And then, we gain insight into Obama's ideals and his motivation for studying law after his visit to Kenya:
"The study of law can be disappointing at times, a matter of applying narrow rules and arcane procedure to an uncooperative reality ... But that's not all the law is. The law is also a memory; the law also records a long-running conversation, a nation arguing with its conscience. ... I hear the voices of Japanese families interned behind barbed wire; young Russian Jews cutting patterns in the Lower East Side sweatshops .... I hear the voices of people in Altgeld Gardens, and the voices of those who stand outside this country's borders ... all of them asking the very same questions that have come to shape my life ... What is our community, and how might that community be reconciled with our freedom? How far do our obligations reach? How do we transform mere power into justice, mere sentiment into love? The answers I find in law books don't always satisfy me ... And yet, in the conversation itself, in the joining of voices, I find myself modestly encouraged, believing that so long as the questions are still being asked, what binds us together might somehow, ultimately, prevail." (p. 437-438).

Obama keeps the "plot" moving along. Although many of the characters are not fully developed. I had to keep reminding myself this is a memoir, not a novel. And since this book was written long before Obama's run for the U.S. Presidency, it has a certain authenticity. I found it an extremely well-written and interesting portrait of an emerging political leader. It also offers insight into issues of race in America, and African American culture, and is a worthwhile read for this reason alone.
… (more)
LibraryThing member mldavis2
This is a book about racism and heritage, not politics. Published in 1995 when he had just been elected junior senator from Illinois and before any aspirations of political ascendency to the Presidency, the book is a very candid autobiography of Obama's coming of age through the fog of racism and his struggle to find his identity as a mixed race individual. It is remarkably well written and maintains the reader's interest through the account of his early years in Hawaii, three years in Indonesia, his infrequent but important link to his Kenyan father, and his mother's strong influence. It is a story of breaking away. My only criticism is the amount of detail given to Obama's visit to Kenya as a young adult and his visits with family and friends as he sought more information about a father that he never really knew. Though a bit tedious wading through the family tree at the end, the detail helps to define the Obama that would later make a successful run for the Presidency. Overall, an excellent book.… (more)
LibraryThing member kambrogi
Obama is a good writer and this book certainly provides insight into his psyche, as well as his very interesting life. It will no doubt contain surprises for those who have perceived him as a “white man’s black man.” The book primarily shows how a young man of color in a white world searches out his own identity among so many offered him: his white, racially tolerant mother; his black Kenyan father (whom he met only once, at age 10); his Indonesian stepfather and mixed-race half sister; his loving white grandparents who never in their wildest dreams imagined having a black son-in-law or mixed-race grandchild; his vast, extended Kenyan family and the people of color he meets along the way in high school, college, and in his first job in inner-city Chicago. It is often a story of a misguided and confused young man, certainly a story of coming of age and search for roots, but ultimately it is about a man who not only finds his place in America, but gains a perspective on all of America’s people. It is arresting to see such honesty and humility in a politician, but this book was written before he became a political force, and perhaps it helped him find the public voice he uses today.

This edition contains the text of the 2004 Democratic Convention speech that put him on the national map, but better yet, watch it online. In less than 18 minutes, you can see why people choose to be Democrats, how they see America, and what their agenda for its future looks like.
… (more)
LibraryThing member krazy4katz
This is an eloquent book by an individual with a unique upbringing and perspective. Barack Obama wrote this before he became a politician, so it was not created for popularity points. His search for his father and that part of his heritage gives you an impression of his search for his place in his world. Reading about his difficulties and successes during his organizing days in Chicago was also very interesting. However you plan to vote, reading this book will bring you closer to understanding this charismatic, intelligent person with a fascinating life story.… (more)
LibraryThing member ElTomaso
Barak Obama reveals the pain and lessons of growing up in racist America, and describes how he became motivated to be part of the answer.
LibraryThing member AlisonLea
Obama rocks!
LibraryThing member Pummzie
A surprisingly engaging read. Given that the main thrust of the memoir is identity politics, I suppose the subject matter was always going to be relevant for me. As a British-Asian who grapples with notions of belonging and the difficulties of marrying heritage and traditions with western values, much of what he felt resonated with me.

Having said that, if he hadn't been so articulate in expressing the different facets of his person, so unsentimental in his self-critique and if his story had been mundane, that would not have been enough. There is a lot in this work to digest and to reflect upon.
… (more)
LibraryThing member drizzlegirl
Not the worst book I have read. The stories especially at the beginning are meshed together in a confusing and off putting way. While this book is redeemed by it universal themes, definately NOT a must read.
LibraryThing member mjiko
I bought this solely based Obama's incredible popularity in Chicago, and was expecting it to be poorly written sentimental mush. I was shocked to discover that in addition to all his skills as a politician Obama is also a great writer, and this is a great book. Obama for President 2008!!
LibraryThing member ilovemycat1
Read this book in June 2009, so Obama has been President for the past 6 months. I loved that the book was written before he was even elected Senator. Therefore, It did not seem to be written by someone who knew he would be in higher office one day. It was so honest and so interesting. Especially, his extensive relationships with his siblings and other relatives in Africa. During the campaign you did not learn much about them, but the book clearly showed that his African heritage is a huge part of him. It was fascinating to read about his father and compare that to what we know of Obama now. Every time Obama spoke of the way his father sat and crossed his legs, I pictured our President doing it the same way. I know that he is our first African American President, but since he is the product of an interracial marriage and raised by a Caucasian mother and grandparents, I thought that Obama had more issues over his racial identity. But the book made it clear that he always identified as an African American. Very well written, and a very worthwhile read. Enjoy.… (more)
LibraryThing member teaperson
I take Obama much more seriously as a potential president after reading this book. He has a depth of experience, and a thoughtfulness, that I never would have expected. Growing up a mixed-race child in Hawaii and Indonesia, organizing in Black projects of Chicago, visiting his relations in Kenya -- he has seen a lot. And he writes about it in a compelling narrative.… (more)
LibraryThing member janeajones
Obama writes eloquently as one may imagine, but the thing that struck me the most about the book was the man's humanity. His stories about his life in Indonesia, Hawaii, organizing in Chicago and getting to know family in Kenya were fascinating and revealing about his character and development.
LibraryThing member cinesnail88
Regardless of your political leanings, this book is a great insight into a man who has led a truly extraordinary life. The book is simply Obama's story, and has very little politics within it. I found it refreshing to hear so much voice from a politician, as usually their books tend to fall a little flat.

Obama's book could have used a little better editing, but ultimately it doesn't seem to matter very much as you'll get caught up in the story. I loved this book because of the sheer honest, straightforwardness of it, and it's one of my favorite reads this year, even though I don't think it's quite deserving of 5 star rating.… (more)
LibraryThing member Judy58
I should have read this a long time ago! This thoughtful and lovely description of the author's life helps convey his careful articulation of growing up as a person of many heritages in a globalized world. Reading this book makes you think in a nuanced way about our society even as you enjoy the story.
LibraryThing member subbobmail
With Obamamania sweeping the nation, I decided to read his book. No, not the one he wrote when he was clearly preparing to run for president -- the other one, the one he wrote before running for the Illinois legislature: Dreams From My Father.

This book deserves its good reputation and would be well worth reading even if Obama had remained an obscure figure. Here Obama tells his own life story with a remarkable lack of self-pity or bluster. Born in Hawaii to an American woman and a man from Kenya, Obama spent years trying to piece together the pieces of his identity. He wasn't fully American -- is any black man allowed to be fully American? -- and yet he knew very little about his family back in Kenya. He grew up, went to college, became a neighborhood organizer in Chicago for reasons he didn't fully understand...and, finally, ventured to Kenya, where he finally came to terms with his father, his heritage.

I can't tell you how pleasurable it is to discover a politician who can not only speak a coherent sentence, but write a beautiful book. Dreams From My Father becomes most moving when Obama is in Africa and allows the voices of his family to dominate the tale. This is a very modest move -- one not often encountered in an autobiography! -- and serves to prove Obama's point, that he found peace and a solid identity by joining with others, with a community.

If you suspect that Obama is nothing but a pretty bag of empty talk, read this book.
… (more)
LibraryThing member sweetiegherkin
This book was not at all what I expected. I was imagining it would be filled with a lot of typical political speak, but was pleasantly surprised within the first few pages with the stark openness Obama presents. The book is achingly real and raw with the author's life, thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, disappointments - and also those of his family's. For a man who has launched his presidential campaign on the idea of hope, this book is not optimistic per say, but is at turns hopefully idealistic and bitterly cynical. For that, it is a more compelling read than many other non-fiction works. I was also surprised to find what a good writer Obama is (this is not a compliment I give to many, trust me!). His prose is perhaps sometimes a bit too sentimental, but I love the way it reads almost like poetry at these times (reminiscent of parts of Richard Wright's Black Boy). Nonetheless, I was hooked by his writing within the first pages when he juxtaposes the news of his father's death with the slightly earlier passing of a neighbor he saw all the time but didn't really know. Obama is skilled at moving back and forth in time within the narrative without losing the flow of the story and without the reader getting lost and confused about the timeline. He introduces a myriad of people, each grabbing hold of the reader's attention with their own personal story, unlike other books containing lots of characters who often become a mass of names the reader no longer can (or cares to) distinguish. The number of locales in the book give the reader a glimpse into many different worlds, where one might find as Obama says "one place is not so different from another ... [and] one moment carries within it all that's gone on before."… (more)
LibraryThing member nepejwster
This book traces Barack Obama's life from his birth in Hawaii until his marriage. It takes us with him on his psychological journey from the discovery that his status was and always would be lower than that of his school mates and even that of his white mother and grandparents who raised him through the phases of denial, then anger, then bitter sullenness, then a long period of giving up, and finally to his working through acceptance and finding once again a basis for hope and the motivation for his life. On the way we travel from Hawaii to Indonesia, back to Hawaii, to New York, Chicago, Kenya, and back to the U.S. The book made me feel his desperation and pain and, in the end, his triumph.… (more)
LibraryThing member sirfurboy
What a rare privelege it is to read a political autobiography that was clearly actually written by the subject, and is so forthright, honest and readable. There are no doubt other good examples of political biography, but I am not a big reader of the genre and consequently cannot think of one as good as this.

This books greatest advantage is it was written long before Obama had any thought of being elected as president of the United States. Consequently he gives us the kind of reflective account that reveals the true man, without showing signs of editing by political advisers.

Not that this book was written without any focus on future career. The book is reflective, but it is heavily influenced by issues of race and what it means to be a black man in modern America. The reader is left with an impression of a vision that is not spelled out in so many words, but hinted at. You feel that Obama has a hope for a new kind of conversation between races in America - but the book merely brings tensions and issues and hostory to the surface, without being in any way didactic.

Ultimately though this is a personal story of Obama's own self discovery as he comes to terms with who his father was - the absent father he never knew. As he describes the family grave in Kenya, you have to wonder - was there ever a president of the United States befoe whose father's grave was so unaddorned (I suspect this has changed by now, of course - but nevertheless, the point is that you just feel so connected to Obama here).

Elected the first black president of the United States, Obama's place in history is assured - whatever happens now. This book will be an invaluable aid to historians of the future - a real and personal first hand account in the words of the man that history will remember.

Reading the book, and particularly his searching for faith in the churches of Chicago, I felt that maybe he has not yet found what he is looking for. The section closed on an emotional note, describing the sermon on "The Audacity of Hope" - a title he took for his next book. But nowhere did there seem to be any mention of the Christian gospel and how he responded to that personally. That is not a criticism of the book though - it is just something revealing in the work.

All in all this was an excellent book. Off my usual subject matter but well worth reading.
… (more)
LibraryThing member whitewavedarling
Written before Obama went into politics, this documents his search for identity and understanding of the world around him, and its treatment and expectations of race. Beautifully and intelligently written, this book rings with honesty as it mirrors the search for identity and the confusion that comes with growing up. This is especially fascinating for it's look at race from the point of vew of a boy who has to Learn that it is considered important, and learns this slowly as a boy who sees it as having no importance. Time is spent especially on the childhood years Obama spent in Indonesia and Hawaii, his organizing years in Chicago, and a trip he took to see family in Kenya before attending law school.

I would recommend this book highly--to anyone interested in the state of race relations in America or in the search for identity that young people face in cities of America, as well as anyone who is attempting to understand children of a cross-racial or cross-cultural marriage. The insight here is worth taking time over and has nothing to do with political parties. For colleges who are participating in summer reading programs, I'd say this is the ideal book to hand to a teenager just about to start college. Especially in the beginning, it reads nearly like a novel, and you might be drawn in despite yourself.

Strongly strongly recommended.
… (more)
LibraryThing member davenport
Purchased from a remainder table at my Australian favorite bookshop just as the race for the Democratic nomination for the 2008 presidential election was hotting up. I enjoyed this account a lot and found it illuminated for me some of the issues for young African-Americans.Most importantly Obama comes across as essentially honest. He is insightful and intelligent and together with his unequivocal stand against the Iraq war is my clear preference for the nomination and the presidency.… (more)
LibraryThing member Doondeck
Obama is an extraordinary writer. This memoir deals with his struggle to discover who he really is and how his black and African heritage needs to play out in his life. He comes across as the same man you see on the campaign trail, but the present day Obama is more seasoned and reasonable. Deep down, though, he has the same values.… (more)
LibraryThing member shadowofthewind
Dreams from My Father is a perceptive and engaging memoir that peers into the mind of Barack Obama. You find out what he is made of, where he comes from, and what drives him. It’s these connections that he can bring together; that distance breeds hate. The story of his life and the way he tells it have this weight to it, but a lightness to it as well. It’s hard to describe.

I thought his perspective on race was unique. He was separate of it in a way, considering he spent time out of the country, as well as growing up in Hawaii. When he goes to Occidental College, race plays a larger role, but his perspective is mature and calm, a serene approach considering this country’s history.

If he wasn’t Barack Obama, the book still would be a clear-eyed view on race. If it wasn’t about race, it would be a probing examination of growing up in a multi-cultural world in many countries. He is certainly a worldly man. A stark contrast to past presidents, although when he wrote this book, he was only a state senator from Illinois. It was re-published after his powerful speech after the 2004 Democratic National Convention (which is included in the volume.) That speech is a short summary of this book. The book discusses his upbringing in Hawaii, Indonesia, his college life in LA, and making his way in the world from New York to Chicago.

It is easy to see how he has been a beacon of hope. His perspective on life comes so naturally, so convincing, and so wise. Even though the end part in Kenya is important to his development, it seemed to lose steam in comparison to his writing earlier in the book. The examination of his Kenyan heritage as well as his father’s legacy is interesting. The point at which he realizes that his father wasn’t as far or as important as he gave him credit is a journey many children make, plays a large role in the book. The further realization to see a father as a person is equally powerful. I was more fascinated with his background and his perspective. A very engaging read.

Favorite Lines (asked why he was reading Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, as many feel the book is racist)

“The book teaches me things, about white people. The book isn’t really about Africa, or black people. It’s about the man who wrote it. The European, the American, a particular way of looking at the world. If you can keep your distance, it’s all there. The way Conrad sees it, Africa is the cesspool of the world, black folks are savages and any contact with them breeds infection… In what’s said and what’s left unsaid. So I read the book to find out what makes white people so afraid, their demons. The way ideas get twisted around. It helps me understand how people learn to hate."

“And that’s important to you?” Regina asked.

“My life depends on it."
… (more)


Page: 0.6562 seconds