Book Review: A Promised Land by Barack Obama

A Promised Land by Barack Obama

Posted August 16, 2021 by Amber in Reviews / 0 Comments

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A Promised Land

A Promised Land

by Barack Obama

Series: The Presidential Memoirs #1
Publisher: Crown on November 17, 2020
Genre: Autobiography, Biography, Memoir, Non-Fiction
Target Age Group: Adult
Representation: BIPOC, Black
Content Warnings: Cancer, Death, Death of Parent, Homophobia, Islamophobia, Racism, Torture, Violence, Xenophobia

Rating: ★★★★½

Check out this book on Goodreads or buy the book at Bookshop.org

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.

 

While I really enjoyed A Promised Land as a whole, I have to admit it’s best enjoyed one bite at a time.  The audiobook is nearly 30 hours – a fairly long read!  Because this is a presidential memoir, it’s also filled with political churnings.  Regardless of your personal perspective, politics get exhausting after 30 hours.  But all that said, I found the behind-the-scenes look fascinating.

There is so much packed into this book.  The pacing starts off pretty steadily, with Obama speaking about his early campaigns and setting Michelle.  As the book goes on and we get into his presidency, the pace picks up and so does the amount of information.  By the end of A Promised Land, one significant event was packed in after another without time to breathe.  It was a little anxiety-inducing for me, so I can’t imagine how stressful it was to actually be in charge of or on the receiving end of so many of the things discussed during the second half of the book.

There is a balanced voice to many of the things discussed here, but the further into the presidency we get, the clearer his own personal frustrations are.  Since this is a memoir and not purely a piece of historical non-fiction, this is both fine and accepted.  However, I do want to mention that the exasperation with Mitch McConnell and Republican senators is clear, and his commentary on Donald Trump is more harsh.  This book will not sit well with stalwart Republicans and Trump fans, though for those who are interested in a rounded view of politics, it is still an important read.

Please don’t take this to mean Obama spends the book in bi-partisan bashing.  In fact, there is a clear frustration with bi-partisanism and there are several instances where he praises Republican senators or representatives.  In fact, it’s an interesting perspective on the shift of priorities in the Republican party during his presidency, which ultimately lead to the party as it is today.

It’s challenging to talk about a political memoir like this without showing my biases.  I will be honest and say that I’ve always liked Obama and my reading of the book is a bit biased – I find it easy to sympathize with the frustrations his voices because they are many of the same things I feel myself.  While objectively this book is extremely well-written and accessible, enjoyment of it will certainly fall to individual political views.  I’m not sure there’s any way around that in a presidential memoir.

A Promised Land is an excellent read if you are interested in the Obama family or administration.  It’s also good insight for a well-rounded political view.  However, it’s important to be aware of the inherent biases coming from a memoir… and also know it’s a bit thick so take it slow.

Ratings Breakdown

Writing: ★★★★★
Pacing: ★★★
Sources: ★★★★★
Detail: ★★★★★
Delivery: ★★★
Subject: ★★★★★
Narrator: ★★★★
Personal Enjoyment: ★★★★★

4.5 stars overall rating

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Have you read any presidential memoirs?  Would you recommend any of them?  If so, let me know in the comments!

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