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Before he was president, he was a senator. Written two years prior to the election that would change the face of the United States, The Audacity of Hope discusses the importance of empathy in politics, Obama’s hopes for a different America and how the ideals of its democracy can be renewed. With intimacy and self-deprecating humour, he describes his experiences balancing his family life with his public vocation. A senator and a lawyer, a professor and a father, a Christian and a skeptic, Barack Obama has written a book of transforming power that will inspire people the world over.
Barack Obama’s first book, Dreams from My Father, was a compelling and moving memoir focusing on personal issues of race, identity, and community. With his second book The Audacity of Hope, Obama engages themes raised in his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, shares personal views on faith and values and offers a vision of the future that involves repairing a “political process that is broken” and restoring a government that has fallen out of touch with the people. Amazon.com had the opportunity to ask Senator Obama a few questions about writing, reading, and politics–see his responses below. –Daphne Durham 20 Second Interview: A Few Words with Barack Obama
Q: How did writing a book that you knew would be read so closely by so many compare to writing your first book, when few people knew who you were?
A: In many ways, Dreams from My Father was harder to write. At that point, I wasn’t even sure that I could write a book. And writing the first book really was a process of self-discovery, since it touched on my family and my childhood in a much more intimate way. On the other hand, writing The Audacity of Hope paralleled the work that I do every day–trying to give shape to all the issues that we face as a country, and providing my own personal stamp on them.
Q: What is your writing process like? You have such a busy schedule, how did you find time to write?
A: I’m a night owl, so I usually wrote at night after my Senate day was over, and after my family was asleep–from 9:30 p.m. or so until 1 a.m. I would work off an outline–certain themes or stories that I wanted to tell–and get them down in longhand on a yellow pad. Then I’d edit while typing in what I’d written.
Q: If readers are to come away from The Audacity of Hope with one action item (a New Year’s Resolution for 2007, perhaps?), what should it be?
A: Get involved in an issue that you’re passionate about. It almost doesn’t matter what it is–improving the school system, developing strategies to wean ourselves off foreign oil, expanding health care for kids. We give too much of our power away, to the professional politicians, to the lobbyists, to cynicism. And our democracy suffers as a result.
Q: You’re known for being able to work with people across ideological lines. Is that possible in today’s polarized Washington?
A: It is possible. There are a lot of well-meaning people in both political parties. Unfortunately, the political culture tends to emphasize conflict, the media emphasizes conflict, and the structure of our campaigns rewards the negative. I write about these obstacles in chapter 4 of my book, “Politics.” When you focus on solving problems instead of scoring political points, and emphasize common sense over ideology, you’d be surprised what can be accomplished. It also helps if you’re willing to give other people credit–something politicians have a hard time doing sometimes.
Q: How do you make people passionate about moderate and complex ideas?
A: I think the country recognizes that the challenges we face aren’t amenable to sound-bite solutions. People are looking for serious solutions to complex problems. I don’t think we need more moderation per se–I think we should be bolder in promoting universal health care, or dealing with global warming. We just need to understand that actually solving these problems won’t be easy, and that whatever solutions we come up with will require consensus among groups with divergent interests. That means everybody has to listen, and everybody has to give a little. That’s not easy to do.
Q: What has surprised you most about the way Washington works?
A: How little serious debate and deliberation takes place on the floor of the House or the Senate.
Q: You talk about how we have a personal responsibility to educate our children. What small thing can the average parent (or person) do to help improve the educational system in America? What small thing can make a big impact?
A: Nothing has a bigger impact than reading to children early in life. Obviously we all have a personal obligation to turn off the TV and read to our own children; but beyond that, participating in a literacy program, working with parents who themselves may have difficulty reading, helping their children with their literacy skills, can make a huge difference in a child’s life.
Q: Do you ever find time to read? What kinds of books do you try to make time for? What is on your nightstand now?
A: Unfortunately, I had very little time to read while I was writing. I’m trying to make up for lost time now. My tastes are pretty eclectic. I just finished Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, a wonderful book. The language just shimmers. I’ve started Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, which is a great study of Lincoln as a political strategist. I read just about anything by Toni Morrison, E.L. Doctorow, or Philip Roth. And I’ve got a soft spot for John le Carre.
Q: What inspires you? How do you stay motivated?
A: I’m inspired by the people I meet in my travels–hearing their stories, seeing the hardships they overcome, their fundamental optimism and decency. I’m inspired by the love people have for their children. And I’m inspired by my own children, how full they make my heart. They make me want to work to make the world a little bit better. And they make me want to be a better man.
Barack Hussein Obama II (born August 4, 1961) is an American politician who served as the 44th president of the United States from 2009 to 2017. A member of the Democratic Party, he was the first African-American president. Obama previously served as a U.S. senator representing Illinois from 2005 to 2008 and as an Illinois state senator from 1997 to 2004, and worked as a civil rights lawyer and university lecturer.
Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. After graduating from Columbia University in 1983, he worked as a community organizer in Chicago. In 1988, he enrolled in Harvard Law School, where he was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. After graduating, he became a civil rights attorney and an academic, teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 to 2004. Turning to elective politics, he represented the 13th district in the Illinois Senate from 1997 until 2004, when he successfully ran for the U.S. Senate. In 2008, after a close primary campaign against Hillary Clinton, he was nominated by the Democratic Party for president and chose Joe Biden as his running mate. Obama was elected President, defeating Republican nominee John McCain in the presidential election and was inaugurated on January 20, 2009. Nine months later, he was named the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, a decision that drew a mixture of praise and criticism.
Obama’s first-term actions addressed the global financial crisis and included a major stimulus package, a partial extension of George W. Bush’s tax cuts, legislation to reform health care, a major financial regulation reform bill, and the end of a major U.S. military presence in Iraq. Obama also appointed Supreme Court justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, the former being the first Hispanic American on the Supreme Court. He ordered the counterterrorism raid which killed Osama bin Laden and downplayed Bush’s counterinsurgency model, expanding air strikes and making extensive use of special forces while encouraging greater reliance on host-government militaries. Obama also ordered military involvement in Libya in order to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1973, contributing to the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.
After winning re-election by defeating Republican opponent Mitt Romney, Obama was sworn in for a second term on January 20, 2013. In his second term, Obama took steps to combat climate change, signing a major international climate agreement and an executive order to limit carbon emissions. Obama also presided over the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and other legislation passed in his first term, and he negotiated a nuclear agreement with Iran and normalized relations with Cuba. The number of American soldiers in Afghanistan fell dramatically during Obama’s second term, though U.S. soldiers remained in the country throughout Obama’s presidency. Obama promoted inclusion for LGBT Americans, culminating in the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down same-sex marriage bans as unconstitutional in Obergefell v. Hodges.
During Obama’s terms as president, the United States’ reputation abroad, as well as the American economy, significantly improved. Obama left office on January 20, 2017, and continues to reside in Washington, D.C. His presidential library in Chicago began construction in 2021. Since leaving office, Obama has remained active in Democratic politics, including campaigning for candidates in various American elections. Outside of politics, Obama has published three bestselling books: Dreams from My Father (1995), The Audacity of Hope (2006) and A Promised Land (2020). Rankings by scholars and historians, in which he has been featured since 2010, place him in the middle to upper tier of American presidents.
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