Fair warning, readers: If you are a Trumper, we can agree on loving books but you might want to sit this one out.
Because “A Promised Land” served as a reminder to me of the good and decent man that is our 44th president. And because I remain hopeful our country can get back (or move forward, take your pick) to a better place than we are today.
I am completely biased — I believe President Obama to have been one of the best presidents in modern history, and yet somehow his previous writing has remained buried on my TBR list. His penchant for extreme detail in his prose probably has something to do with it. I like to try to cover a lot of ground with reading, and I know his work commands both time and attention. But with his latest, I felt like I was doing myself a disservice to skip it.
So, Mr. President, I blew my book-a-week pace and gave you the last five weeks of 2020. Thankfully, you did not disappoint.
“A Promised Land” begins with a glance at Obama’s childhood and offers insight into what inspired his desire to serve, then takes readers on a roller coaster ride through his State Senate, US Senate and first presidential campaign. The 700+ page memoir caps off with the assassination of Osama Bin Laden — leaving us hanging for more on his second term. Which is OK. I need the break.
I appreciate Obama for all the things that Trump is not — thoughtful, self-deprecating and willing to stand up and admit when he’s blown it. When it’s his undoing. He’s not a pushover — there are more than a handful of occasions throughout the book where we’re offered an intimate look at some fairly tense moments during his first term —but unlike today, where nothing is ever the 45th president’s fault, President Obama has the capacity for understanding multiple points of view, the empathy to understand the validity of others’ opinions, and the intelligence to parse through the bullshit to get to the heart of an issue.
There were multiple times while reading I had to stop and put the book down just to catch my breath — his second encounter with Cory Remsburg, his recounting of the dustup after bowing to Emperor Akihito, the passage of the Affordable Care Act and his swing-and-miss at the DREAM Act. But what stuck with me throughout was his 2009 meeting with the former Czech Republic president, Vaclav Havel, who told him, “Today, autocrats are more sophisticated. They stand for election while slowly undermining the institutions that make democracy possible. They champion free markets while engaging in the same corruption, cronyism, and exploitation as existed in the past.”
SOUND FAMILIAR?!?!?!?! Why do we never learn?
So, do I recommend this? Of course. On a scale of Zero-to-Super-Wonky, I’ll give it a seven — its not so far in the weeds you need a Poly Sci degree to understand it, but I will cop to skimming a few pages here and there because honest to goodness, I don’t need THAT much detail on how the sausage is made. But to read this, in the current environment, is nostalgic, reassuring and upsetting all at the same time. Don’t skip it.