In a nutshell, it's a book about a man who was in search of the half of his heritage which was taken away when his father deserted him at age 2, and again when his father did not take him back to Kenya with him at about age 10. Going to a private school in Hawaii was all about being black, this despite the fact he was living with his white-as-Kansas mother and grandparents. Living in Indonesia he blended in, looking a lot like the other kids. Going to Columbia was glossed over, except for the part about being a black man in a time when not many were in college. I'm not sure how accurate that was for Columbia in the 80's. His experience working on Wall Street was about being the only black man in the building. Again, I don't really buy it.
Much of the book follows his time in Chicago being a community organizer. He was hired by a New Yorker to take over a loosely organized group of churches, find community action projects, and motivate community member to get them going. From his description he bailed and went to Kenya, then Harvard, without anything to show for it after three years on the job.
He describes a scene in Rev. Wright's church where we understand that he Found Jesus™. He does not come right out and say it, and he does not mention his Christianity again except in passing. If you're looking for details on what his religious beliefs are, how he came to convert to Christianity, or exactly how deep an influence Wright had on him, you will not find it here.
The final third of the book is about his trip to his late father's homeland in Kenya, and it is like he has finally come home, except he leaves to go to law school. There is a huge amount of interesting revelation about his ancestors, grandparents, father, uncles, aunts, cousins, sisters, brothers with the bottom line being that except for his half-sister who is a professor in Germany, his family is nothing to be particularly proud of. Yet he is still proud of the father he never knew because of his intelligence, charm and stubbornness. He is not so proud that his father died a drunken loser, but in the end Barak Jr's dreams win out over the reality.
I read the book hoping it would give me a reason to support the man for President. It did not do that. The man who wrote the book is not the man we see on TV. The man we see on TV has grown up, straightened up, made something of himself. But he carries a truckload of baggage.