Sonderbooks Book Review of

A Promised Land

by Barack Obama

read by the Author

A Promised Land

by Barack Obama
read by the Author

Review posted February 20, 2024.
Random House Audio, 2020. 29 hours, 10 minutes.
Review written January 20, 2024, from a library eaudiobook.
Starred Review

Okay, when I heard about this book, I preordered my own copy -- and then, with one thing and another, I never did get the big fat book read. So finally, after finishing my Morris Award reading, I placed a hold on the eaudiobook version. I enjoy listening to Barack Obama speak anyway -- the president who spoke in full, articulate sentences.

There isn't anyone out there who doesn't have an opinion of Barack Obama. If you already hate him, you won't want to read this book anyway. If you're a fan, let me encourage you that it's well worth reading. Let me tell you about what you'll find here.

Yes, it's long. It covers from his start in Illinois politics to the point in his first term as president when the Seal Team killed Osama bin Laden. Yes, he goes into great detail -- but a lot of that is to give attention to the many people who helped along the way. He gives the stories of probably hundreds of other people he met along the way who influenced his thinking or whose stories touched his heart, as well as the stories and qualifications of many people who worked with him -- from the butler at the White House to his chief of staff. He appreciates the people around him and gives them credit for all the ways they helped.

Some ways I appreciate Barack Obama anew after reading this book:

He doesn't blame others for his mistakes. That was an attitude he tried to build into his White House from the start. He gives others credit for good things, but doesn't blame others for bad things. Yes, he talks about many situations where he had to give up some things he wanted in order to get bills passed. But he took responsibility for the decisions he made.

He genuinely wants to help people have better lives. I got the same impression from reading Elizabeth Warren's book and Katie Porter's book. It's not something you can fake when you write a whole book. That was exactly why it hurt him to have to compromise to get some bills passed, but ultimately, he wanted to bring some people some help instead of bringing nobody perfect help. It struck me that Ronald Reagan did the whole country a disservice when he mocked the line "I'm from the government; I'm here to help." Because if government isn't here to help people, then what is government for? Obama talks about how as a community organizer, he talked with people who were struggling after a factory shut down, or people who weren't able to pay for the healthcare that would save their lives. And he went into politics because he wanted to be able to do something about the systemic problems that caused that.

He doesn't take human life lightly. He regularly attended soldiers' remains being returned. He visited soldiers in the hospital. He agonized over choices as president of whether to send more troops and what steps to take -- all because of the price of human lives.

He listened to people. He had his office send him a selection of letters every week. He'd answer them. Some he'd visit. And he can still tell some of those stories today.

I was also reminded just how bad the recession was that Geroge W. Bush left him with. And all the work he did to mitigate its effects. And the worry about H1N1 and how he believes working to protect the nation from that helped them when ebola threatened. Also, how Obamacare almost didn't get passed and how glad I am that pre-existing conditions are now covered. He knew the bill as it ended up wasn't perfect - may we continue to improve it! - but it is so much better than what was in place before.

Okay, there's lots in this book -- 29 hours of it! If the things I like about Obama sound like criticism of his successor -- well, yes, the contrast is big and I'm still sad about some of the things that got reversed, but glad for another person of integrity in the White House now. May we elect people who seek to make lives better for the many, and not just to get power for themselves. This book is an eye-opening look at the astonishing amount of work that goes into being president of the United States.