If you finish a 700-page book and are still happy with it, you know it was a darned good book. And yes, A Promised Land, by Pres. Barack Obama, was a really fascinating book. That’s saying a lot, because I have mostly been bored to tears by books about presidential politics, international relations, and recent history.
Somehow, Obama manages to talk about his life in such a way that it’s easy to keep up with who’s who, and you feel like you get to know the many, many people he comes across. Whoever helped him organize the book and recommended putting in the short-but-helpful descriptions of his friends, colleagues, opponents, and staff members wins my earnest thanks. I didn’t lose track of people in this story, at all. And they all seemed so real, not like names to memorize in a history book.
As you may know, Obama is a pretty smart guy (even if you don’t like him, that’s a fact). He loves explaining things, and this book gives him the opportunity to do so at length, rather than in sound bites. By taking his time and explaining why he did things, why compromises had to be made, and how he could see what other people wanted and needed from their perspectives, I was actually able to understand the complexities of elections, dealing with dignitaries, working with Congress, etc.
I think I’d have been drawn into this book even if I wasn’t already a fan, because he does a great job of pointing out where he screwed up, when other people were right, when hard decisions had to be made, etc. It helps to have the context and to realize how much those of us consuming the news don’t get to know (I’m not talking about Fox News, I’m talking about more moderate outlets).
Obama is a good writer, better than he was in his first book (as an editor, I say it’s because he had better help, uh huh). And he shares lots of quotes that are extra applicable today, like this:
…the lie has become not just a moral category but a pillar of the State.Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
One thing I’d hoped to find in this book is a discussion of how his ideals and agendas were thwarted at every turn by his opponents, who really DID just disagree with him to disagree with him, or by political negotiations that watered down and changed things (like universal health care) until they were practically unrecognizable. I appreciated that he did talk about this, a lot. It amazes me that he had the strength to keep going and not lose his way and becoming yet another person who just wants to win for the sake of winning.
The stories Obama shares about people he met and how they kept him true to his core principles touched me, and reminded me that I need to do the same thing, remember the actual people who are harmed by policies and laws.
Honestly, I mostly came away from this book wondering how the hell he kept his cool as well as he did in the face of the whole birther movement and that kind of thing. I can’t help but respect that.
Now I can read some more “light” stuff, since I can’t imagine volume two will be here any time soon. He has to get through 5 more years as President of the US, and the past four years of chaos.
I do feel so much better about how well I understand a lot of things I was unclear on in recent US history. I’m grateful for that.