A Promised Land by Barack Obama
Eager and daunted in equal measures, I greedily gathered a couple of copies of A Promised Land when it hit the shelves.
The place in history into which Barack Obama has comfortably nestled meant I had no doubts when passing the second copy to my Dad.
I don’t do politics on the blog, cyber social is choked with opinion as it is. Let’s just say that my father and I are not usually politically aligned. Yup, I think I’ll leave it there. I mean, in some parallel world, Dad might read this blog, as well as the 700+ pages he devoured of Barack Obama’s memoir.
Another favourite political opus I’ve previously lent to my Dad, was Citizen Clem, John Bew’s insightful and compelling biography of the former Prime Minister. I waxed lyrical about Bew’s book in this blog post.
This Promised Land is a historical document for sure, but it is also bang up to date. Obama has his sharp mind tuned in to current events and this comes through the prose as he recounts the build up to his election and first term in office. Even though Obama’s is a very recent history, it has many parallels with the Attlee story. Many will read A Promised Land and long for the days of leadership like this, based on compassion and a (maybe naïve) desire for a more bi-partisan politics. Although, with my Dad and I in agreement about so much in the book, maybe it’s not such a naïve dream!
But, is it any good?
Well. Yes. Yes it is. Obviously that would be down to the individual reader to decide for themselves. But anybody that remotely shares my interest and outlook will definitely enjoy A Promised Land. You will need to have at least a passing interest in recent American and political history of course. And there’s no let up in the detail. You’ll need to enjoy a bit of detail. Oh, and there are over 700 pages. If you get it in hard back, it is bloomin’ heavy too.
Aside from that, it is a cracking read. Obama’s Dreams Of My Father (1995, republished in 2004) confirmed to me that here was an excellent writer. He manages to liven up and put pace into subject areas which could potentially be dry and laborious. His choice of language, the colour he injects and the balance of confidence and humility in his writing draw you in. You want to read on, to find out how each episode during his first term in office worked out.
Financial crisis, wars, terrorism, ecological disasters, devastating weather occurrences arrive in a barrage. Not forgetting of course the never ending saga that is the Middle East. Each is described calmly, yet with enough jeopardy to keep you scanning the words. Obama surrounded himself with the right people for every occasion. His descriptions of the team he put together are so observational, you really feel like you are in the room when the crucial decisions are being thrashed out.
This first volume – yes there will be at least another 700 pages at some future point – ends with the mission to remove Osama Bin Laden and the incredible tensions and risks that surrounded the planning and executing of such a dangerous, high profile mission. That this mission was successful was in some way reward, in my opinion, for the no-stones-unturned, no-expert-ignored approach to Obama’s presidency.
My biggest takeaway from this absorbing read is humility. When decisions lead to events not going as well as hoped, Barack Obama is straight out and holding his hands up. If promises he made can’t be kept, he takes ownership, offers suitable apologies and starts to build trust again. If, in the heat of the moment or via some trick ‘gotcha’ questions from a suspicious press, he offers up a quote which he later regrets, he takes to the stand or the airwaves and addresses the error.
He manages to describe the vile hatred, the abuse, the thinly veiled racism and even the threats to him and his family with an admirable grace and also with an attempt to understand the motivations of others.
I’m sure, on both sides of the Atlantic, there are more than a few who would like a return to the leadership styles of Barack Obama, or indeed Clement Attlee.
in my humble opinion, this book is a triumph.