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Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance is a memoir by United States President Barack Obama. It was first published in 1995 after Obama was elected the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review, and before his political career began. The book was re-released in 2004 following Obama's keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention (DNC). The 2004 edition includes a new introduction by Obama, then a Senator-elect, as well as his DNC keynote address.


The autobiographical narrative tells the story of the life of Obama up to his entry in Harvard Law Schoolmarker. He was born in Honolulumarker, Hawaiimarker, to Barack Obama, Sr. of Kenyamarker, and Ann Dunham of Wichita, Kansasmarker, who had met as students at the University of Hawaii at Manoamarker. Obama's parents separated when he was two years old and divorced in 1964. Obama formed an image of his absent father from stories told by his mother and her parents. He saw his father only one more time, in 1971, when Obama Sr. came to Hawaii for a month's visit. The elder Obama died in a drunk driving car accident in 1982.

After her divorce, Ann Dunham married Lolo Soetoro, an East-West Center student from Indonesiamarker. The family moved to Jakartamarker. When Obama was ten, he returned to Hawaii under the care of his grandparents (and later his mother) for the better educational opportunities available there. He was enrolled in the fifth grade at Punahou Schoolmarker, a private college-preparatory school. Obama was one of three Black students among the majority Asian-American population at that school, and he first became conscious of racism and what it means to be an African-American.

Obama attended Punahou Schoolmarker from the 5th grade until his graduation in 1979. Obama writes: "For my grandparents, my admission into Punahou Academy heralded the start of something grand, an elevation in the family status that they took great pains to let everyone know." There he also met Ray (Keith Kakugawa), who introduced him to the African American community.

Upon finishing high school, Obama moved to Los Angeles, where he enrolled at Occidental Collegemarker, where he describes living a "party" lifestyle of drug and alcohol use. After two years at Occidental, he transferred to Columbia College at Columbia University, in Manhattan, New York City, where he majored in political science. Upon graduation, he worked for a year in business. He then moved to Chicago, working for a non-profit doing community organizing in the Altgeld Gardensmarker housing project on the city's South Side. Obama recounts the difficulty of the experience, as his program faced resistance from entrenched community leaders and apathy on the part of the established bureaucracy. It was during his time spent here that Obama joined Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ.

Before attending Harvard Law Schoolmarker, Obama decided to visit relatives in Kenyamarker. He uses part of his experience there as the setting for the book's final, emotional scene.

As well as relating the story of Obama's life, the book includes a good deal of reflection on his own personal experiences with race and race relations in the United Statesmarker.

Book cover

Pictured in left-hand 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).

Basis for characters

With the exception of family members and a handful of public figures, Barack Obama is open in the preface about using changed names for privacy reasons and composite characters to expedite the narrative flow. Various researchers have suggested that the following characters are based on real people Obama knew:
Real life person Referred in the book as
Salim Al Nurridin Rafiq
Margaret Bagby Mona
Hasan Chandoo Hasan
Earl Chew Marcus
Frank Davis Frank
Joella Edwards Coretta
Pal Eldredge Mr. Eldredge
Mabel Hefty Miss Hefty
Loretta Herron Angela
Emil Jones Old Ward Boss
Keith Kakugawa Ray
Jerry Kellman Marty
Yvonne Lloyd Shirley
Ronald Loui Frederick
Greg Orme Scott
Johnnie Owens Johnnie
Sohale Siddiqi Sadik
Mike Ramos Jeff
Wally Whaley Smitty


In discussing Dreams from My Father, Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison has called Obama "a writer in my high esteem" and the book "quite extraordinary." She praised "his ability to reflect on this extraordinary mesh of experiences that he has had, some familiar and some not, and to really meditate on that the way he does, and to set up scenes in narrative structure, dialogue, conversation--all of these things that you don't often see, obviously, in the routine political memoir biography. [...] It's unique. It's his. There are no other ones like that."

The book "may be the best-written memoir ever produced by an American politician," wrote Time columnist Joe Klein. In 2008, The Guardian's Rob Woodard wrote that Dreams from My Father "is easily the most honest, daring, and ambitious volume put out by a major US politician in the last 50 years." Michiko Kakutani, the Pulitzer Prize-winning critic for The New York Times, described it as "the most evocative, lyrical and candid autobiography written by a future president."

The audio book edition earned Obama the 2006 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album.

Five days before being sworn in as President, Obama secured a $500,000 advance for an abridged version of "Dreams From My Father" for middle-school-aged children.


  • New York: Times Books; 1st edition (July 18, 1995); Hardcover: 403 pages; ISBN 0-8129-2343-X
    • This printing is now very rare. Only a few signed copies are known, and are estimated to be worth up to $13,000 (depending on condition).
  • New York: Kodansha International (August 1996); Paperback: 403 pages; ISBN 1-5683-6162-9
  • New York: Three Rivers Press; Reprint edition (August 10, 2004); Paperback: 480 pages; ISBN 1-4000-8277-3
  • New York: Random House Audio; Abridged edition (May 3, 2005); Audio CD; ISBN 0-7393-2100-5; Includes the senator's speech from the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
  • New York: Random House Audio; Abridged edition on Playaway digital audio player
  • New York: Random House Large Print; 1st Large print edition (April 4, 2006); Hardcover: 720 pages; ISBN 0-7393-2576-0
  • New York: Crown Publishers (January 9, 2007); Hardcover: 464 pages; ISBN 0-3073-8341-5
  • New York: Random House (January 9, 2007); eBook; ISBN 0-3073-9412-3
  • Melbourne: Text Publishing (2008); Paperback: 442 pages; ISBN 978-1-921351-43-3

  • Chinese: The Dream Road of Obama : Yi Fu Chih Ming, translated by Yao-Hui Wang, Kuan-Lan Shih China Times Publishing Company, Taipei, Taiwanmarker, (2008), ISBN 978-957-13-4926-8
  • Dutch: Dromen van mijn vader, translated by Joost Zwart, Atlas, (2007), ISBN 978-904-500-089-3
  • French: Les rêves de mon père, translated by Paris Presses De La Cité, Paris, Francemarker, (2008), ISBN 978-225-807-597-9
  • Hebrew: Ḥalomot me-avi, translated by Edna Shemesh, Tel Aviv, Israelmarker, (2008), OCLC 256955212
  • Japanese: , translated by Yuuya Kiuchi, Mikiko Shirakura, (2007) ISBN 978-4478003626
  • Korean: Nae abŏji robutŏ ŭi kkum, translated by Kyŏng-sik Yi, Random House Korea, Seoul, Koreamarker, (2007), ISBN 978-892-551-014-9
  • Spanish: Los sueños de mi padre : una historia de raza y herencia, Vintage Español, New York City, New Yorkmarker, (2009), ISBN 978-030-747-387-5
  • Swedish: Min far hade en dröm, Albert Bonniers förlag (2008), ISBN 9789100117283
  • German: "Ein amerikanischer Traum", Carl Hanser Verlag (2008), ISBN 9783446230217


  1. Karen Sirvaitis. 2009. Barack Obama: A Leader in a Time of Change. USA Today Lifeline Biographies, 112 pages
  3. Obama (2004), pp. 93–94. see:
  4. Barack Obama ’83. Is He the New Face of The Democratic Party? Columbia College Today.
  5. Obama, Barack. Dreams From My Father, pg. xvii. Three Rivers Press, New York City: 2004.
  6. "Books Blog: Presidents who write well, lead well", The Guardian, November 5, 2008. Retrieved on November 8, 2008.
  7. Joan Lowy, Presidential Hopefuls Publishing Books (Page 2), Washington Post, December 12, 2006
  8. Obama Secures $500,000 Book Advance, UPI, March 19, 2009
  9. [1]

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