Tuesday 8 November 2011

Read in 2011 - 24: The Audacity of Hope

For a long time, I have meant to read Michelle Obama's biography, but you know what it's like with books on your "To Be Read" list (either physically on a piece of paper or mentally, like mine); sometimes you simply do not happen to come across it at your local library, and you do not feel like buying yet another book that will leave you with even less of the precious space on your shelf.
Therefore, I was pleased to take Barack Obama's "The Audacity of Hope" home from the library some weeks ago, and it was a good choice, a very good choice actually.

Barack Obama wrote this in 2006, when he was the junior U.S. senator from Illinois and lived in Chicago. It wasn't his first book; he had previously published "Dreams from My Father" (which I have not read), a book that made it to the New York Times beststeller list.

The book is divided into nine chapters with headlines such as "Values", "Faith", "Race", "The World Beyond Our Borders" and "Family". The writing is personal and fluent; you can tell the words come from one person and not from a team of ghostwriters.  It is a pleasure to read, and (for me) a rather instructive pleasure at that.
Of course I did learn something about the political system in the U.S. back at school, but there, more emphasis was placed on learning about our own country, and I must admit I can not remember in detail the lessons about political systems in other countries.
So this book gave me an insight not only into the structure of politics in the U.S. but also into the way an American perceives his own country, and the place of that country in relation to the rest of the world.

Some passages I found so remarkable for one reason or other that I want to share them here.
Let me begin at the beginning. When I started reading this, I showed the book to RJ and he asked what it was about. This bit from the prologue is what I read to him:

That's the topic of this book: how we might begin the process of changing our politics and our civic life. This isn't to say that I know exactly how to do it. I don't. Although I discuss in each chapter a number of our most pressing policy challenges, and suggest in broad strokes the path I believe we should follow, my treatment of the issues is often partial and incomplete. I offer no unifying theory of American government, nor do these pages provide a manifesto for action, complete with charts and graphs, timetables and ten-point-plans.
Instead what I offer is something more modest: personal reflections on those values and ideals that have led me to public life, some thoughts on the ways that our current political discourse unnecessarily divides us, and my own best assessment - based on my experience as a senator and lawyer, husband and father, Christian and skeptic - of the ways we can ground our politics in the notion of a common good.

Quite a bit further into the book, under the chapter named "Opportunity", I found this interesting bit about oil:

The United States has 3 percent of the world's oil reserves. We use 25 percent of the world's oil. We can't drill our way out of the problem.
What we can do is create renewable, cleaner energy sources for the twenty-first century.

Obama says about his mother:

...she possessed an abiding sense of wonder, a reverence for life and its precious, tranistory nature that could properly be described as devotional. During the course of the day, she might come across a painting, read a line of poetry, or hear a piece of music, and I would see tears well up in her eyes. Sometimes, as I was growing up, she would wake me up in the middle of the night to have me gaze at a particularly spectacular moon, or she would have me close my eyes as we walked together at twilight to the rustle of leaves.

Throughout the book, we catch glimpses of home life at the Obama's (while the most personal chapter is the last one, titled "Family"), such as this one:
Later that night, back home in Chicago, I sat at the dinner table, watching Malia and Sasha as they laughed and bickered and resisted their string beans before their mother chased them up the stairs and to their baths. Alone in the kitchen washing the dishes, I imagined my two girls growing up, and I felt the ache that every parent must feel at one time or another, that desire to snatch up each moment of your child's presence, and never let go...
The home life bits are never there simply to show us "this is what we live like, we are just an ordinary family"; instead, they are used to introduce or conclude a specific thought or idea, and are always imbedded in the context of the whole chapter.

Some very honest and clear words about U.S. foreign policy can be found in the chapter "The World Beyond Our Borders", for instance:
Indonesia also provides a handy record of U.S. foreign policy over the past fifty years. In broad outline at least, it's all there: our role in liberating former colonies and creating international institutions to help manage the post-World War II order; our tendency to view nations and conflicts through the prism of the Cold War; our tireless promotion of American-style capitalism and multinational corporations; the tolerance and occasional encouragement of tyranny, corruption, and environmental degradation when it served our interest; our optimism once the Cold War ended that Big Macs and the Internet would lead to the end of historical conflicts; [...] the realization that the wonders of globalization might also facilitate economic volatility, the spread of pandemics, and terrorism.

I recommend this book to anyone, regardless of their political orientation or the country they live in. There is, I believe, something in it for all of us.
(And I still want to read Michelle Obama's biography)


  1. I want to read The First Lady's autobiography too.
    It is a challenge to understand other countires
    political systems. Fascinating too.

  2. The Audacity of Hope is really good and I'd like to reread it. The realities of the way American politics actually work are heartbreaking to me, however. I think too many people are bought and we others are sold down the river.

  3. In 2004, Barack Obama gave a speech at the Democratic National Convention. When I heard this speech on TV, I turned to my husband and said, "He's going to be President one day". Now, I had no idea that it would be as soon as it was!
    I went to our local library to see if they had "Dreams of My Father" which they didn't, of course. After waiting for weeks for the book to come in (they have agreements with other libraries in the state), I finally got the book to read. The librarian told me that there were only two copies of the book within the state of Georgia library system and I was holding one of them! Isn't that a story! All of it is true too!
    Would be interested to see what you think of "Dreams of My Father" also.

  4. My son has read this - despite being in the UK - and was impressed.

  5. Oh Librarian! The To Be Read pile grows ever higher!

  6. My "to read" pile grows larger by the second too. This sounds like a good read. Thanks for the recommend.

    I hope your week is off to a good start.


  7. Julie, it will be interesting to compare notes when eventually we will both have managed to read Mrs. Obama's biography.

    Kristi, you are right about wanting to reread it, I can imagine myself wanting to do that in a few years.

    Kay, should I happen to come across "Dreams", I guess I'd read it, too, and then of course it will appear here on my blog as well.

    Scriptor, I think there is something in the book for everyone, no matter where they live.

    Frances, sorry... ;-)

    Elizabeth, you are welcome! And thank you, my week was off to a good start indeed.

    Prasetyo, thank you for stopping by and leaving this kind comment! Of course I am going to have a look at your blog as well.

  8. @Prasetyo, I can not stay on your blog longer than a few seconds before the browser automatically goes to a site I am not interested in. If this is a link you have created deliberately, it will make it difficult, if not impossible, for people who want to read your blog, so maybe you want to remove the link.

  9. I admire Barack Obama. I would like to think that I will read this book especially having read what you've said. Whether it will ever get to the top of the 'to be read' pile is, unfortunately, questionable.

  10. Yes, I think all of you need to reread this book. Barack Obama wrote this in 2006. I like to no what everybody see anything good in this book, when he say's this about his Mother,> "I ceased to advertise my mother's race at the age of 12 or 13, when I began to suspect that by doing so I was ingratiating myself to whites and "There was something about her that made me wary, a little too sure of herself, maybe and white." Let me add a phrase he used to describe his attitude toward whites. He harbors a "COIL OF RAGE". His words not mine. That's his attitude toward us and everything that is American. Also here another phrase > I will stand with the Muslim's should the political winds shift in an ugly direction." who side is he on? I will tell you, it's not all the American's but his race and the Muslim and i'm not racist. I take it that he don't like White people is not questionable, and i like Barack Obama, but very hurt by his attitude. But don't take my word for it, just reread the book for yourself. Also go to this web address> http://www.snopes.com/politics/obama/coilofrage.asp

  11. Is it just my impression or have you left this comment anonymously on purpose?
    Yes, I know he wrote this in 2006. So?
    And the alleged passage you quote where he says that about his mother is none I remember from the book itself - and even if it were in the book, I can't quite see how that makes Mr. Obama someone who dislikes white people.
    Do you honestly believe someone who, according to you, harbours a coil of rage against "everything that is American", would become president of the very same country towards which he has such an attitude?
    And the sentence "I will stand with the Muslims" does not appear anywhere in the book, it is an inaccurate repetition, and taken out of context. Here is what wikipedia has to say about that:
    'A number of blogs and newspapers repeated inaccurate rumors that the book contains the passage, "I will stand with the Muslims should the political winds shift in an ugly direction." The actual quote does not mention Muslims at all, referring instead to Arab and Pakistani-Americans in the context of immigrant communities generally.'
    You are welcome to post comments on my blog anytime, no matter whether we are of the same opinion or not, but I'd prefer you not doing so anonymously.
    Thank you.

  12. Ahh, i see you have a troll wandered by. How amusing. It would appear that someone is trying to get a response, the way my kids would say "bum! Poo! Wee-wee!" when they were about two, to see what kind of reaction they got. Only they did not hide behind a veil of anonymity.
    Well, as testaments to stupidity and narrow mindedness, I should let it stay if i were you, just so you are reminded about how ignorant some people can be. We forget sometimes when surrounded by reaonable people that there are half-wits out there that are sadly able to vote with the same validity as intelligent and informed people. It can't be helped.