Written by Barack Obama
Genre: Autobiography, History, Memoir, Nonfiction, Politics
Original Language: English
Read from 2020-11-23 to 2021-01-23
Read in English
Review: I think there are at least two things that pretty much everyone would agree on when it comes to Barack Obama: he’s a great writer, and he can be long-winded. This book is a demonstration of both.
This book was released after the Trump/Biden election, which is fortunate, as I think reading it while being uncertain about the outcome would have been a little too painful. It took all of about five minutes of reading the book to desperately miss the time when Obama was the President of the US. Sure, this is an autobiography, and of course, it was always going to cast the author in a good light, but being transported back to the events of 2008–2012, reading about the decisions Obama had to make, and his thoughts while making them… it felt like lying down on a soft bed after having been incredibly tired for a very long time.
It didn’t take long to figure out why this book is as long as it is. Firstly, the tangents are plentiful and elaborate. For most main threads there will be sub-threads, that often end up having sub-threads of their own. The fact that they mostly end up in the same knot at the end of a chapter is probably a testament to how good Obama is at writing. As long as the tangents related to what Obama was thinking and doing, I was perfectly fine with them. I don’t mind a sidebar about Obama’s challenges with smoking. After all, that’s a story only he could tell, with information and insight only he possesses, and that’s why I’m reading the book.
What I have more of an issue with, in general, are the stretches in which the book reads like a lecture, where pages are devoted to discussing the background and context of issues in ways which could have been lifted from a textbook. This was both a blessing and a curse. For the topics I’m interested in, like health care in the US, various political game playing, and the financial crisis, they were fascinating, concise, summaries of the topic by a gifted, knowledgable writer and communicator. For the topics I care less about (military stuff), it became homework I had to get through before I could read more about what Obama actually thought and did.
Given what the past four years have been like, there was no way that I wasn’t going to like this book. It’s refreshing and faith-restoring in the same way as watching The West Wing is. It struck a very nice balance between filling in gaps of knowledge, giving me some entirely new nuggets of information, as well as being a fun, guilty-pleasure, story about the ever-ongoing US political circus with its heroes (Pelosi) and villains (McConnell) battling it out.
Most of all, A Promised Land was interesting for the same reason that it was always going to be interesting: we get an insight into Barack Obama’s thought process, actions, and reasoning during some historic moments. I’m sure there are plenty of embellishments and a great deal of narrator bias, but that doesn’t make his own account of his presidency any less interesting or significant. Ultimately, this book is an antidote to the past four years, and for that alone it’s very worth reading for anyone with an interest in US politics.