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Barack Obama reflects on his entry into politics, his Presidential campaign, and the first two years of his presidency.
I miss Obama in the White House, I really do. Reading his thoughts and decision-making processes, his deliberations, his efforts to reflect many voices from many backgrounds in his policies–I just miss that stability, inclusiveness, and thoughtfulness.
That said, I’ll start with my one complaint. At 703 pages (751 with the index), the book is entirely too long. Seriously. Just cutting descriptions of all the people with smaller roles to play would have significantly trimmed the page count. Beginning with his presidential campaign rather than his first campaign for the Illinois Senate in 1996 would have helped as well. I realize the earlier campaigns helped shape his later platform but in a book of this size, that part felt expendable.
That said, seeing recent world events from a seat of such power as described by a man of such intelligence was fascinating. The book doesn’t have a very linear timeline because Obama takes care to present the history and facts of each incident, all the options he weighed, and the reason for his ultimate decision. It left me wishing that all the noisy analysts and “commentators” on the news would just sit back and let decision makers share this kind of thinking all the time. I realize that this format only gives Obama’s viewpoint but I was able to follow and evaluate his arguments myself. I would welcome one person on the opposing side sharing their thoughts as well. No grandstanding for ratings or polls, just the facts. Oh well. As long as politicians and other public personalities can gain money and/or power with ridiculous sound bites, that will remain a dream.
Obama tried to be fair and own his mistakes. If he messed up, he said so. If he mentioned tactics that Republicans used that he disliked, he typically pointed out that Democrats use the same tactics when it suits them.
That said, it was refreshing to get his fairly blunt thoughts on a lot of people and events. I howled when he writes that he asked Rahm Emanuel during the Deepwater Horizon spill “What does [James Carville] think I’m supposed to do? […] Put on my fucking Aquaman gear and swim down there myself with a wrench?” He gently pokes fun at Putin’s uber-masculine image. (Remember the shirtless horseback riding photo?) He’s upfront that he thinks the Bush administration left the country in disarray although he also gives them credit for anything he feels they did correctly. He makes it clear that he feels the entire Republican platform is simply to stand in the way of any legislation Democrats want to pass, with no real thoughts of their own about how to address issues of national importance. I was surprised by the candor after watching Obama carefully weigh his words for so long as President.
I’ll wrap this up before my review gets as long as the book.
You already know if you’re drawn to A Promised Land or not. We don’t all share the same political viewpoints and that’s okay; a healthy democracy has room for all rational voices. I do highly recommend it to interested readers. I have a greater appreciation for all that Obama handled and a deeper understanding of his decisions. Buy it instead of checking it out from the library if you can afford that option though. I wish I had been able to take my time and savor Obama’s thoughts and actions without feeling the library deadline looming over me.
If you liked A Promised Land, you might also like my reviews of
- Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama (Link to GoodReads; I haven’t copied that review to my blog yet)
- The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels by Jon Meacham
- True or False: A CIA Analyst’s Guide to Spotting Fake News by Cindy L. Otis
Buy A Promised Land from Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville, NC.
I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe in beautiful Asheville, NC. I will earn a small commission at no additional cost to you if you purchase merchandise through links on my site.