This is not a political blog. I have no interest in politics. But I have been reading a great book that happens to be written by a politician.
The first time I heard of Barack Obama is when I saw his name springing up on those political signs people put in their front yards in election years. I knew nothing about him except that he was affiliated with the University of Chicago law school and he was running some hopeless campaign for the U.S. Senate. I figured the support he was getting in my home town at the time was probably the only support he would get in the whole state. The city I lived in, Oak Park, is left wing to the point of comedy at times. For instance, as you cross into the city, a sign informs you that you are entering a nuclear-free zone. I thought it would take little more than him having a name like “Barack Obama” to win over the folks in Oak Park.
I was not paying any attention to the Senate race when I happened to get called at random for a poll being conducted by the Chicago Tribune. They asked me who I was going to vote for in the upcoming Senate election. Just out of sympathy and loyalty to the University of Chicago, I said I would vote for Obama. That way, when the results of the poll came out, he would have a few percent of the electorate behind him and he wouldn’t feel so bad. I was flabbergasted when I saw the results of the poll on the front-page of the newspaper a few days later: Obama was in the lead for the democratic primary! (This, of course, was well before he got tapped to give the keynote address at the Democratic convention.)
I am not very interested in politics, so I didn’t pay much attention to the Senate race (which eventually was a landslide with Obama crushing — of all people — Alan Keyes). I saw him give two speeches: the Democratic convention one and his acceptance speech the night he won. Both times, I felt like he cast some sort of spell over me. When he spoke, I wanted to believe him. I can’t remember another politician ever having that effect on me. One friend, who knows Barack and who also knew Bobby Kennedy, said he had not seen anyone like Kennedy until he met Barack.
Anyway, all of this is just a long prelude to the fact that I picked up his book The Audacity of Hope and was blown away at how well written it is. His stories sometimes make me laugh out loud and at other times well up with tears. I find myself underlining the book repeatedly so I can find the best parts quickly again in the future. I am also almost certain he wrote the whole thing himself, based on people I know who know him. I have no interest in politics, yet I am devouring this book. If you aren’t giving Freakonomics as a Christmas gift this year — probably you gave it to everyone on your list last Christmas — this would make a great gift.
I suppose I shouldn’t be that surprised at what a good writer he is because I read his first book Dreams from My Father two years ago and loved that one as well. But unlike that first book, written 15-20 years ago before he had political ambitions, I thought this new one would just be garbage. Rarely does a book so exceed my expectations. Also, I should stress that I don’t agree with all his political views, but that in no way detracts from the enjoyment of reading the book.
If he has the same effect on others as he does on me, you are looking at a future president.