The last book I read in 2020 was a long one and a memoir. Both things that I don’t read a ton of. I read the monster best-selling A Promised Land, the memoir of President Obama’s first presidential campaign and first two years in office.
Obama begins with a brief look at his growing up years, but those are better covered in one of his other books, so he doesn’t dwell on it. He discusses his first campaigns and his work in the Illinois state senate.
Then, he digs in deeply to his presidential campaign and the political work that his team did during 2009-2010. The book ends in early 2011, when Obama’s administration managed to locate and assassinate Osama bin Laden.
This work is detailed and thoughtful. Occasionally, people who do not enjoy politics may find themselves bogged down in details, but the book is masterfully done. I really hate that the second one is not out for me to jump right into now that I’ve finished the first.
I noticed . . .
I had two favorite things about this memoir. The first thing that I loved was that he grounded each policy suggestion and discussion in the history of the policy. It was like getting a mini lesson on each issue as I went through the book. All the policies were set into stories.
My second favorite thing was that he gave a mini biography of each person that he met and worked with throughout the book. I feel like, after reading this, I feel like I know figures like Vladmir Putin, Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, etc. much better than I had ever thought I would from his lovely descriptions.
I also noticed how much Obama loves his family–wife and daughters. And I couldn’t help but notice that he really wanted to be right about anything. In fact, in some situations, it felt like he was still defending the rightness of his actions on the page. It was like it was his last chance to make his case.
I wondered . . .
I wondered what other leaders thought of Obama’s characterization of them. I’m sure this information probably already exists in some interviews, so I may spend some time looking for that.
I also wonder how he feels about his legacy now–four years later. I imagine that’s an answer we’ll get in the next volume.
I also wanted to hear more about Obama’s time in the state senate, and I wondered if that’s something in The Audacity of Hope, but I haven’t read it yet, so I don’t know.
It reminded me of . . .
He often mentions Alyssa Mastromonaco in this portion of his memoir as she played an important part of both his 2016 campaign and as his deputy chief of staff. I read her book Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? three years ago, so I found myself thinking back to that. I thought the book itself was poorly written, but her anecdotes and stories about Obama were genuinely interesting. It matches up well with this presidential memoir.
I also thought of all the good presidential biographies that are out there. One of the most interesting for me was David McCullough’s Truman. McCullough, like Obama, grounds policies and decisions in a sense of history, and I like that.
Obama mentions FDR quite often, and while I’ve never really read about FDR, I have read Eleanor Roosevelt’s You Learn by Living, and that could be good entry point (especially for those who are not fans of politics) in the Roosevelt years.
Overall, The Promised Land was an excellent read, one that I can see myself going back and reading sections of again.