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Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance
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In this lyrical, unsentimental, and compelling memoir, the son of a black African father and a white American mother searches for a workable meaning to his life as a black American. It begins in New York, where Barack Obama learns that his father—a figure he knows more as a myth than as a man—has been killed in a car accident. This sudden death inspires an emotional odyssey—first to a small town in Kansas, from which he retraces the migration of his mother’s family to Hawaii, and then to Kenya, where he meets the African side of his family, confronts the bitter truth of his father’s life, and at last reconciles his divided inheritance.

Pictured in lefthand photograph on cover: Habiba Akumu Hussein and Barack Obama, Sr. (President Obama's paternal grandmother and his father as a young boy). Pictured in righthand photograph on cover: Stanley Dunham and Ann Dunham (President Obama's maternal grandfather and his mother as a young girl).

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Customer Reviews:

  • Fascinating view into our president's psyche
    Would I have read this book had its author not been elected President of the United States? Probably not, but I would have missed a book worth reading.
    The miracle of Obama's election last November only grows after reading this account of his childhood, youth and young manhood. We learn how he was born, the result of a romance between his Kenyan father and young American mother; how his father returns to Africa, his mother remarries an Indonesian man and his years in that country. Returning to Hawaii, the young Obama goes through years of confusion about his identity and the meaning of his blackness. He becomes a community organizer in Chicago (these chapters provide the most vivid writing) and visits his late father's family in Kenya.
    One is struck by the fact that this young man has graduated from the University of Life as well as Harvard Law School. He knows firsthand about poverty and the problems of our innercities. He knows how so many young black men have fallen victim to hopelessness and the streets. He knows from direct experience how hard it is to make progress, to fight the dead weight of poverty.
    One thing I miss in this book is the birth of Obama's ambition. He presents himself as a young drifter engaged in an intellectual search for identity but he must have been much more than that. What impelled him to grab the chance to transfer to Columbia University? We're not precisely told. What prompted him to go to Harvard law. Again, it's left a bit opaque.
    Another quibble: we get too much for my liking about the elder Obama, the absent father, and not enough about his mother who stuck around to raise him. We learn about Dr. Obama's blighted career, his many infidelities, his bewildering set of offspring with various women, his drinking, his reckless generosity and on and on. Also a little too much about the mythic origins of the Obama clan deep in African prehistory.
    If Obama is the product of an African father and a white mother, it is the absent father who looms much the larger in his imagination. The white side of his family -- his long-suffering mother and the grandparents who helped raise him -- get short shrift. We hear about Obama's grandfather's attitude to race and black. He too is a disappointed man who failed to live up to his own expectations of himself. Yet, he helped produce Obama.
    It's fascinating to me how an absent parent can loom larger in a young man's mind than the one who stuck around and did the hard day-to-day job of raising the child.
    The writing is admirably clear and for the most part the book is consistently interesting. I think we are blessed by having such a self-aware and knowledgeable man as our president. This is far more than the usual campaign-biography, produced with a ghost writer to present the candidate or potential candidate in the best possible light. This is a real book about a real person. That's the highest praise I can offer....more info
  • The Growth of a President
    "The fact that my 15 minutes of fame has extended a little longer than 15 minutes is somewhat surprising to me and completely baffling to my wife." ~Barack Obama

    This book currently has a ton of holds at our local library. Everyone wants to know more about the man who will be our next president. He has had a very eventful and meaningful life.

    I remember being impressed with Barack Obama when he gave the keynote address at the Democratic Convention in 2004. I didn't know anything about him or his policies at the time but his story touched a chord with me. His grandfather on his mother's side was raised in Kansas and served his country in WWII, his grandfather on his father's side was a domestic servant to the British in Kenya. He stated that his presence on that stage that night was pretty unlikely but that anything was possible in this country of ours. This memoir explains how he got to that point.

    The book was published in 1995 shortly after he graduated from Harvard as the first black president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review. The incredible thing is he wrote this book when he was approximately the age that I am now.

    The book is broken out into three sections. The first section goes over his origins. It takes you from his birth in Hawaii to his childhood in Indonesia. He then returns to live with his maternal grandparents in Hawaii where he graduates from HS. He goes to college in California, and then he goes to New York where he studies at Columbia University.

    The second section outlines his time in Chicago where he worked as a community organizer. There he spends his time trying to improve the lives of the poor African Americans in the south side of Chicago. One has to think that he always had aspirations to be a politician. Who wants to be a community organizer in their early-to-mid-twenties? I wonder when he first started thinking about the possibility of being President.

    He tells of a young black kid in Chicago who wanted to be in the Air Force but decided not to go because he figured he would never be a pilot. He told Barack that the Air Force would never let a black man fly a plane. Barack shot back, "Who told you that mess?" The kid says, "That's just the way it is." Barack responded, "Man, that's the wrong attitude. You can do whatever you want if you are willing to work for it." This small account provides a small glimpse into what it really meant for the African American community when he was elected president. Obama proved that anything is truly possible.

    The third section is an account of Obama's journey to Africa just before starting at Harvard. He only met his father once for a few short days as a child before he was killed in an accident. Obama is forced to confront the bitter truth of his father's life. His father was a very proud, intelligent and caring man but he could also be a bitter drunk and an abusive husband. Obama's father had a lot of wives and children. He meets brother and sisters that he had never met. I lost count of how many siblings he has. Africa was a trip of self-discovery for Obama. I enjoyed reading not only about his family and their struggles and joys but of his father and grandfather's history.

    While I certainly don't agree with some of his policies, Obama may be the most charismatic person that has run for president in my lifetime. Love or hate his policies, you have to respect him as a person. His acceptance speech was a thing of beauty and gave our country hope during these tough economic times. The man has been voted as our leader at one of the most tenuous times in our country's history. He exudes so much confidence and positivity that one can't help but feel he can really help turn things around. The man inspires hope and tells a great story. He talks the talk, but can he walk the walk? Only history will tell. Here's hoping he can....more info
  • A window into an otherwise unknown world
    Since this book was written before Obama began his political career, and it doesn't mention politics, I'm going to try and judge it free from my political biases and knowledge of what happened after the book was published.

    I usually don't read biographies, but a friend of mine convinced me to try this one and lent me the audiobook. I'm glad I did. My first impression was that Obama wrote as well, if not better, than any author I've ever read before. He has the ability to paint a picture with words that is unmatched outside of the purely literary field. Hearing the whole book read in his deep sonorous voice makes it even better. (He even does a very good Kenyan accent when called for).

    Obama's story is not a simple one. It's not about growing up without a father, or being the only black in a white neighborhood. It's not about racism, black identity, urban issues, or a man's search for his roots. Yet somehow, it is all of those. It's a view into a life that I couldn't have even imagined previously, and would never have seen. Through Obama's eyes we're taken to the poor parts of Indonesia, the rough streets of the south side of Chicago, the black community in an American college, and finally, a family reunion in Kenya. By the time the book was done, I nearly had tears in my eyes....more info
  • A Candid Memoir on Race & Identity
    In this thoughtful, candid memoir, a young Barack Obama contemplates the development of his identity as a black man in America. His journey is interesting not only because he would someday become America's first black president, but because Obama's story, in a sense, embodies the turbulent melting pot of the country he now leads. The son of a Kenyan father from the Luo tribe and a white mother from Kansas, with a childhood spent in Hawaii and Indonesia, Obama grew up between several worlds. In Dreams from My Father, he reflects on his struggle to reconcile these worlds and figure out where he belongs. Along the way, the figure of his mostly absent father looms in the distance; in young Obama's mind, he is at once a legend to live up to, a symbol of his heritage, and a mystery.

    As a child and a young man, Obama faces the isolation of growing up in a white family and mostly white community where there are few people he feels he can relate to. At the same time, he searches for authenticity as he tries to figure out where he fits into the black community. Eventually, this desire for authenticity mingles with his idealism and leads him to Chicago, where he becomes a community organizer. Although he is able to have a positive impact, the work is fraught with challenges and frustrations, and the desire to belong--not to be seen as an outsider--seems to remain a common thread despite the acceptance he finds there. In the last section of the book, Obama travels to Kenya, where he movingly encounters his extended African family and comes face to face with the place that has filled his dreams since he was a boy.

    This memoir gives interesting insight into both who Obama is and the complexity of America's racial dynamics. While the book is a very worthy read, I had one major frustration with it: the book was either very poorly edited, or its author was in far too much of a hurry when he wrote it! After reading some of the grammatical errors in there, I was almost tempted to write Obama an angry letter. Take, for example, this passage: "A healthy, dose of guilt never hurt anybody." There were also several places where there was a capital letter that should not have been there or a lowercase letter at the beginning of a sentence. As long as I was able to suppress my fury about this, however, I found the book very enjoyable. ...more info
  • Getting to know oneself
    As we pass from childhood to adulthood we all have to find out who we are. For many of us that might seem less of a challenge if we are born into a family and a community that might be deemed average but, as we know, it is never easy no matter how prosaic and determinable our roots.

    Dreams From My Father tells the story of how our 44th President, born of a brilliant, mercurial and mythic black father, whom he almost never knew directly, and a white "flower child" mother, raised in large part by his white middle American lapsed Protestant grandparents in Honolulu and later with his mother and her Indonesian second husband in Jakarta, made the journey of self discovery and became the man we see today as the leader of the Free World. We see how the influences of disparate cultures, the awakening to the reality that he was black in a white society, the constant probing and analysis of his roots and environments led to the formation of this extraordinary man. We see how carefully he weighed all of the varied elements and choices at each step of his life which led, almost inevitably, to a path of public service that will affect all of our lives in the days to come.

    A must read for a full understanding of the man who will lead us in this time of overwhelming challenges....more info
  • The man can tell stories, but their morals are clouded.
    "Dreams from my Father" is fairly well written. Mr. Obama is a good writer. But. . . I am not sure about what sort of person the writer really is. I suspect that he may be somewhat of an odd duck. Not a black swan, but an odd duck. I do not understand why Obama chooses to relate to his father, whom he saw so little, rather than his mother or his white grandparents. There is more going on in his head than he admits to being there.
    I had to mark my rating of the book down because it left me with more questions about the man than I had when I started it. This man deeply disturbs and worries me. Among my worries is my perception that his actions do not show the man of hope that his considered words seem to claim that he is. I worry that Mr. Obama may prove to be, just, another power-seeker and that this book is mere propaganda. I really hope I am wrong, and that Mr Obama proves to be a good president. But, perhaps some of the old sayings about hubris will apply, with poor consequences for all of us. ...more info
  • My first disappointment with Obama
    I've just finished Dreams from My Father, and I am disappointed. While I have been very excited about and supportive of the candidate and now President Obama, I am glad I read this book after I voted for him. The writing is dull, cumbersome, and often boring and cliched. So he is not a writer--fine. But what upset me about this book is the absence of insight and wisdom. There are just so few inferences and interpretations of what he'd experienced! The book tells you nothing about the man who had written it. I don't mean only personal details; I am talking about thoughts, ideas, philosophy. Yes, you do find out, what we all know, that he is sincerely and passionately concerned about the suffering of others, particularly poor blacks. This is important and comes across clearly. But nothing else. There are so many characters in the book that you never remember who's who, and so many trivial dialogues that you often forget the bigger picture. The father and the grandfather he is looking for in Africa do not seem to have commendable characters, but the narrator--Obama-- is mum about his discoveries of their rather abusive and dissolute lives. There are no conclusions, no honest confrontations of the truth, and that's what makes this book--as a memoir--cowardly. I hope the President is almost an entirely different person from the narrator of Dreams from My Father. So far, he is doing very well, but I wish he'd stop hopping around the country in his campaign mode. ...more info
  • In my son's word!!!
    This is another book that my son had to read in his Senior year of High School and this is another book that intrigued and captivated him.

    Any book that can keep my son's attention and make him want to learn more about the person or the author is A ok with me.

    I have not read the book completely but from what I read this is a book that will help make your commute on the train or the bus go by a little quicker.

    Bottom line this book is a must read!!!...more info
  • A story of identity crisis and the path that led to the presidency
    Nevermind being a fan of the President or not, this is a very good memoirs that stands on its own in the memoirs genre. This was written when Obama became the first Black president of the Harvard Review and chronicles his life before his marriage in 1993. Many admissions are made of the President-to-be about adolescent drug use (which he dropped in time), questions of racial identity in America and his path to become a community organizer.
    But the main thread remains his relationship with his mostly unknown father which Obama tries to come to terms with by travelling to Kenya. If you personally experience or know of someone having an identity crisis, you will connect to that book. How inspiring this book can be for a young Black man who never knew his dad, does not know what is place is in America because of his color! I believe it can be as inspiring for such an individual as it was seeing Obama become President.
    Also, I appreciated his bits about life in Indonesia and his trip to Africa which uncovers insights that are not always too positive but, I suppose, realistic in some respects if not all. If you want to hear Obama say incredible things Amazon does not even want me to include in my review then, get the audio version of that book. Excellent memoirs, I recommend it highly.
    ...more info
  • Good Listening
    These audio cd's are great. With Obama himself as narrator it makes it as if he were talking directly to you. Great listening during a long drive home....more info
  • Hail to the Chief
    This book and "The Audacity of Hope" evidence the fact that the US now has the most erudite and intelligent man in the Oval Office since at least JFK (who won a Pulitzer for "Profiles in Courage"), or perhaps FDR or even Lincoln.
    The impact of the books is even greater on the CD or MP3 audio versions, with the 44th President reading his own work in his mellifluous voice.
    It was these works, both of which I read during the campaign, even more than his electrifying speeches, which switched me from a Hilary supporter to the Obama camp. As an Australian, I didn't get to vote, but I still cried when he won.
    Hail to the Chief....more info
  • rethinking of race and humanity
    It is a very good book to learn Obama's history. The book provides us a window to view Obama's rethinking of race & inheritance. Through the details of evidence, the author analyzes social and racial problems in a great depth....more info
  • Well satisfied.
    The book was just what I was looking for. I presume I will have much pleasure in reading and maybe passing it on to my family for them to enjoy....more info
  • hopscotch makes more sense than this drivel
    Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war. Read some shakespeare dude or better yet Mr O should read some economics...more info
  • Dreams from my Father
    Informative, Interesting, and helps understand the man in a more personal way, to know details of his childhood, and formative years. A very captivate quick read....more info
  • Got lost in Africa
    This one moved too slow for me, especially when we got to the extended family in Africa. The ending also seemed to be hurried. What was amazing to me is he wrote this while still a student in college, roughly 25 years old....more info
  • I loved the honesty.
    Barack Obama has grown since 1995; but this book has a quiet tone of honesty. This book has shown the author's integrity, and that reveals the power this book has. After I read the book I knew I HAD to listen to Obama as he read it. As the 6th CD was nearing the final pages, a sudden calm came to me and I fought back tears. I knew at that moment Barack Obama was the perfect spiritual order for America. I felt something I had not felt in decades. I felt hope....more info
  • Good book, but I Couldn't get Through It
    I'll preface this by saying that I love Barack Obama and think he's the best thing that has happened to this country in a long time - there I've said it, you can stop reading now if you have a problem with that.

    While I think he's a phenomenal speaker and I appreciate his writing ability and think his use of language is spot on, I have not been able to get through either of his books! I did better with "Dreams from My Father" than with "The Audacity of Hope", but I still couldn't finish it.

    I started off fine, with the first section "Origins" where he describes growing up in Hawaii and Indonesia, meeting his father, his college years and living in New York. How he wrestles with his racial heritage and the conflicts therein is very interesting and his brief flirtation with Black militancy was fascinating. You can start to see how he grew up into the man he is today.

    The second section "Chicago", however, lost me. I found his narrative of the community organization stuff tedious. I got the people confused, all of his well-intentioned efforts were frustrating (at least as far as I got). So I started skipping around. I read about his meeting Reverend Wright and can completely understand why he chose to establish a relationship with the Reverend and it helps understand why Jeremiah Wright is the way he is. I read about when his Kenyan half-sister Auma visited him, and then I stopped reading that section.

    The third section "Kenya" was OK, but by the time I got to it, I was tired of reading this book. I skipped around enough to learn about the complexity of his family in Kenya - where men have several wives and children with al of them. I'm not sure how many half-siblings Obama has on his father's side but there seems to be a lot of them! There is some beautiful, contemplative writing in this section and you can see how this trip affected him deeply.

    I may come back and read the whole thing some day, but for now I recommend it with the caveat that I found a lot of it tedious.
    ...more info
  • Book
    It is a valuable book in any library in really getting an insider's look at the President prior to being President. Great reading material. Seller and delivery were perfect. AA++++++++++...more info
  • a sincere voice with balanced view to transcend the painful racial experience that we all share
    The kindness of Obama's understanding of human condition just brought tears to my eyes. The truthfulness and sincerity of his search to understand his identity, to exam the choices that he made is inspiring and moving. As an immigrant coming to this country, living through Obama's story is to transcend my own experience to look issues beyond my personal frustration, anger and isolation rather a human condition that we are all facing. Reading his poignant self examination makes me wonder had I be more courageous, more sincere to listen my inner voice what choice would I make? I am glad that it is Obama with his worldly life experience, solid value and kindness toward human condition that is our president in this critical moment of our national history....more info
  • Beautifully written profile of restlessness, empathy, and growth
    This autobiography is one of the most well-written and moving books I have ever read. President Obama's early voice clearly resonates on themes of world race relations and his growth as an individual in understanding how he fits in. His words suggest a youthful unease that show his passion in helping the current condition of African Americans and Africans. For example, while reading a book on Africa's brilliant history and recent internecine struggles, Obama notes his feeling of restlessness: "I set the book down, feeling a familiar anger flush through me, an anger all the more maddening for its lack of a clear target" (p. 300).

    While Obama's themes may suggest resentment and vitriol as a next step, he does not go down that path. He never speaks ill towards others throughout the book; instead, his words are objective, with criticism directed only towards his own African American community.

    Obama's focus and drive really shine in this book as well, showing his upward drive through Columbia University, his dedication in helping out the Chicago community, and his acceptance into Harvard law school.

    There are only a few negatives about this book. While the writing is eloquent, a few passages were really drawn out. The latter chapters about Kenya, while compelling, are long, and the many introduced names in his extended family are a bit exhausting to read. Also, I wish Obama had written more about his study habits and his scholarly activities that got him into Columbia and Harvard. There is only a minor event, noted in passing on page 324, that says he was "always spending time with books."

    Overall, an excellent autobiography.
    ...more info
  • Understanding Obama
    This book is poignant for understanding Pres. Obama today. It is an eye opener on his family life, his world travels, his inner turmoil with race issues, and what drives him today. Worth your time to read - no fluff in this book!...more info
  • So REAL for a politician
    I love this book because it's so unpretentious and honest for someone with political aspirations; perhaps Obama didn't have any when he wrote the book after graduating from law school. In any event, he's President now and I'm very grateful to have this view into his childhood and organizing years in Chicago.
    ...more info
  • Dreams from by Barack
    This story gives so much insight into the evolution of the man. Great read. ...more info
  • Dreams from my Father, Barack Obama
    Amazing that such a frank, brilliant, talented, committed & real person could be elected president! Definite sign that the torch has passed to a new, younger generation. We're a lucky country! Marian ...more info
  • Good for us!
    So happy to have this book. Think I'll grow as a person in learning to appreciate our wonderful diversity legacy....more info
  • Brilliant - a must for the modern age
    Forgetting for a moment who wrote this book; this is an engaging, thoughtful, intelligent, perceptive read. This is a real meditation on race and specifically, on what it means to grow up and search for one's racial identity in modern America. And yet, it is beautifully written. Rich in descriptive detail and almost novelistic vignettes, it is also pacey and hard to put down.

    Returning to the author, it is truly hard to believe that this was written by a politician (although he wasn't at the time of writing). It is such a good read and provides such a thoughtful and open account of Obama's views and experiences, that it is truly breathtaking in this age of political posturing.

    Read this to learn more about Obama. Read this to learn more about the divisions of America. Read this to learn about the black experience both in the US and in Kenya. Read this for the beauty of its writing, but above all, read it, you won't be disappointed. ...more info
  • Dreams of My Father
    Barack Obama has written this so it is like listening to him speak...a little complicated for the simplest man but a good read still. It perfectly explains why he is who he is. If you like Barack and like to listen to him speak you will love this book....more info
  • Hats off to the Chief!
    I so very much enjoyed this autobiography of President Barack Obama. It was quite inspiring. It awoke in my being so many images I had forgotten of my own experiences traveling abroad when I was a youth seeking my Self. I am very proud to be American born and proud to know that our President represents my views and insight of people, and our inate responsibility to mankind. Hats off to the Chief! ...more info
  • Self Discovery
    If you want to learn more from Barack Obama, than this is the book for you.

    The way he writes triggers a shock in your head, Each word that is used has a specific meaning. This book takes you through a journey of Barack's life, from childhood to an adult. You can easily feel his emotions and get a sense of the questions he has about his ancestry.

    The author writes about the struggles he had with not fully knowing his African American Father and his strong bond with his American mother. He takes us through three parts of his life. Each has their own meaning and lesson being learned. The education he received, the work he put in as a community organizer in the streets of Chicago and the knowledge of his father who hardly was around. ...more info
  • Window into the past of a great man
    Growing up, Barack has never been your typical "I want to grow up rich and famous" American. Through this book, one could see that at the center of his life lies his constant struggle to search for his identity, his attempts at reconciling the internal conflicts over who he is or where he belongs. Is he a African American? His father is from Kenya and yet he had only met his father once before his death, and has never been to Africa before graduating from college. What about the fact that he was raised in a white American family? Does this make it hypocritical for him to criticize how white Americans treat African Americans? Where does he draw the line, and which side does he belong to?

    This book shows a glimpse into the life of a man burdened by questions with no definite answers, and the journeys he took in search of some way to put his internal struggles to rest. Definitely a must-read for all types of readers....more info
  • Dreams of my Father/audio
    I heard this reviewed on the NPR Diane Rehm show and was quite taken by the President's narration of his memoir. I purchased this and my husband and I listened to it 1/2 on our way to Boston and the rest on our way home. We now have a greater insight into President Obama's life. It was also fascinating to here the narration in his own voice. I highly recommend this audio book....more info
    This book is superb! Also, very sad, very moving...great insight into the President's mind and history before he leaves school!...more info
  • The journey of identity of the man who is our President
    If you want to know how our President lived and what made him tick and what his journey of discovering himself was like before he became a politician, this book is the best. The good news for all America is that he's a brilliant man, a deep thinker, and a great writer and it comes through in this memoir of a bi-racial boy and man coming to terms with his racial and cultural heritage. Despite being raised in a mostly white environment in Hawaii and then an Indonesian environment in that country when his mother marries a native of that land, this book gives short shrift to those influences as he understandably searches for the African heritage he did not grow up with. Still I would have liked to have seen him give more credit to those who raised him and his bi-racial heritage, although it is our historically racist American society that wanted to pigeon-hole a bi-racial child into the black racial category. For example, about a quarter of the book dwells on his adventure to Kenya where he met the family on his father's side and most of that covers then-current and past stories of this large extended family. I don't recall him mentioning his white family beyond his mother and her parents. I don't recall if he ever saw any of the cousins, aunts, and uncles on that side and if he didn't why not? He barely mentions his half-sister that he grew up with in Indonesia, but there are dozens of pages about a half-sister from Africa (he seems to have several such half-siblings) he didn't meet until he was an adult. He was certainly affected by the militant black politics that was common on college campuses when he went to Occidental, but he was skeptical of the more strident rhetoric and his experience as a community organizer in Chicago which represents a large portion of the book brought him in touch with the tough intractable realities beyond the sloganeering. In many ways this is not unlike other coming of age stories and the man that comes out of it is a fine human being. I would have liked more on his Hawaii/Indonesian youth, less on the community organizing. For a memoir, he sometimes spends too much time telling instead of showing (particularly in the community organizing part), but our now-President narrates time and place beautifully as he struggles to find his identity in the world. And he knows how to weave a tapestry of fascinating stories into the man he became. If he had never become well known this would still be a very important and interesting book. Because of who he is now, it's a must read....more info
  • Dreams from my Father
    This is a remarkable book that I would definitely recommend to anyone as a starting point for learning more about Obama. Of the many words used by critics to describe it, there are none that I would dispute: eloquent, moving, highly readable, honest, unpretentious. Obama is a very skilled writer and succeeded masterfully in articulating his compelling life story even at the young age of 34.

    Of the three parts, I found the last one on Africa to be most interesting, since I've lived here all my life. The culmination of the book in the epilogue is brilliant....more info
  • Pleasant Surprise
    Started out just wanting to know more facts about our President. Came to know more about the formation of his character and spirit. I am now more confident in his decision-making processes and his dedication to the American people and our standing in the world....more info