This is not really what I would put in the category of Business literature, but I have recommended it to so many people lately, I decided to talk about it here anyway. Barack Obama wrote this book shortly after leaving Harvard Law School. His thoughts on the genesis of the book in the Preface and Introduction of the 2004 edition add a great deal to the experience of reading it, as does the entire text of his keynote address delivered at the Democratic National in July of 2004, which appears at the end.
The book itself is first and foremost one man's personal journey. It's not a glossed over press piece written to impress a constituency and potential voters, nor is it a warmly remembered personal history written at the end of a successful and noteworthy life. Barack Obama wrote this well before he could have imagined the life in which he finds himself as a US Senator from Illinois. It's deeply personal, very genuine and evokes such a sense of struggle. It's not just a coming of age story, it's an attempt to shine a light on race issues in this country that many of us could not otherwise imagine. But those issues are cast in terms of this man's life.
His birth was the result of a brief union between a white mother from Kansas and an educated black Kenyan father who met while attending the University of Hawaii. His father was absent for the majority of his life and he was raised principally by his mother and grandparents. Like any good story, it's engaging in the details. The book tends to bog down a bit in the middle when he describes his years as a community organizer in Chicago. He really details the entire experience - the people he was trying to help, those he worked with to try and orchestrate meaningful change, the key players that shaped the efforts to bring decent housing, education and employment to the poorest of African-American communities. It's definitely an inside view of something most of us will never see or experience. I thought about that when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and suddenly a natural disaster became embroiled in issues of race and poverty. Barack Obama does an excellent job in painting a portrait of the daily lives and despair of these people. The challenges of poor African-Americans in New Orleans are probably not vastly different from what he saw in Chicago. These people and their problems are invisible to the vast majority of Americans who don't want to see or know these problems exist.
The latter part of the book is about connecting with his half-sisters and brothers in Africa and visiting them in Kenya. He has a gift for evoking a sense of time and place that is very vivid and real, but always in the context of a deeply personal journey. He is meeting these family members for the first time, and through them, discovering a father he never really knew. There is something unique about this man, and his story is worth knowing.
Business books are not all that I read. It seemed like there was more value in narrowing the scope of books to be reviewed and discussed in this blog. But there is much to be discovered in all kinds of books, and this is one of those exceptional ones.