A Promised Land

by Barack Obama

Hardcover, 2020

Status

Available

Publication

Random House Inc 2020

Description

A riveting, deeply personal account of history in the making--from the president who inspired us to believe in the power of democracy #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER * NAACP IMAGE AWARD NOMINEE * NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The Washington Post * Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times * NPR * The Guardian * Marie Claire   In the stirring, highly anticipated first volume of his presidential memoirs, Barack Obama tells the story of his improbable odyssey from young man searching for his identity to leader of the free world, describing in strikingly personal detail both his political education and the landmark moments of the first term of his historic presidency--a time of dramatic transformation and turmoil. Obama takes readers on a compelling journey from his earliest political aspirations to the pivotal Iowa caucus victory that demonstrated the power of grassroots activism to the watershed night of November 4, 2008, when he was elected 44th president of the United States, becoming the first African American to hold the nation's highest office. Reflecting on the presidency, he offers a unique and thoughtful exploration of both the awesome reach and the limits of presidential power, as well as singular insights into the dynamics of U.S. partisan politics and international diplomacy. Obama brings readers inside the Oval Office and the White House Situation Room, and to Moscow, Cairo, Beijing, and points beyond. We are privy to his thoughts as he assembles his cabinet, wrestles with a global financial crisis, takes the measure of Vladimir Putin, overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds to secure passage of the Affordable Care Act, clashes with generals about U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, tackles Wall Street reform, responds to the devastating Deepwater Horizon blowout, and authorizes Operation Neptune's Spear, which leads to the death of Osama bin Laden. A Promised Land is extraordinarily intimate and introspective--the story of one man's bet with history, the faith of a community organizer tested on the world stage. Obama is candid about the balancing act of running for office as a Black American, bearing the expectations of a generation buoyed by messages of "hope and change," and meeting the moral challenges of high-stakes decision-making. He is frank about the forces that opposed him at home and abroad, open about how living in the White House affected his wife and daughters, and unafraid to reveal self-doubt and disappointment. Yet he never wavers from his belief that inside the great, ongoing American experiment, progress is always possible. This beautifully written and powerful book captures Barack Obama's conviction that democracy is not a gift from on high but something founded on empathy and common understanding and built together, day by day.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member kidzdoc
The long awaited and highly praised first portion of former President Barack Obama's memoir covers the period from his move to Chicago after he graduated from Harvard Law School to the successful operation that eliminated Osama bin Laden in May 2011. We meet an idealistic and driven young man,
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whose outlook on life and desire to use his education and position for positive change was most strongly influenced by his mother and maternal grandmother, then by his future wife Michelle, who was assigned to work with him during his internship with a Chicago law firm. His meteoric rise from a law school professor and local community organizer on the city's South Side, to an Illinois state senator, a US senator and the Democratic nominee for the presidency is chronicled with as much rapidity as it happened in real time, due to his unique ability to tap into the fears, hopes and dreams of a wide variety of Americans, from African American Chicagoans crushed by poverty, to smalll town and rural White Illinoisans who were equally affected by the loss of good manufacturing jobs and increasing unaffordability of health care and other household expenses. Throughout the book we see a man who is a good and compassionate listener, who is not only willing to pay attention and respect to everyone he meets, regardless of race, standing, position, or country, but also actively seeks their thoughts and opinions, regardless of whether that person supports or agrees with him or not, which is his greatest strength as a man, and as one of this country's greatest and most respected presidents by the citizens of the world.

Obama portrays himself as flawed, all too human, and his own greatest critic, as he is harsher on himself than practically anyone else, save for the most obstreperous and despicable politicians and leaders within and outside of the United States. He repeatedly credits his amazing wife Michelle for her support throughout his political career, largely at the expense of her own goals and personal wishes, for keeping him level headed, and for ensuring that their daughters, Sasha and Malia, had as normal as life as possible during the very abnormal circumstances and white hot spotlight that they faced, especially from the extreme right wing politicians and media and those who subscribed to their racist rhetoric.

The strengths of this book are Obama's writing style, which makes the reader feel as if he is having a personal conversation with the former president while sharing a drink in a local pub or restaurant, his ability to explain complicated topics in a clear and concise manner, such as the 2007-2008 global financial crisis that he inherited from his predecessor and successfully managed, the push to pass the Affordable Care Act that provided millions of Americans with health care security for themselves and their families, and the difficult and sticky foreign policy problems he and this country faced, in Iran, Afghanistan, Israel, Palestine, Egypt and other hot spots. His personal portrayals of leaders such as Vladimir Putin, Benjamin Netanyahu, Hu Jintao, Hosni Mubarak and others were also enlightening and informative. Just as meaningful are his descriptions of those closest to him, as he acknowledges the importance of the members of his Cabinet, and also gives equal time to his closest aides, including his body man Reggie Love, a former two sport man at Duke, who was as instrumental in keeping him grounded and sane as anyone outside of his immediate family.

A Promised Land is a remarkable and compelling memoir told by a gifted and insightful writer, which engaged and entertained this reader from the first page to the last. It is a valuable addition to the memoirs and biographies of American presidents, and as such it deserves to be widely read by everyone, even those who did not support him. This book absolutely lives up to the hype about it, and I eagerly look forward to the book(s) that cover the remaining six years of his presidency.
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LibraryThing member indygo88
In this, the first of a 2-book set of Presidential memoirs, Obama shares his memories of the years leading up to his decision to enter politics: from an uncertain high school student, his growing awareness through college, his first years as a lawyer, his time as a senator, and ultimately, his
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presidency, up through the later years of his first presidential term.

I have expressed this opinion frequently and will say it again: I love this man and I was sorry to see his tenure as President come to an end, especially in light of the disastrous administration that followed. Obama is a very intelligent, well-spoken man, and in reading this book, though I did not listen to the audio (wish I had!), I could easily hear his voice in my head the entire time. I'm not going to go into a detailed account of his stories or my specific opinions of them. I am in general not a person who follows politics all that closely, and some of the events I read about I really don't even have a good memory of.

But while I do deeply respect Obama's intelligence and eloquency, there's no doubt that the man can be long-winded with a tendency to go into TOO MUCH detail. Despite my overall enjoyment of the book (which is quite long), I will admit that it took me a long time to get through it -- quite a few months, in fact. There's no doubt that it's well-written (though could've honestly been edited), but I personally can only read a non-fiction political memoir in chunks, and so I would read some, put it aside for a while, and then return. I don't particularly want to compare it to Michelle Obama's Becoming, because they're different types of books, but I will say that hers was a much quicker read for me and more enjoyable, due largely to the subject matter and the way it gave a more personal, family-oriented view. But as always, while reading this book, I felt that I was getting a mostly candid look at the man behind the title, and he will continue to be, to me, one of the most respected historical figures of my lifetime.
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LibraryThing member john.cooper
Barack Obama is a very good writer, but considering the completely unrestrained adulation given him in supportive media such as the New York Times, I feel compelled to say that this book isn't literature. It's an unusually frank memoir for an ex-president, with equally unusual touches of humor. And
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for all its apparent candor, it's still the guarded retrospective of a world leader with one eye on the historians. If you're looking for regrets or admissions of error, you won't find them — just several mentions of self-doubt in the course of events, which are only to be expected, although more than you'll find in the memoirs of other figures at his level of importance. And you won't find overt personal criticisms of political enemies, either. No doubt Obama considers them beneath the dignity of a statesman, and preferred to avoid the senseless controversy that would be stirred up when pithy assessments were turned into sound bites, as they inevitably would be. It's impossible to blame him, but it makes for a drier book than a reader would wish.

The book is arranged mostly chronologically, although chapters tend to focus on particular events and policy themes. and covers Obama's first term, ending in the nearly simultaneous raid on bin Laden's compound in Pakistan and the White House Correspondents' Dinner at which the president roasted Donald Trump, who was in attendance. This provides a good narrative arc. That said, I found it difficult to push through the last 70 pages of this 700-page tome; it's just too big. "I'm painfully aware," says Obama, "that a more gifted writer could have found a way to tell the same story with greater brevity...[but] I found my mind resisting a simple linear narrative."

You already know whether you're the kind of person who would read a 700-page presidential memoir, so there's not much more for me to say about it. I'm going to read the second volume when it comes out in a couple of years, and I expect to have about the same reaction as I had to this one: it's a must-read for people, especially Democrats, who take politics seriously. But it's not a book you press enthusiastically into your friends' hands, much less a book that will change your mind about anything at all. What it is, at this particular moment, is a reminder that we once had a serious, responsible president, and an encouragement that it could happen again.
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LibraryThing member Clara53
"You think you may not be ready, that you might do it at a more convenient time. But you don't choose the time. The time chooses you." This is what Ted Kennedy, "heir to the most famous name in American politics", told Barack Obama about running for President.

Obama's writing talent is not a secret.
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He has a special affinity for expressing himself. For me, the appeal is undeniable. In this book, he comes through as an intelligent, sensitive, utterly honest, and caring person who has become a leader of the country. His frankness about his life - starting with some ruminations about his childhood and young years, on to his early political career and his first term as President - is humbling and deserves true respect.

What we all saw on TV screens and read in papers in the first four years of the Obama administration is now interpreted with first hand knowledge, from behind the scenes. Each and every agonizing decision, however major or minor, comes to the surface in this memoir, with details that are sometimes surprising, sometimes predictable, but always honestly presented. I understood Washington politics like never before after reading this tome of a memoir. It's actually amazing how much Obama was able to accomplish, despite McConnell's stubbornness and unsubstantiated rejection of basically each and every good deed... Can't wait for Part Two.
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LibraryThing member brianinbuffalo
Make no mistake: A reader needs to be intensely interested in U.S. history, American politics or both in order to make it through 700+ pages (or 29 hours of narration). The fact that numerous reviewers on this platform and other digital platforms have lamented the book’s girth and Obama’s
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tendency to wade into policy-making weeds validates this assertion. But for those of us who consider ourselves armchair connoisseurs of history, “A Promised Land” is an enlightening, educational and often entertaining look at Obama’s first term. There’s no denying he is a skilled writer. What’s more, the book is organized in a cohesive fashion. Obama’s skill in blending personal experiences, light “behind-the-scenes at the White House” moments and detailed policy-making narratives is commendable. I tackled the book in “chunks” in order to get the most out of this weighty tome, taking a couple months to finish it. Would I have suggested slightly less “verbosity” in a half-dozen chapters had I been a gutsy editor at Crown Publishing? Probably – although in fairness, I tend to say that about most books that exceed 500 pages. The bottom line: “A Promised Land” is a milestone book that aims a revealing spotlight on a former president, his family, foreign affairs, economic ordeals, environmental challenges and many other issues that impact our lives on a daily basis.
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
A Promised Land is the first volume of President Barack Obama’s memoirs. It begins with his early political career in Illinois, describes his campaigns for state and federal legislative roles and the presidency, and ends in May, 2011 (those with good memories will understand the reason for this
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seemingly arbitrary timing).

When I began reading this book, my first reaction was that it felt so good to be back in Obama-land, reliving those heady early days expressed with such modesty and candor. I choked up reading about his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and Election NIght 2008 in Chicago’s Grant Park. Of course, soon after that the real work of being president began, and Obama had several concurrent crises to address. At this point the memoir became more event-driven and less emotionally charged, but no less interesting. I was struck by the sheer breadth of the President’s responsibilities and the significance of decisions that ended up on his desk. Throughout the narrative Obama also described events that ultimately influenced the outcome of the 2016 election and all that followed. While it’s unclear how much of this he saw coming and how much was told in hindsight, I found his perspective helpful.

Obama is a superb writer, whether he is explaining the intricacies of the country’s financial and healthcare systems, describing a complex military campaign, or relating poignant moments shared with his family. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member Al-G
This is a really interesting read and I enjoyed the insights into his campaigns, his private life, his personality and his time in the White House. So don't get me wrong, I would recommend this book if you are interested in him at all. But it is looonng. And he even says so in the preface. It is
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well worth reading, but just know going it that it is not a quick read. He does have a very engaging writing style and he is a wonderful story-teller, but there is a lot here and a lot to digest. Still, it is a very interesting and intriguing look at the man and the presidency, and well worth the time to read.
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LibraryThing member ohernaes
Vivid and interesting account of Obama's presidency from the viewpoint of and read by the president himself. A key topic is the trade-offs between what he believes is best and what is politically feasible, between the short and the long term. As a Senator, he was wary of losing what drove him to
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enter politics in the first place: "I questioned what might happen to me the longer I stayed in Washington, the more embedded and comfortable I became. I saw now how it could happen–how the incrementalism an decorum, the endless positioning for the next election, and the groupthink of cable news panels all conspired to chip away at your best instincts and wear down your independence, until whatever you once believed was utterly lost (p. 64)." Interesting comment from his campaign chief David Axelrod that "you have to be a little pathological to do what it takes to win the [the primary and the presidency]" – probably not a good type of selection. Funny on foreign leaders–the stoic Merkel and energetic, over-promising Sarkozy. The long historical lines maybe not entirely accurate in all details, but presumable it is his understanding. Always generous towards Michelle and the sacrifices she had to make. The Republican party, and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell in particular, do not come off well – always obstructionist and setting short-term political gain from posturing above the long term good of the country. Time will show if they thereby dug their own grave. Recommended.
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LibraryThing member GShuk
Excellent book, He explains the issues he was facing, his philosophy and then his decision. Taken together it helps one understand that the decision are not as simple as they seem. It also gives a glimpse into who he is and his aspirations. I would give this a 5 star except too much what felt like
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over the top positive detail on the people he worked with.
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LibraryThing member TimBazzett
Sorry, Mr President, for only giving you three and a half stars. It's not you, it's me. History books tend to cause me to zone out and even fall asleep, and I've already done that enough times over A PROMISED LAND, so I've thrown in the towel. The first few hundred pages kept me engaged, mostly
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because there was still quite a lot about Obama's early years, with some personal information about his childhood and youthful shenanigans, as well as anecdotes about his grandparents and his mother, and how he met Michelle, their courtship and young married years. That stuff I found very interesting, touching, sometimes even moving. But, after those first few hundred pages, well into his first term as president, it got harder to pay attention. Because, although we do get his personal thoughts on all that was going on in the country and the world during those years, most of it is, well, history. And history that I've lived through - and then some, as I am nearly twenty years older that Obama. But the personal stuff? I loved that. And Obama's sense of humor shines through in those parts. I especially love that he's okay with poking fun at himself. Like the time Malia said her dad needed an alias, because he was suddenly so famous, that he needed a disguise. To which Michelle responded that the only way he could disguise himself was to have an operation to pin his ears back. Yeah, the Prez knows his ears stick out, and he laughs about it too. And his love of family comes out every time he gets personal too - how much he loved his mom, his grandparents, and especially Michelle and his girls.

So okay, I gave up on this with still a few hundred pages to go - skimming, skimming. The end. But know this, Obama is a damn fine writer. He admits he's not really good in a debate or a town hall, because he can go on too long to make a point, likes to see all sides of a question, etc. And he indulges that in this book, which I'm sure all the presidential historian types will eat up. But I tended to zone out, fall asleep. I do, however, love a good memoir. And Obama's first one, DREAMS FROM MY FATHER, is an excellent one. I loved it. This one? This one is for the historians and political scholars and pundits. Let 'em have at it.

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER
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LibraryThing member Schmerguls
5732. A Promised Land, by Barack Obama (read 31 Jan 2021) This is the first volume of Obama's account of his life before he became president and of his time through most of his first term. It is exceptionally revealing, often telling of his thoughts, hopes and fears. It makes one realize that it is
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often not fun to be president and is not something an ordinary person would hanker for. And one has to conclude that Obama is an exceptionally able person. This first volume concludes with the relation of the successful elimination of Osama bin Laden. I could only read that account since I knew how it turned out. I look forward to the second volume which will relate the sweet re-election in 2012 and the second term when the country was finally through with the recession Obama inherited from George W. Bush.
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LibraryThing member JBD1
An engaging and candid memoir of the 2008 campaign and the first several years of Obama's first presidential term, through the spring of 2011. Obama's excellent writing is on full display here, and he gets into both the political and personal nitty-gritty of being president in ways that surprised
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me.
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LibraryThing member RonWelton
Former President Obama's latest memoir, A Promised Land, is as honest and straight-forward as any reasonable person could expect. The writing is easy to follow and not unnecessarily erudite or overly cluttered with detail, and, while not a page-turner there are sufficient interesting passages to
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move the reader happily through.
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LibraryThing member Beth.Clarke
I loved most of this memoir. There is a lot great content that is more about the person, the family man, and the politician than straight politics. During the chapters about foreign affairs, my mind drifted a bit, however, I was very engaged in it most of the time. After reading this, I have even
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more respect for the Obamas and what they encountered while in the White House. He handled the challenges by using his calm, intelligent ways.
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LibraryThing member Micareads
When I heard that President Obama was writing a biography, I got excited. I supported him as a President and believe he is a wonderful writer. This book only confirmed my thoughts.

I attempted to read the book but with a page total of 751 pages it would have taken me forever, so I switched to the
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audiobook so I could listen as I did chores and worked.

This is the first book in a two-book series as there was a lot that Obama included. This first volume takes us from his childhood through his time in the Senate to his Presidency. Obama helps the reader understand what encompasses being the President of the United States, not only the legalities behind it but also the intricacies. He relays stories of meeting Vladimir Putin for the first time as well as discovering that staff members were working on secret negotiations without his knowledge. Learning new and interesting things about the Obama Presidential era made me wonder how he lasted as long as he did while leading the country.
Obama chose to end this volume of his life story on a perfect note...after the successful death of Osama Bin Laden. This could easily be the crowning achievement of Obama's first term as it was something President Bush had attempted to achieve.

I am actively awaiting the second volume of President Obama's writing as he is intelligent in his word choice and phrasing. He is easy to understand yet speaks with the knowledge of a man who has attended the best schools and seen things that others will never know.
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LibraryThing member rivkat
The basic theme of this book is “I did the best I could,” and I think it is further evidence for the tragic reading of his presidency: The very thing that made him electable—his sincere and unflagging faith in the ability of white Americans to come together with Black Americans in
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particular—made him unable, both temperamentally and to a certain extent politically, to play hardball with Republican intransigience. One appalling thing I learned from the book is that their internal polling found that the controversy over his comments on Henry Louis Gates and the cop who arrested him on his own front porch caused his support to drop substantially among whites, and that support never returned. That’s a lot of racism.
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LibraryThing member jmoncton
First book finished in 2021! We all know that 2020 was a year for the record books so it was invigorating and inspiring to read a book that shows so much hope and promise. This is the first part of Obama's memoir covering his political career. His writing style is entertaining and inciteful
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covering many episodes that I definitely remember and also some behind the scenes events. It was definitely interesting to see how these unfolded from an insider's perspective. He tells his story with wit, humor, and modesty -- so refreshing to see how a president can be so ... presidential. The audiobook is fantastic -- narrated by Obama. Although it's long (over 29 hours), each minute felt like a breath of fresh air and hope.
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LibraryThing member nova_mjohnson
A great memoir of the majority of Obama’s first term. Acknowledges things that could’ve been better but defends his platform just as well. Interesting to see possible thoughts in his second book on the white nationalism and populism that widely developed up following him. Filled with just the
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right balance of Oval Office secrets and anecdotes on life in the White House.
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LibraryThing member kmartin802
I really enjoyed this memoir which tells about Barack Obama's growth into his role as the first Black American leader of the United States of America.

Told by Obama with his distinctive speech patterns, I found myself deeply engaged in topics that had never crossed my mind before. I lived through
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this time period but never knew just how near we were to financial collapse and what extraordinary measures were taken to keep the US out of a collapse. I didn't remember the Deepwater Horizon disaster at all and was intrigued by the government's response to it.

I was intrigued about the core of people who worked with Obama to help him reach his goals. I enjoyed his viewpoint on his colleagues, political opponents and the many world leaders he worked with while in office.

I came out of this listening experience with a deepened respect for Obama's leadership and character. I was reinforced in my belief that he was a fundamentally decent man who wanted to do more but was constrained by political realities. I was heartened by both his faith in America and his determination to make America a better place.

I enjoyed learning about his concern for the effect his political ambitions would have for his wife and daughters.

This story is only the beginning since it ends with the location and death of Osama bin Laden. I look forward to reading further volumes of his memoir.

Because of its length, I had thought that I would listen to a chapter or so a day. However, I was quickly swept up by the events Obama described and ended up listening to his story for three days.
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LibraryThing member LyndaInOregon
Exhaustively detailed account of Obama's early political life, ending midway through his first term as President.

Personally, my takeaway is "who in their right mind would even want this job?" Crisis upon crisis, slogging through the knee-high molasses of party politics to achieve even the smallest
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goal, carrying the awesome responsibility of taking actions that will impact the lives of millions of people. And echoing behind it, always, is the Douglas Adams' quote about leadership: "It is a well-known fact that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. ... [A]nyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.”

Snark aside, one of the book's more unusual features as a political memoir is the amount of ink Obama gives to his family life. Perhaps because he had the youngest White House family since JFK, his duties and pleasures as a husband and father are detailed with significant emotional content.

Certainly a valuable record of Obama's early political life, this one probably belongs on the reference shelf for keeps.
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LibraryThing member DinadansFriend
A book awaited by many, myself included. the president has a good deal to write about, and covers only the first years pf his eight years in the White House. If one considers the amount of unwarranted abuse the man has endured this is a remarkably neutral treatment. The plan is a vaguely
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chronological series of chapters, with the theme of each being the actions taken or rejected in the actions due to the crises coming grimly down the pike. While he was often capable of facing these moments, there is a mounting sense of frustration with the intractability of the Republicans to engage in any effort except to blindly oppose any activity except blanket opposition. The beginnings of the political career of Donald Trump are dismissed properly in a couple of paragraphs. A readable book, with some insights into the mindset brought to, and enduring, the files assembled in the oval office.
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LibraryThing member Doondeck
Along with Jefferson, Lincoln, Grant and TR, Obama ranks as a great presidential author. He tells this story in an interesting and meaningful way. It was a pleasure to read.
LibraryThing member Narshkite
I am not a big reader of political memoirs or biographies, but Obama is different. Not only because he is a beacon of light for those of us who are living in countries where the majority of people hate knowledge, consideration, and excellence because they are either unable or unwilling to do the
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work to get there, and therefore the existence of real education, consideration and compassion reminds them they really are less than. The reason Obama is different for me is that he knows how to write like nobody's business. This is positively lyrical while it is also informative and diplomatically frank. (No name calling! How great is that?) This book is truly wonderful. And the audio, with Barack speaking in my ear, was pretty perfect. Both I and my 21 year old loved it. The reminder of what we can be gave me so much hope.
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LibraryThing member kaulsu
I listened to this book--I'm not certain I would ever have finished it had I been reading it. 79+ hours. During the Pandemic when I am hardly ever driving anywhere.... But it is a book which I know I would probably have enjoyed more in print, in that I could have thumbed back easily (more easily?),
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had access to (I am assuming) an index, etc.

I am hoping that when his second volume is released I will be back at work and my driving hours will be increased! But it was definitely worth the read....
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LibraryThing member nbmars
This is the first installment of Barack Obama’s promised two-volume memoirs. It covers his early life through his presidency up to the killing of Osama Bin Ladin in 2011. It is a thoughtful, self-reflective, well-written account of a very eventful time.

As Obama looks back, he questions some of
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his decisions, or at least acknowledges that there were legitimate questions about what he did. For example, he is quite aware of all the criticisms for his handling of the 2008 financial crisis and the appearance it gave of catering more to greedy bankers than the many ordinary citizens who suffered from their actions.

His approach to that crisis remains part of the disappointment progressives feel over Obama not delivering what they hoped he would. He seems keen to address them, writing that the image of him as “starry-eyed idealist” is not quite accurate. His is instead a pragmatic idealist, influenced by his grandmother. His attitudes and beliefs also show his academic influences: he graduated from Columbia University in 1983, enrolled in Harvard Law School in 1988 where he was the first black person to be president of the Harvard Law Review, and taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 to 2004.

In any event, there were expectations from both liberals and conservatives that his decisions would reflect his race more than his education and temperament, but they never did. Ironically, his vice president, Joe Biden, now the president, has more freedom as a white man to institute policies that help Blacks, since he will not be seen as “biased.”

The perception of Obama by the right was not helped by his infamous description of the rural white working class — “They get bitter, they cling to their guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them, or anti-immigrant sentiment, or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” He is still brooding over having said this, and the reaction to his remarks.

Obama also addresses his foreign policy moves with respect to Afghanistan and Libya, and it’s hard not to conclude that he still hasn’t come to terms with what would have been the correct approaches to those issues.

On a related note, he discusses his addition of Bob Gates, a Republican, to his administration as Secretary of Defense. He stated that he wanted help to push against his own biases. And in fact, the two men remained somewhat adversarial throughout Obama’s presidency. In Gates’s own memoir about that time, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary of War, Gates made some harsh observations about Obama, writing of Obama’s approach to the Afghanistan war, the president “doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.”

In hindsight, it looks as if Obama would not entirely disagree with him.

Obama is still incredulous that he was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. “For what?” he asks. The official statement claimed it was for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between people.” In addition, “The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.”

While Obama may disagree over whether he deserved the prize it is clear that he was, and remains, committed to “the American idea: what the country was, and what it could become.” In every political campaign in which he has supported Democratic candidates against divisive and racist Republicans, he has assailed his audience with the cry, “America! This is not who we are!” The 74 million who voted for Trump in 2020 tell a different story. But that doesn’t mean Obama’s isn’t worth hearing. He does indeed represent some of the best of American politics, and his observations about other world leaders are valuable.

Evaluation: I listened to the audio version, read by the ex-president himself in his own inimitable cadence. To say listening to the book was sheer joy might be an exaggeration, but not much of one, particularly in light of the arrogant and ignorant rants of his successor. Throughout the book, Obama comes across as an honest, caring, intelligent human being willing to share his extraordinary experiences in a measured, guarded way.

(JAB)
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