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The Audacity of Hope
Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, by Barack Obama
(Click for Amazon book review)
BOOK REVIEW by OnTheIssues.org:
Who is the audience for this book? Most people buy it to keep it on their coffeetable to start conversations -- the typical voter would not read it through. Most political analysts know everything that's in here already -- there are no daring new policies nor deep personal revelations. I've concluded that the intended audience is the excerpter -- people like me. This book got excerpted in Time magazine, for example, and Obama got a big cover spread, with a presidential headline. The Time excerpts were pleasant to read -- a little uplift for a few pages. But the book is just so chock-full of respectfulness and understanding and consensus-building and bipartisanship that no excerpter can find anything BUT uplift in any excerpt (including me).
So my conclusion is that the book is INTENDED for that purpose -- a successful attempt to get Obama into the national spotlight by writing a political tome that everyone will like and few will actually read through. This book contains nothing but numerous uplifting anecdotes of building consensus based on understanding one's opponents' point of view, of bipartisanship based on mutual respect. Reading an excerpt or two fills one with an uplifting feeling. Reading the original in its entirety, however, feels like slogging through uplifting anecdote after uplifting anecdote, to the point where it feels formulaically forced. The formula goes like this for every issue: "The proponents believe X. The opponents believe Y. I tend to lean toward the proponents' views, but I have great respect for the opponents, and we should work together on consensus solutions." I imagine that Obama met with his ghostwriter and outlined his issue stances, then told the ghostwriter to frame each one in a context of that sort of bipartisan respect.
Overall, of course, this is exactly the sort of book needed for the presidential trail. Having the book on coffeetables across America, despite being unread, means Barack's smiling face is in people's living rooms and he's in people's conversations. Having uplifting anecdotes excerpted in Time and OnTheIssues means people will read about their favorite topic, be uplifted, and repeat the anecdote to their fellow voters. It doesn't matter that the SAME formula is used for EVERY issue -- people aren't interested in EVERY issue, just their favorite ones. But if you want to get to know Obama, read instead Dreams From My Father, which is indeed a revealing biography and a deep look at his compelling personal story. This book is written instead for the campaign trail.
I do have a fantasy about how Obama came up with the title (because people like Obama hire people like me to come up with titles like "The Audacity of Hope"). I imagine that Obama wants to elicit a subconscious connection with Howard Dean -- who is characterized by his audacious campaign style -- and simultaneously elicit a subconscious connection with Bill Clinton -- whose book titles often include his hometown of Hope, Arkansas, as in Between Hope and History. Obama's title hence attempts to elicit a subconscious feeling that "Obama has the audacity of Dean, but with Clinton's chances of success." Maybe I'm reading too much subconsciousness into it -- but it's people like me who write these titles, so who knows.
-- Jesse Gordon, jesse@OnTheIssues.org, May 2007
Summer 2008 postscript:
Indeed my title theory was a fantasy -- the title came from a sermon given by the now-famous Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, by Barack Obama.
Page last edited: Mar 08, 2013