A Promised Land by Barack Obama

A Promised Land (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️) has been one of the most anticipated books since Becoming (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️) was published in 2018. But if you were expecting it to be the second half of Michelle’s memoir you would be greatly disappointed. It is after all biography of a politician and not his first one either. He focuses the lion’s share of it on his politics and time in the White House, not leaving much space for his private life. But elements of it are there, enlivening rather static prose, describing how his background and family had shaped him and led him to become president.

The first part of the book is a brief introduction that flows through Obama’s childhood and early career as a politician slowing the pace down once he becomes a senator. It is just two years later he starts his successful presidential campaign and becomes the 44th president of the United States. The second part of the book covers the first two and a half years of his presidency, which from the very beginning challenged him on multiple fronts, with the financial crisis, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and his herculean task of implementing affordable health insurance coverage for all. The volume finishes on the success of Operation Neptune Spear and the killing of Osama Bin Laden, not long before Obama’s reelection campaign began. 

I would have never thought that reading about Obama’s political moves could be such an interesting read. What makes it compelling, I believe, is the reasoning and methodology behind it that he delivers in such an accessible way that is impossible not to appreciate it. Moreover, all those stories are so recent I still remember the news covering them and it simply resonated with me. But Obama agrees that sometimes the most important part of his work involved the stuff nobody noticed. And so you can also read about the decisions Obama made that did not hit the headlines such as containing the H1N1 epidemic and changing efficiency standard rules for all new appliances, ranging from rooftop air conditioners to walk-in freezers.

For me reading A Promised Land was like being behind the scenes of some of the biggest political changes with a worldwide outcome – just fascinating. It helped me realise the amount of work that goes into every one of these decisions and the gravity of taking them. You may not agree with everything Obama did while in office or even claim he has not done enough, and I’m definitely not a person to defend his politics. But what I got from him self-questioning his motives is a sense of reason and logic that contrasts so much with the current political climate whether in the US, UK, or Poland. The idea that political decisions could possibly not be made at random by people who are unqualified, inexperienced, and not fit for office is just overwhelming. How have things changed so quickly?

For everyone who thinks they cannot lift the weight of 701 pages, I would recommend the audiobook.  As with Michelle’s memoir, the author is reading it himself making the whole experience a wonderful spectacle worth committing time to. Barack is known well for his slow speaking manner, so take my advice and don’t feel too bad about speeding him up a bit. I found x1.2 to be the optimal pace.