The Audacity of Hope: A Reading List on Barack Obama

Image by Jason Taellious (CC BY-SA 2.0)

I’m not sure when Barack Obama first entered my consciousness: whether it was a 60 Minutes segment during the first campaign or reading about him in the July 10th, 2008 issue of Rolling Stone — which, albeit slightly crumpled — remains on our coffee table to this day.

The time leading up to his first election was the darkest period of my life to date and during those long nights in late 2008, I took strength from the enthusiasm surrounding him, his campaign, and his election. The optimism was part antidote to my troubles, part encouragement to move on. Of all the articles written about Obama over the years, the ones that intrigued me most were the ones that helped me get to know the man and what he stood for, just a little bit better.

Thursday, January 19th, 2017 is the last day in office for Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States. With this reading list we remember the man, his time in office, and take a peek at what’s in store after the White House.

1. “The Conciliator” (Larissa Macfarquhar, The New Yorker, May 7, 2007)

Macfarquhar reports on Obama in action with constituents before being elected president, observing his calm demeanor, “freakish self-possession,” and ability to connect with humans of every description. She describes a man who, early on, eschewed political outrage as an impotent, empty tactic — a distraction to achieving unity.

2. “A Conversation with Barack Obama” (Jann S. Wenner, Rolling Stone, July 10, 2008)

In this wide-ranging interview during Obama’s first bid for president in 2008, Wenner takes us back to the optimism surrounding the candidate and his campaign. They chat about Obama’s three favorite books, musical tastes, pop culture, getting endorsed by Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, and Obama’s overall approach to governing a nation.

3. “Obama’s Way” (Michael Lewis, Vanity Fair, October, 2012)

Michael Lewis spent six months with the president before Obama was elected to his second term in office. Lewis reports on the emotional demands of the presidency, avoiding distraction to save decision-making energy as commander-in-chief, the potentially disastrous human consequences of those decisions, and what the president does to soothe his soul after a particularly hard day.

4. “The way ahead” (Barack Obama, The Economist, October 8, 2016)

In his own words, Barack Obama examines the state of the U.S. economic union, positing that globalization, inclusion, and closing the gap between the richest and poorest Americans will aid U.S. prosperity.

5. “Barack Obama is Preparing for His Third Term” (Jason Zengerle, GQ, January 17, 2017)

Most former presidents avoid the spotlight to spend more time with family and maybe enjoy some golf. Even though Barack Obama is stepping away from political office, he’s gearing up to influence the direction of the United States by advising his successor.