I spent 30 hours listening to Barack Obama in November. Hint: It was the audiobook of his recently released memoir, A Promised Land. I consider it time well spent, as well as an enjoyable listen. And even though I was alive and politically aware during the events of his Presidency, I still liked the reminders.
More than that, Obama offers his own behind-the-scenes perspective. And that’s exactly why I pre-ordered this one and started listening the day it dropped into my Audible account. There are plenty of details about living in The White House, particularly about parenting his daughters there. Plus, thinking about the challenges his administration overcame gives me hope for the Biden administration.
But the absolute crux of this book is history. It’s chock full of exact recollections, inner thoughts, and specific moments. As you probably know, the second half of the two-volume memoir is yet to come. And Obama admits right up front that he tried and failed to condense. Instead, he gives readers the ultimate blow-by-blow of his early life and career, Illinois politics, and Presidency up to the raid on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
You don’t need to be a Presidential history buff to appreciate this book. It’s a 50/50 split between the interior thoughts of a memoir and an historical retelling. Obama finds a way to lighten the mood, balance the darkest moments, and still speak truth.
I particularly appreciated Obama’s quiet reflections about his mother, his grandparents, and the challenges of being biracial. On the other hand, his experiences in Hawaii and Indonesia were considerably more integrated than Chicago. When my Chicago-born, Asian-American husband and I visited Hawaii, we experienced the same differences. So that part of the book rang true for me.
I absolutely recommend this if looking inside a Presidential experience appeals to you. Obama’s writing is eloquent, intense, and his narration is also top notch. I expect candidates and voters will read this for years to come.
Pair with Pete Souza’s Obama: An Intimate Portrait. (I lucked into a Kindle deal for this one the day after I finished this book!) For a natural pair, try Becoming by Michelle Obama. Alternately, read a book from a staffer or three: David Litt, Dan Pfeiffer or Beck Dorey-Stein. Like me, you may want to read Obama’s earlier books as well.