Friday, July 30, 2010

The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama

M:

I'm always very sceptical when it comes to politicians. As a rule I don't trust any of them. The higher up and more known they are, the more I tend to distrust them. Therefore I was also very sceptical about this book too, after all, it was written by a man who's very much involved in politics and has a long way down from his post.

I was pleasantly surprised by the narrative of this book and must admit that Obama is a very good writer. I especially enjoyed the little captions from his own personal life that tied the political themes to real events and made them much more approachable and understandable for the reader. He also gave his own opinions on the matters he was discussing, not just listing the things that are wrong in the socitety. I didn't always agree with him (e.g. I don't think that merit pay is the way to go with school teachers) but I did appreciate that he gave some solutions for the problems.

I did find the book a little preachy in places and a little more 'campaign speech' like than a novel. Also his habit of making a point by asking questions got a little old towards the end: Is the cheap oil worth the costs of war? Will our military intervention lead to a permanent political settlement or an indefinite commitment of U.S. forces? Can our dispute with a country be settled diplomatically or through a coordinated series of sanctions? Will I ever stop asking questions and actually give my opinion on the matter?

The book was written by a man whose sitting pretty high up (not as high as he is now though) and I tend to think that he's probably playing it a little safe, not saying it like it is but so that no one can misunderstand and be offended. Nonetheless, I thought that the book had some interesting ideas, it was well written and easy to read. It was thought provoking and that's always a good sign in my opinion.

So, ii, what's your take on this one? Do you agree with me that this is a book worth reading?

ii:

I too liked this book. Like you said, Obama is a talented writer, but unlike you I liked the questions. That's most probably because I do that too, develop ideas through asking questions. So that didn't bother me at all. And from the very beginning I wondered, could this book have been written by anyone but American, in any society other that the USA? I don't think so.

The thing about books like this is, that they make me want to read more "smart" stuff. Like... history, or economics or politics. And I don't even like politics! The very point Obama highlighted in this book, that there's no easy to apply solutions and right and wrong answers to these issues, is something my patience isn't enough. I want to solve the problem, and I want to do it right now! haha

I did struggle with the chapter on religion, mostly because I don't subscribe to any religion. It annoys me a bit, that whenever we talk of issues of faith and religion and how we need to remember to respect everyones freedom of faith, we're forgetting that not all of us belong to a religion. That too should be respected, the freedom to not have faith. But given the background, that this is a book written by a Christian Democratic politician, he did address the issue in a good way.

Ah yes, the Democratic slant. The "we're responsible for everyone" attitude. It was there, at parts really strong, but then again, he did say so in the beginning. It would be interesting, though, to have a similar (in scope) book written by a Republican. My favorite Marine said once, that there's no longer "fact facts", there's only spin. Meaning that everything in the media is slanted to one way or another. Obama mentioned the same, when he said there's no longer Walter Cronkite or Edward R. Murrow. So why should we expect anything but from an active politician, already planning to rerun (or running for some other office) at the time of writing the book? (See, Madsie, I ask the annoying questions too! Hahaha)

I liked the last few chapters less that the beginning of the book. The chapter on US foreign policy was just too stock full of "American Arrogance". The only notion he gave to international institutions that could take the role of policing the world, such as UN, was when he suggested America should lead them and use them for getting international support to their actions by gaining credibility and the cloak of acceptability through UN approval. That the US should play by the rules not because they're good rules, but because it would be hypocritical for them to ask others to follow them if they're not doing so themselves. Now isn't that just saying "you following these rules benefits us, so we're willing to do what it takes, even follow them ourselves, to make sure you do so"? How about inserting a little humility and respect for others into your foreign policy? How about giving some of that respect you talk of, respect you should have for yourselves the Americans, to the rest of the world? How about admitting that just because Europe needed the help of Americans after WWII to rebuild our economies, we're doing pretty darn good now? (Need I remind you, the current economic crisis was caused by American screw-ups?)

As for the last chapter, the one on family, now that was just pure populism. Vote-fishing at its finest. Or maybe I was just still pissed off after the foreign policy chapter. Of course Obama, like any working parent, struggles with balancing work and family. And the sad fact is that we don't want to hear people who "have it all" (good job, happy family, wealth etc.) complain. But that chapter was just way too sugary. Why couldn't he point out his own experiences on these issues when he talked of social policy and the need for quality teaching for kids and daycares and a minimum wage of parents so that they can actually afford to go to work? When he focused on abortion and problems of unemployment and one-parent households? Then it wouldn't have sounded so much... well, you know the show Extreme Makeover Home Edition? Where they build a house to a needy family? Where you're supposed to go all "aww" at them and cry and feel for them? I call that social porn. And the last chapter, much to my disappointed was more like social porn than affirmative of Obama's dedication to family values and his thanks to his lucky stars for getting a smart wife and pretty kids.

The last two chapters left a... not exactly sour taste in my mouth, but a bit disappointing feeling. I liked most of this book a lot. Not because I subscribe to the liberal ideals of Democrats (I'm more a libertarian myself) but because it made me think, it made me form my own opinions and evaluate (or at times reevaluate) my beliefs of what is right and good and just. And I like reading books like that.

Mads?


M:

Yep, pretty much right with you there, liked it but didn't agree with all of it.

I too had hard time stomaching everything in the Faith -chapter. Like, I sure didn't know that more americans believe in angels than in evolution. And you know I come from a family with very strong sciency background so evolution to me has always been a fact not something you can choose not to believe... I also found the Family chapter was a bit not believable. In public he's all smiles and happy families so to complain about his family situation makes me think he either is untruthful in the book or untruthful in his public appearances with the wife and kids...

This book had loads of interesting thoughts and I'm glad we added this to the list. That said I think I'll give american politics a rest for a while now. Makes me a bit angry, reading ii's thoughts on the foreign policy parts made me remember it all over again and I'm pissed of again, so happy books next please.

We also gained 15 points for The 4 Months Challenge from this one in the category "read a book by an author you've never read before".

2 comments:

  1. I've had this one on my desk at work forever. Somehow when faced with down time and the choice between this book and Facebook, surfing the net seems to win every time! Sounds like you both enjoyed it enough that I ought to give it a chance.

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  2. Same here. That experience repeating itself on many different books was part of our motivation for this while list-blog-reading-thing.

    Obama's book is definitely worth the read, even if you don't share his views. Okay, maybe if you're a die-hard Republican, then maybe this book will mostly annoy you to the point of tossing it at people at random, but it'd still benefit you to read it.

    So yes, do give the book a chance! It's well worth it. And when you do, do let us know how you feel about it.

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