A Promised Land by Barack Obama
President Obama's Autobiography, Volume I
I highly recommend Barack Obama’s A Promised Land. At this point I might as well put in the disclaimer that I am hardly an unbiased reviewer.
As most of us (in the US anyway) know, President Obama was very thoughtful if a bit loquacious. And this book is both. He said he originally wanted to get the whole book done in about 500 pages (which isn’t a short book even at that page count) but found that to really get the historical context and details in, it got longer in the writing and what we have here is a 750 page plus tome that still only gets midway through his presidency. The book ends with the killing of Osama Bin Laden.
The nit with the length of the book out of the way, the book itself is wonderful as one might expect from someone with his writing talent. I heard it in audiobook form because it was narrated by Obama himself and it was a soothing experience over nearly 30 hours of listening. The book reminded me what unique campaigns he ran and of the minimal amount of negativity involved. Most people voted for Obama rather than against McCain in 2008 or Romney in 2012 (of course plenty of people voted against Obama both years) and it’s hard to say that of either the 2016 or the 2020 elections.
While there are plenty of private family moments in the book, thankfully this isn’t one where he overshares intimate conversations with his mother, grandmother, wife or his young daughters to the point where it seems postured and fake. The book is honest without being tell-all. The early public reviews of the book frequently highlighted his 2-3 sentence takes (takedowns?) on various world leaders which made for juicy tidbits but they form only a tiny slice of the book and I felt such reviews did the book a disservice.
His anger at people protesting George W Bush (as he was handing over the reins of power to Obama during the transition) was both surprising and incredibly decent. Beyond that, it is striking how absent feelings of anger and frustration are from the book especially when it comes to his time in office especially at Republicans in congress. What struck me was the most was the deep introspection and self awareness. Even the very act of his seeking higher political office is something he is open to being interpreted as a sign of ego and ambition rather than painting it as purely an altruistic act of public service. He frequently talks about trying to see things from the other person’s point of view. He’s clearly a person shaped by his early childhood and has some bedrock principles around which he formed his political opinions as a candidate and his policy decisions as president.
In the end, Obama was someone on whom people projected both their greatest hopes and their worst fears. He seems to be aware that wasn’t the messiah the left hoped for any more than he was a foreign born Manchurian candidate the right feared. In reality, he was a decent man who inspired rather than scared people to vote for him, someone who managed to accomplish a great deal legislatively in spite of unprecedented and unrelenting opposition, someone who managed to have a good family life in spite of the enormous pressures of the presidency, someone who inspired people, including some so young that they will only have a national impact in the years and decades to come and finally, left the place untainted by personal scandal and with great class.
Volume 2 should be a good read as well!
(Book cover courtesy of goodreads.com)