This is a really good book. I like Obama but I've not made up my mind who I want to be the Democratic candidate for President. Certainly if I based my decision on a book, he would rate much higher than Hillary whose book I enjoyed but was not nearly as moved by. In any case, this was not a campaign book--though its reissue now certainly is politic.
It was written 1995 and isn't about politics. Obama was the son of a white American woman and a Kenyan student she met and married at the University of Hawaii. The marriage lasted a relatively short time and Barack never knew his father. At a young age he went with his mother to Jakarta where she married an Indonesian man who became his step father and the prime male influence when he was very young. He went back to Hawaii before his mother's marriage ended to live with his grandparents and attend a prestigious prep school. He met his father only once, when he was 10 years old, and his father came to visit. He found his father formidable, a little scary. The time was awkward. His parents kept up a friendly correspondence and for awhile so did Barack, but there was no close relationship, no real understanding of his father.
Hawaii prided it self on being a mix of races but there weren't that many blacks. A picture of his 5th grade class I saw recently in a New York Times article shows him the only black. Barack started hanging out with black friends, figuring in America he had to find his way as a black man, that it was not possible in the racial climate of the time to identify totally with his mother's family. So who his father was became important to him. His father had gone back to Kenya to important jobs and other marriages and other children. Barack Sr. was known to be autocratic and his son had had difficult connecting with him—In fact even at long distance it was a problematic relationship. Barack met a half sister who was studying in Germany and after college he planned to visit Africa, but his father was killed in a road accident before that visit could take place.
Once he returned from Indonesia, he lived with his mother and with or near her parents. He was close to his grandfather and hung out with him at card games and in pool halls where one of his grandfather's friends a black poet named Frank who had some connection to the beat poets was one of his influences. He loved his grandfather, but knew he had to make his life among blacks. He realized he couldn't be white but didn't quite know how to be black. That struggle is the focus of this book. On the cover is a quote from Marion Wright Edelman, a woman I've always admired: "Perceptive and wise, this book will tell you something about yourself whether you're black or white."
The book has three parts: the first focuses on his childhood up until he graduates from Columbia and considers getting a job. The second part is about his work as an organizer and activist on the South Side of Chicago—learning to live with and understand blacks. There he formulated many of his ideas about race in America. The third is about his eventual trip to Kenya where he meets the African side of his family and begins to know his father in a way he never had before. All of it is thoughtful and honest and extremely well written. I recommend it highly. You don't have to have any interest whatsoever in the American presidential election to find it an interesting book.