Book notes: Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama

Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama book summary.

Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama


Synopsis: “In this lyrical, unsentimental, and compelling memoir, the son of a black African father and a white American mother searches for a workable meaning to his life as a black American. It begins in New York, where 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.” -Audible

Opening thoughts:

I mainly chose this book because I loved Obama’s last book Audacity of Hope, which was published after this one. When I saw that he wrote another autobiography before it, I looked it up and put it on my wish list. It’s very nostalgic knowing that we had such an articulate, classy, and a great leader. Now, we have our current, sorry-excuse-for-a-president in office.

Key notes:

  • He published this book a ticket prior when he became the first black president of the Harvard law review, and then re-published it when he became the first African-American senator
  • His grandfather proclaim they moved away from Texas because of the racism, while his grandmother would say it was because they had a better opportunity in Seattle
  • He learned from his stepfather that it is better to be strong than weak, or at least be clever and make peace with someone who is strong
  • His mother reinforced in learning values and principles like his father
  • In high school Barack cut people slack and didn’t call them racist just because they weren’t given the same opportunities. It could’ve just been they were different. He had a strong tendency for empathy
  • When his friends came over and remarked about the lack of food in the fridge or less than perfect housekeeping, his mom would later pull him aside and remind him she was a single mom supporting two kids and going to school again. And that small luxuries wasn’t high on her priority list and she won’t take any snotty attitudes from kids
  • In high school, he was trying to find his identity. He was able to slip back-and-forth between his black and white worlds outside of home and at home
  • Barack read the book Heart of Darkness because it taught him about the author, the parents racism, hatred, and fear that he had of black people. This helped him understand the mind of the white man
  • He goes by Barry, but his given name is Barack, like his Kenyan father
    • It means “blessed” in Arabic because his grandfather was Muslim
  • His friendships would lead him to re-examine some of the choices he made
    • Ideas:
      • look at yourself before you pass judgment
      • don’t make someone else clean up your mess
      • it’s not about you
    • These are all things he would be told and reminded of over and over
  • He came to realize that while his identity may begin with the fact of his race, it didn’t end there. At least that’s what he would choose to believe
  • His mom and his dad were planning on moving to Kenya, but then his dad’s father didn’t approve
    • Then his dad went to Harvard and then his mom divorced his dad
    • Later, his dad asked them to move in with him, but she was still married to Lolo
  • Communities had never been a given in this country. Communities had to be created, fought for, tended like gardens
    • They expanded or contracted with the dreams of men
  • In politics, like religion, power lays in certainty. And one man’s certainty always threatened another’s
  • He noticed the constant struggle in the black community to align words with actions
  • He and his half-sister from Kenya finally spent time together and they instantly connected
  • When he discovered the truth about his father, about how he became a lonely drunk bureaucrat near the end of his life, it turn his world upside down. It was the opposite of the figure he had imagined his whole life
  • Most people were practical and knew life was too hard to judge other people’s choices
  • Listening to the reverends message and the audacity of hope and Jesus made him tear up, during a time where he didn’t know where his faith came from
  • Without power for the group, our success always threatened to leave others behind
  • His dad was always a generous man who is had a big heart that couldn’t support everyone around him
  • His aunt told him that his dad was under a lot of pressure from everyone around him to give. And not to judge him too harshly
    • If you have something, then everyone will want a piece of it. So you have to draw the line somewhere. If everyone is family, then no one is family
  • His grandfather was very strict but fair, has alluded to with the story about him killing a man’s goat because he said he would if the goat ate any plans
  • His grandma said that a man can never be too busy to know his own people
  • His grandma told the entire story of his grandfather and father, then it all finally came full circle
  • He and Michelle got married and his whole family was there

Closing thoughts:

First off all, this was a fantastic book. Definitely shed a tear at the end when it played what sounded like Obama’s acceptance speech after he was voted into office as Illinois senator. The only thing was it was very difficult to take notes on the book.

True to its nature, it was more of an autobiographical account of his life, primarily focusing on his experience growing up with his family. From living with his mom, not seeing his dad much, then moving with his mom to Indonesia with his mom and step-dad, then living back in Hawaii with his grandparents. Eventually he do a lot of organizing in Chicago, eventually visiting his father’s family in Kenya to discover his roots. You can tell that he has seen a lot and has a huge capacity for empathy, having such a mixed family and living all over the place. I think a lot of that is why he was such a great president.

It was interesting hearing Barack talk about his grandparents and his family. This made me wonder a lot about my grandparents on both sides, especially my dad side, of whom I know nothing about. I should really ask him.

Even though I didn’t take a lot of notes, it was definitely a great book to listen to, especially since Barack does the narration and he does a great job with the accents and impressions. Would highly recommend for anyone looking for a great autobiography to read or listen to.

Nutshell: The autobiography of Barack Obama, growing up and discovering who he is by where his family came from.

Rating: 4/5

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