Read Like Barack Obama This Summer
Barack Obama may have stepped out of the spotlight since his presidential term came to an end in October 2016, but the former world leader has far from put his feet up. As a public figure and advocate for world change, he continues to tour the globe meeting young, influential campaigners who hope to make a difference to the status quo.
Earlier this month, Obama visited Africa for the first time since leaving office. In advance of the trip, he reflected on the literature that influenced him, and on how many of the great thinkers he admired were African. This inspired him to publish his reading (and re-reading) list on his Facebook page so that others could soak up wisdom from these books, too.
He listed fiction such as Chinua Achebe’s seminal novel, Things Fall Apart as well as contemporary instant classic Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. But, as always at Blinkist, we focused on his nonfiction recommendations, namely, Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela, and The World As It Is by Ben Rhodes.
Let’s have a closer look at each of these titles.
Long Walk To Freedom
In his Facebook post, Obama describes Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk To Freedom as “one of the epic stories of the 20th Century”.
Mandela’s autobiography takes the reader right back to the great man’s roots as the son of a tribal leader in the South African countryside. From early on the heavy influence of the British on his education, upbringing and even on his name is clear, and although he was at first a diligent student, he later began to challenge the authority around him — which led to him being expelled from school.
Turning his back on education, he left for Johannesburg to seek out his first job. It was in Jo’burg, while working at a law firm and studying to become a lawyer himself that Mandela began to engage with political activism; he joined rallies, befriended other activists and formed links within the Communist Party.
This was, essentially, where it all began for Mandela the freedom fighter. As we continue to follow Mandela’s journey, we learn of his deeper involvement with the African National Congress in the face of the rising prominence and eventual coming to power of The National Party and its Apartheid movement.
Mandela chronicles his work as a freedom fighter against the Apartheid movement, his subsequent 20-year imprisonment and eventual release. Despite the hardships and injustice Mandela faced throughout his life, the overall message of the book is one of commitment to, and belief in, a better future. With this in mind, it’s not hard to see the inspiration that Obama drew from this book during his own presidency, and how we in our own ways can draw hope from Mandela’s tale of courage against all the odds.
The World as It Is
The World as It Is by former White House aide Ben Rhodes is an up-close-and-personal account of the Obama presidency from a man who was right in the thick of it. Rhodes, who formed a close friendship with the president, begins his story with the 2007 election campaign where Obama’s words of hope and change were unlike anything the American people had heard from a politician in a very long time.
But it didn’t start and end with impressive speeches. From day one, Obama’s actions and deeds were at odds with both the other candidates in the running and the presidents who had come before him.
Obama took his presidential campaign abroad — a very uncommon move for most candidates — and in doing so, demonstrating his seriousness about foreign policy as well as his knowledge of, and respect for, history.
As Rhodes points out, the seeds of hope and change — in particular with regards to America’s relationship with and influence over world politics — which were sewn during Obama’s presidential campaign both defined him as a leader but also dogged him throughout his time in the White House as he tried to live up to the great expectations the world had placed upon him.
Whichever story you choose to read, whether about the beloved architect of a freer society or an inspirational American president, you can take inspiration from the fact that they shared a very similar dream.
Their fight for real change and for a fairer, more equal future, made millions of people believe in better. That fight may still be far from won, but in the world’s darker moments, we all have to believe in the power of hope.