Title: A Promised Land

Author: Barack Obama

Type: Non-Fiction

Page Count/Review Word Count: 784

Rating: 4/5

Well, here we go. We’ve got a heckin’ chunker on our hands with this one.

A Promised Land is essentially Barack Obama’s memoirs of his presidency, and the funny thing about reading this one was that I picked it up not too long after reading Becoming by his wife, Michelle. There are quite a few cases where the two of them wrote about the same events, and so it was cool to see both of their perspectives.

I also had the benefit of reading this one via audio book, which was read by Obama himself and which came to life because of it. The combination of his easy writing style and his personal narration meant that it felt almost like I was having a friendly chat with him over a coffee as he reminisced about his time in office.

It also covers his initial run for the presidency, as well as a little stuff on how he became a senator. That makes for interesting reading, though perhaps more so if you’re super into politics. I mostly enjoyed that because I could contrast the American system with the British system and look at how they were similar and how they differed.

At times, it got a little surreal. Because he’s no longer active in politics, he didn’t pull any punches, and that meant that he gave his honest thoughts on subjects like, say, Vladimir Putin. Perhaps less controversially, he also talked about people like Sarkozy, Merkel and Gordon Brown, the latter of whom I’d forgotten about completely despite the fact that he was prime minister of the country that I live in.

Obama also wrote about some more personal subjects, from his reluctance to quit smoking to the way that he and Michelle raised their kids. I think it was important for him to do that, because it helped to humanise him and to remind us that whatever else he might be, the former president is just a guy like any other. But with better public speaking skills.

It also shows how the presidency requires a whole army to function, whether we’re talking about campaign aides helping to support the initial run or whether we’re talking about the chefs and secret service members that keep the White House ticking over. It was also fascinating (and a little scary) to read about the football, which is essentially a briefcase full of nuclear codes that has to follow the president around wherever he goes in case he needs to launch some nukes.

Now, I’ve read Obama’s earlier books, and while they were both okay, they didn’t quite have the same oomph that this one did. I imagine that part of that is because he had a lot of help from his editors on this one, as well as plenty of time to draft and redraft and the benefit of learning from his earlier two efforts. At the same time, it’s unfair to compare them because they set out to do different things.

If I’ve got my facts straight, which doesn’t always happen with me and my book reviews, then this is only the first half of what’s set to be a two-parter, because he started writing the book and found that it just kept on growing. He talked about that in the opening pages, which cover how the book itself came about and what the writing process looked like.

For me, as a writer, that was another great reason to pick it up. True, it’s interesting to learn about the presidency, but it’s more interesting to learn about how other people put metaphorical pen to paper. No two writers go about things in the same way, and it seems that Barack is very much a discovery writer, as well as a student of the Douglas Adams school of thought who loves the whooshing sounds that deadlines make as they go by.

I don’t think that you have to be an Obama fan or a supporter of his policies to enjoy the book, although I’m sure that it helps. If you happen to be a republican, it’s still worth reading to get a better understanding of how the political system works and to see the ways in which the two parties occasionally end up working together.

That occurs most notably with Obama’s response to the financial crisis, which takes up more than anything else during his presidency when it comes to page time. Let’s just hope that we’ve learned the lessons that the crisis had to offer us. Otherwise, we’re in quite a lot of trouble.

Learn more about The Promised Land.