Dispatches | August 26, 2007

With all the flurry over the coming presidential election, you’d think it were happening this November instead of in 2008. Countless debates and headlines have made it clear that this will be one of the more heated elections in a while, and most voters are still working to distinguish among the abundance of candidates lining the battlefield: the Law and Order TV star, the former First Lady, the 9/11 mayor of New York City, and more.

One candidate has stood out due to his books, though, and I find that incredibly fascinating. I picked up first-time Senator Barack Obama’s first memoir, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, last week and found myself pleasantly surprised—the man can write. While Obama has made a splash with his charismatic speeches (as at the 2004 Democratic Convention) and his Senate term, his two best-selling books (Dreams and The Audacity of Hope) have in large part legitimized his run for president and contributed to much of the celebrity that surrounds him.

The first memoir intrigues me more because Obama wrote it before the spotlight consumed him. The book was published in 1995, after he left law school, and paints the portrait of a young man struggling in terms of race and origin and purpose.

Obama’s book gave me a refreshing glimpse into the candidate’s mind. He writes lyrically about growing up in Hawaii and his fractured family, often providing extensive backgrounds of about his family members. He’ll own up to a partying lifestyle of drugs in college as well as his struggles motivating the poor communities of Chicago to action and social justice. Race always dominates—how to grow up a foreigner in Indonesia, how to live as one of the few black students in his Hawaiian school, how to develop a connection with his father’s homeland of Kenya.

Sure, other politicians have written books before, but what distinguishes this one is the quality of the writing and the honest autobiography, which lays out Obama’s personality in a memoir before the election fame. I wish other candidates on both sides of the aisle had done the same. Hillary Clinton wrote Living History in 2004, which I give her credit for, but the book plays it safe and was likely written with 2008 already in mind. Obama’s first book hit the world over a decade before this election.

I like that a candidate can achieve his fame and position through the power of his words. Let’s hope that continues.