A Promised Land
Standalone or series
First time reading this author?
Why I picked this
I watched the West Wing and read Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton to get me through the run up to the 2020 Presidential election. Then chose this to remember what it was like to have a normal president whole waiting for the inauguration ceremony (although it took longer for me finish listening to this than it did to end the Trump presidency.
Review copy or purchase
Purchased as an audiobook on Audible.
What it’s about
Autobiography of former US President Barack Obama. Covering his childhood, schooling, entry into politics and eventual election to president and the first two and a bit years in office.
I listened to the audiobook version of this autobiography read by the author. An interesting way to while away the dog walks over the past six weeks (it’s a long audiobook).
It’s a fascinating book. As president Barack Obama is a well known face. His calm and authoritative voice is instantly recognisable. The great thing about this book is the opportunity to find out what was behind that calm. How he dealt with the challenges in the build up to and during the first years of his presidency (the book covers about the first 2.5 years in office, right up to the conclusion of the mission to kill Osama Bin Laden).
There’s nothing very new here, but what there is, is a lot of thoughtful reflection on key moments – even if those weren’t always obvious to people outwith the White House at the time. As a fan of behind the scenes political dramas I found the similarities between his actual experiences and moments of episodes of the West Wing a bit disconcerting. But, probably just goes to show the commonality between the day to day reality of the White House regardless of who is the Oval Office (ignoring the person who came immediately after Obama).
What is also very striking is the damage partisan politics does to making progress. The idea that an opposition party has to oppose everything the party in power tries to do is really frustrating. you can see it in this book with the difficulties in getting what seem like really good policies through simply because the opposition are afraid of the political backlash of being seen to agree with anything the other side is proposing. That goes both ways. The importance of compromise, which should be taught to everyone when their toddlers, is completely sidelined in the obstinance of refusing to allow that your opponent can ever have good intentions. While President Obama campaigned on a platform of cooperation, the reality was that he often had to go ahead without any or with only minimal support from Republicans because of the partisan attitudes.
It’s not all about the politics. There’s lots about the man as well. What it was like to grow up in his family, how he found focus and expanded his knowledge through reading, meeting and falling for Michelle. All of which builds a well-rounded picture of the man and the attributes and attitudes he brought to the presidency.
I’m sure there will be further instalments – there are still 5.5 years of the presidency left to cover after all – and I’m looking forward to reading them all.