All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Thoughts On: A Promised Land by Barack Obama

A Promised Land
Barack Obama
2020, 751p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

A riveting, deeply personal account of history in the making-from the president who inspired us to believe in the power of democracy.

In the stirring, highly anticipated first volume of his presidential memoirs, Barack Obama tells the story of his improbable odyssey from young man searching for his identity to leader of the free world, describing in strikingly personal detail both his political education and the landmark moments of the first term of his historic presidency-a time of dramatic transformation and turmoil.

Obama takes readers on a compelling journey from his earliest political aspirations to the pivotal Iowa caucus victory that demonstrated the power of grassroots activism to the watershed night of November 4, 2008, when he was elected 44th president of the United States, becoming the first African American to hold the nation’s highest office.

Reflecting on the presidency, he offers a unique and thoughtful exploration of both the awesome reach and the limits of presidential power, as well as singular insights into the dynamics of U.S. partisan politics and international diplomacy. Obama brings readers inside the Oval Office and the White House Situation Room, and to Moscow, Cairo, Beijing, and points beyond. We are privy to his thoughts as he assembles his cabinet, wrestles with a global financial crisis, takes the measure of Vladimir Putin, overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds to secure passage of the Affordable Care Act, clashes with generals about U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, tackles Wall Street reform, responds to the devastating Deepwater Horizon blowout, and authorizes Operation Neptune’s Spear, which leads to the death of Osama bin Laden.

A Promised Land is extraordinarily intimate and introspective-the story of one man’s bet with history, the faith of a community organizer tested on the world stage. Obama is candid about the balancing act of running for office as a Black American, bearing the expectations of a generation buoyed by messages of “hope and change,” and meeting the moral challenges of high-stakes decision-making. He is frank about the forces that opposed him at home and abroad, open about how living in the White House affected his wife and daughters, and unafraid to reveal self-doubt and disappointment. Yet he never wavers from his belief that inside the great, ongoing American experiment, progress is always possible.

This beautifully written and powerful book captures Barack Obama’s conviction that democracy is not a gift from on high but something founded on empathy and common understanding and built together, day by day. 

Where to begin?!

This is a monster of a book and it only covers Obama getting the Democratic nomination for president, the election and then most of his first term. Obama will tell you himself (early on and then often) that he’s very verbose: people ask him a question and he gives them a half hour dissertation in response. His book is somewhat similar, he talks about things at length and in detail. I’m Australian, so my intricate knowledge of American policy is well, teeny tiny. And there’s still quite a bit of this that went over my head, like how mortgages worked in 2009 (why were people buying with no money down?) and the banking crisis etc but this book does a pretty good job in explaining Obama’s decisions, why he made them, the fallout of them, how he could’ve done things differently (or how if he had the time again, he’d still do things the same way) and the complete and utter difficulty of the GOP, led by Mitch McConnell who made it absolutely clear that they wanted Obama to be a one term president and did not intend to work with him on anything.

There’s a lot about the divide (which is surely only worse now, after 4 years of a Republican Trump government) and how right and left have become so opposed to each other on principle that even on things they might agree on, find some common ground, there’s a refusal to. He breaks the book down into big issues: the financial crisis he inherited and the ways they tried to get out of it, the war on terror and conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan, environmental concerns and trying to get it seen as an important issue as well as how it tied into the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, foreign relations with places like Russia, China, the Middle East, his healthcare platform and how passionate he was about it and also the search for Osama bin Laden, the successful operation of which is the closer for this book.

If you ever wonder what Obama was thinking about a certain issue or why he made a choice that he did regarding policy, you’ll most likely find the answer in here. It’s very thorough about all the things he wanted to achieve, all the things they did during that first term, the disappointments of things they couldn’t get done and his views on various happenings. There’s not a lot about his personal life though, his thoughts and dreams. Obama comes across as quite unflappable – he doesn’t appear to lose his temper very often (although he does detail 1 or 2 incidents of having to bawl out a cabinet member) and for the most part, he seems to remain steady, even when he’s being stymied at every turn or in the middle of the birther conspiracy. Michelle is seemingly the more passionate one of the pair, quicker to anger (he does drop several remarks that his wife be fierce) whereas he is more measured, maybe prone to a sarcastic side comment but little else in the way of expressing frustration. He has obvious love for his family but protects them here, keeping their private lives mostly private except for a few anecdotes, most of which revolve around things his daughters think he should fix.

This took me five days to read, which for me, is a long time. I was averaging just over 100p a day because it is very detailed and probably more so for me because this is not my home country and a lot of these things are simply things I don’t have in my news cycle every day and also because some of this stuff is over a decade ago now and has faded from memory. I do think that despite all the dissection of policy and critique, Obama’s voice comes through strongly. I’ve always enjoyed listening to him talk or hearing him interviewed (he reads the audiobook of this, which I have grabbed as well, to listen to in the future) and his eloquence and intelligence, his compassion and humour do come through, even when he’s talking about the ins and outs of Wall Street or the motor industry.

I have a stack of political memoirs or biographies to read: I have My Life by Bill Clinton, Hard Choices by Hillary Rodham Clinton and a biography on Franklin D. Roosevelt that my husband borrowed from our local library that he’s read and enjoyed and passed onto me. Roosevelt’s New Deal and a lot of Clinton’s policies (as the previous Democratic president) get quite a bit of page time in this book so I’m interested to read both of those. And Hillary’s book is a little bit of a cross over with this one as Hard Choices details her time as Obama’s Secretary of State.

I found this compelling reading – no one is perfect and you can’t please everyone, something that is detailed here more than once. But all you can do is try and I think Obama certainly comes across like he tried to implement a vision. It didn’t always work….but sometimes it did.


Book #232 of 2020