Tuesday, January 20, 2009

From Books, New President Found Voice

Barack Obama (pic right) arrived in Bozeman, Mont., for a campaign rally in May 2008 carrying Fareed Zakaria’s “The Post-American World.”

By MICHIKO KAKUTANI writing in The New York Times, January 18, 2009

WASHINGTON — In college, as he was getting involved in protests against the apartheid government in South Africa, Barack Obama noticed, he has written, “that people had begun to listen to my opinions.” Words, the young Mr. Obama realized, had the power “to transform”: “with the right words everything could change -— South Africa, the lives of ghetto kids just a few miles away, my own tenuous place in the world.”
A Reading List That Shaped a President
Some of President-elect Barack Obama’s favored reading matter as mentioned in this article:
· The Bible
· “Parting the Waters,” Taylor Branch
· “Self-Reliance,” Ralph Waldo Emerson
· Gandhi’s autobiography
· “Team of Rivals,” Doris Kearns Goodwin
· “The Golden Notebook,” Doris Lessing
· Lincoln’s collected writings
· “Moby-Dick,” Herman Melville
· “Song of Solomon,” Toni Morrison
· Works of Reinhold Niebuhr
· “Gilead,” Marilynne Robinson
· Shakespeare’s tragedies

Much has been made of Mr. Obama’s eloquence — his ability to use words in his speeches to persuade and uplift and inspire. But his appreciation of the magic of language and his ardent love of reading have not only endowed him with a rare ability to communicate his ideas to millions of Americans while contextualizing complex ideas about race and religion, they have also shaped his sense of who he is and his apprehension of the world.

Mr. Obama’s first book, “Dreams From My Father” (which surely stands as the most evocative, lyrical and candid autobiography written by a future president), suggests that throughout his life he has turned to books as a way of acquiring insights and information from others — as a means of breaking out of the bubble of self-hood and, more recently, the bubble of power and fame. He recalls that he read James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright and W. E. B. Du Bois when he was an adolescent in an effort to come to terms with his racial identity and that later, during an ascetic phase in college, he immersed himself in the works of thinkers like Nietzsche and St. Augustine in a spiritual-intellectual search to figure out what he truly believed.
Read the full piece at NYT online.

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