Book Reviews

Book Review: The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama – A Thoughtful Book by a Serious Candidate

Originally written in 2007. Posted here with a few modifications.

Living in the state with the first in the nation primary means we are subjected to way more political ads and news before the rest of the country. In 2008, I just didn’t see how this country would elect Hillary Clinton, as much as I like her, as she’s too polarizing a figure. And an African-American? Please – less than ten years ago we had the dragging death of a man in Texas for the “crime” of having a different color skin.

However, when Barack Obama had a town hall meeting in the Valley, I made it a point to see him and brought two of the five kids that reside in my house with me. It was after hearing him speak that I picked up The Audacity of Hope and it’s changed how I think about a lot of things.

Written in 2006, after his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention and before his declaration as a candidate, The Audacity of Hope was actually written by Obama, rather than being ghosted by someone else. He shows himself to be both a capable writer and also very easy to understand, rather than using words and phrases which will cause some to drop the book in frustration. His writing can be tedious at times, and it’s eerily reminiscent of the writing style I used to read when proofing the work of the community organizers I used to work with. Must be a certain way they all learn to write.

However, The Audacity of Hope contains some important thoughts. The most important theme I saw running through the book was the politics of reconciliation and inclusion. There’s no doubt our nation is divided more than ever, and even Obama admits to having struggled in the Senate with the different culture that has permeated the body. No longer is it primarily a bipartisan effort to negotiate two sides to making advances that all believe will be for the betterment of the country. Instead, he cites examples of how it’s descended into “do this our way or we’ll crush you”.

Even as he disagrees with those on the other side of the aisle, he makes the case for their argument having to be heard, rather than being shut out. He points to the value of the differing opinions and cites how varying opinions are necessary and important. No one has all the answers; no one is one hundred percent right.

Obama’s voice is refreshing in an era of mud-slinging and books from the likes of O’Reilly and Coulter that basically says if you don’t agree with me you’re an idiot. That has also been the case in our elections recently as the mud-slinging has gotten ridiculous. People make their decision on who to vote for based on five-minute sound-bites and spend more time trying to figure out the cheats on the newest computer game than who they should vote for to lead our country over the next four years.

Even when speaking of the various elections he has been involved in, Obama doesn’t bring up some of the negative aspects of his opponents. He briefly mentions the “revelations from his divorce” regarding a Senate opponent who ultimately dropped out of the race, but doesn’t get into a gleeful rehashing of the sordid details. The Audacity of Hope, as with his campaign, is free from personal attacks. The question is if this high-brow approach will work in the dirty world of Presidential politics.

The Audacity of Hope is divided into themes as Obama tackles what separates us as a nation and manages to point out the common threads that bind us all. He talks about the subjects of values, religion, race, globalization, and family. Particularly in the area of religion, I found myself agreeing with him. Whose version of Christianity do we teach in schools – James Dobson’s or Al Sharpton’s? I don’t know of anyone who’s advocating for prayer and religion back in school who wouldn’t have a conniption if the Rev. Al Sharpton was brought in to preach – and that is why the separation of church and state is so important. Obama talks about his own faith journey and why it’s so important to him, while at the same time acknowledging that his path might not be right for everyone.

Likewise, when he is talking about race, I came to the realization that my feelings that it was all about electing a candidate with the “D” after their name might not be the right thing to do. It might be more important to vote for the most worthy candidate, even if I have doubts about his electability. Likewise, I can now see that anyone who dismisses him as not being a serious candidate is ultimately doing so due to their own racism.

What really made the book for me, though, was the feeling that I was reading a book that could have been written by someone living next door to me. Obama shares personal experiences and insights as to how he has arrived at a variety of positions. He isn’t someone born with advantages that others don’t have trying to tell the working class what was right for them. In The Audacity of Hope Obama shows that his hopes and dreams for both his family and his country are the same that many of us have. Even those who disagree with how he wants to achieve homeland security, economic stability, prosperity and the promise of a decent future for our children share all of these hopes and dreams with us all.

The Audacity of Hope should be read by anyone considering who to vote for this next election, particularly in the primaries. It might not change your mind, but it will make you reflect on how far we’ve come from a country that works together to a house divided against itself. I know it made me re-think my thoughts on his candidacy.

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