DREAMS FROM MY FATHER: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama – Book Review by David Edwards.


As the US Presidential race draws to a conclusion, it is perhaps timely to revisit this seminal work first published in 1995 and released again in 2004 with an updated preface by the author.Barak Obama

Barack Obama was elected President of the USA in November 2008, some years later than the publication of Dreams From My Father. Within this work is revealed the development of the beliefs, the compassion and the values of the man who went on to become the first black American to hold the highest office in the land.

Dreams From My Father is not a biography. As the author astutely notes, it would be presumptuous for a person of his tender years to undertake such a role. Instead, Barack Obama has recalled a journey to explore his origins and to find answers to the perplexing matters of racial discrimination he has encountered through every aspect of his relatively short life and witnessed in the lives of others.

As a device to reflect back upon the eight years of the Obama Administration, this book provides a vital insight on the forces that shaped his aspirations in political life. We can now look back upon the Presidential years to assess the success or otherwise of Barack Obama in achieving the crucial social and economic changes he so passionately records in Dreams From My Father. As a community worker in Chicago and later as President, his fervent desire was to unite black and white Americans by transforming deeply entrenched racial attitudes through greater opportunities in education, justice and employment. Through every strata of American life, he desired to create new understanding and tolerance so that the country could rebuild and come together as a cohesive whole. To do so meant undoing hundreds of years of prejudice and bigotry that pervaded every aspect of American life. A momentous and highly ambitious undertaking by any measure. Perhaps not since Abraham Lincoln has there been a more powerful advocate determined to unite the country.Barak Obama 2

So how will Barack Obama be remembered, particularly by the impoverished, disenfranchised black Americans he desired to help? How successful was he in implementing the radical social/economic agenda; the platform upon which he was elected, carrying with him the hopes and aspirations of so many. To understand Barack Obama’s humanity and passion is also to understand the frustration he must surely have felt constantly over eight years as his agenda was thwarted at almost every turn by political opponents, opposed to changing the status quo. While his impact as a voice of moderation upon world events is assured, domestically the racial, economic, judicial, social struggle remains essentially unchanged. While not privy to his inner thoughts, Barack Obama’s frustrations must surely be heartfelt and a source of bitter disappointment. An opportunity lost.

Dreams From My Father is a superbly crafted work. Had Barack Obama not gone on to become President, he may well have had (and may still have) an illustrious career as a writer. The eloquent self effacing style of the author together with his richly descriptive powers and use of metaphors to bring alive situations and places provides the reader with a most rewarding, insightful and informative journey. Obama’s narrative skill is complemented by the dialogue used in encounters with those he worked with on the hard streets of Chicago through to meeting his family members in Kenya. The nuance, cadence, use of humour varies according to situation and reflects the author as a man of the people from all backgrounds and all ages. A person who listens carefully, observes astutely and forms views with great consideration.Barak Obama 3

Dreams From My Father is notable for the sense of honesty that shines through. The encounters with people from all walks of life are sometimes confronting, difficult, emotional and often heart warming. To Barack Obama it is a learning experience. Learning about others and his place in this world. Sharing hopes and dreams. The sheer honesty of the journey is refreshing and inspiring.

Dreams From My Father is highly recommended.

Dreams From My Father first published in the US by Crown Publishers. Published in Australia by the Text Publishing Company 2008. ISBN 978 1 921351 43 3.  Available on Kindle.