The Audacity Of Hope Summary

Barack Obama

The Audacity Of Hope

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

The Audacity Of Hope Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of The Audacity Of Hope by Barack Obama.

Based on the rousing 2004 Democratic Convention keynote address that vaulted junior Illinois Senator Barack Obama to national prominence, the political memoir The Audacity of Hope summarizes Obama’s policy views and values. Obama published the book in the summer of 2006 in order to lay the foundation for his successful campaign for president of the United States. In The Audacity of Hope, Obama uses his experience as a community organizer and law professor to respectfully but firmly disagree with both entrenched conservative and dogmatically liberal views. Instead, he proposes a pragmatic, evidence-based politics based on good will, fellow feeling, and a willingness to approach issues on a case-by-case basis. Reading Obama’s philosophy of government, it is easy to see the way these ideas influenced his two terms as our first African-American commander-in-chief.

In the book’s first four chapters, Obama uses stories from his own campaign and senatorial experience to support his overarching philosophy that the best way to accomplish forward progress isn’t through tribalism and partisanship, but instead through finding common ground with the opposite side. His ideas descend from Bill Clinton’s earlier mostly failed attempt to forge a “Third Way” through an ideologically divided government.

In arguing against extremist opinions, Obama says that democracy is best when it is a cooperative endeavor rather than a pitched fight. He then makes a distinction between politics and policy. Politics demands simplicity – issues are reduced to black and white terms, soundbites take the place of nuanced discussions – in order to create enough support to elect a politician. The problem happens when that politician is faced with creating policy to solve actual problems, which tend to be complex, multi-faceted, and irreducible to yes/no questions.

It is because of this that we need to stop focusing on the small distinctions that separate us and instead concentrate on the core values that unite us as Americans – particularly, the values of community, opportunity, and freedom. But, our electoral process, which forces politicians to only interact with the rich donors who can fund their campaigns, makes it hard for our leaders to connect with the people they ostensibly represent, and as a result, politicians lose sight of these collective values and of their authentic selves.

The fifth chapter of The Audacity of Hope is about economic and social opportunity. Obama worries that even as opportunity for knowledge among workers in the U.S. increases, the success trajectories available to blue- and pink-collar workers isn’t improving. This means that the gap between the wealthiest and poorest Americans is widening. He calls for a return to the ideals of meritocracy championed by Madison, Jefferson, and Lincoln. To that end, Obama argues that we need to reform our public education system, which right now is failing a significant portion of children. His suggestions are the merit-based teacher performance metrics that formed a core aspect of his educational policy as president.

Chapter 6 is a modern version of a conversion narrative, and tells how the formerly atheist Obama gained his religious faith. At the same time, the chapter argues that Democrats shouldn’t be the party that eschews religion, ceding all faith-motivated voters to the Republicans. Still, Obama is firmly in favor of the separation of church and state and of religious tolerance for different belief systems.

In the seventh chapter of the book, Obama tackles the question of race from his perspective as a man with a black Kenyan father and a white American mother. He notes how much progress the country has made towards creating more parity for people of color, but argues that although most forms of blatant racism no longer exist, non-white Americans still face an unfair playing field and more subtle types of bias. He calls on white Americans to be more vocal in their rejection of racism and bigotry, and on black people to reject the narrative of victimhood that can stifle potential.

Moving away from the domestic, the eighth chapter tackles the role of the U.S. in the world. Because Obama lived in Indonesia as a child, he has an interesting perspective on the way America has become isolationist and ignorant of other countries and cultures. This is a problem because the new threats that we face are ones of ideal and harmful ideologies – ideologies that can only be combated by our direct soft-power involvement in the places where these movements come from. If we do not learn about the rest of the world, we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, where we created conditions that gave rise to terrorist organizations like ISIS because we wanted to fight in an antiquated cold-war style.

The last chapter addresses family structure and the personal lives of Americans. Obama grew up in a blended family, and he points out that nontraditional family structures and families where both parents have to work are now more common than the working-dad and homemaker-mom standard that most conservatives hold up as the right way to be a family unit. Rather than advocating for this unrealistic ideal, Obama argues for better social welfare policies, a more robust economic system, and says that he opposes any legislation of personal and intimate life decisions.

The book ends with an aw-shucks-who-me epilogue in which Obama is surprised at how much attention and praise his 2004 address received.

Although none of the book’s reviewers were misled about its ultimate purpose – to launch the presidential run of a relative political newcomer – the book did earn a lot of praise for not being the usual hastily ghost-written political biography that accompanies most campaigns. Obama’s sober quest for the middle ground mixed with the groundbreaking first that his candidacy represented gave reviewers their own reason for hope. As summarized by Michael Tomasky in the New York Review of Books, the book demonstrates that Obama could well “construct a new politics that is progressive but grounded in civic traditions that speak to a wider range of Americans.”