President Barack Obama’s speech, between the covers

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In honor of our new President, Penguin Classics has released ‘Barack Obama: The Inaugural Address 2009.’ It’s a lovely little book, with a blue cloth jacket, red endpapers and creamy white pages (red white and blue, get it?). But for its petite size -- about 7 inches tall by 4 inches wide -- it’s surprisingly hefty. Obama didn’t speak for all that long on January 20, did he?

In fact, fewer than 20 of these pages are Obama’s speech. There are four other pieces here, giving it the bulk of a book rather than a pamphlet. After Obama’s inauguration speech, they follow in reverse chronological order: Abraham Lincoln’s second inauguration speech (1865), Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (1863), his first inaugural speech (1861) and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1841 essay, ‘Self Reliance.’

Lincoln and Emerson, the editors note, are ‘two great American writers whose words have influenced and inspired Obama politically, philosophically, and personally.’ Here, they provide a context for Obama’s call to our ‘increased devotion.’ And while Presidents are often defined by their actions, the editors emphasize the importance of their words. ‘We publish this book in honor of our enduring legacy of language, whose capacity to inspire, strengthen, and unite us is eternal.’

Some of Barack Obama’s words:

The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works -- whether it helps decent families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, the programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account -- to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day -- because only the can we restore the vital trust between a people and a government.

Below, video of Barack Obama’s complete inauguration speech, conveniently posted on YouTube by the White House.


-- Carolyn Kellogg