‘A Promised Land’ by Barack Obama: Book Review
A Promised Land is the first volume in the memoir or biography series penned by American President Barack Obama. It was published in 2020, just after the 2020 USA Presidential Elections ended. In this book, Barack Obama wonders what the outcome of that election would be and starts his biography with that theme in mind. The book is 768 pages and is the political and personal testament of America’s first Black President. This book is penned well, though with a lot of blunt frankness that is not observed in other memoirs written by President Barack Obama about his life and himself. I have also reviewed Obama’s earlier memoir, The Audacity of Hope. A Promised Land is more extensive and more in-depth than The Audacity of Hope but has lots of sarcastic comments, subtle cynicism, and just too many subjective, biased viewpoints. Specific details related to India and her politics did not go down with me when Obama was cynical about the BRICS team. The Audacity of Hope was in a way much better than A Promised Land. Nevertheless, A Promised Land is an informative read about the era during Obama’s first term in office. It is well written but too blunt.
Obama mentions that his government inherited administrative offices that were a mess and an economy in the doldrums. It is Barack Obama’s leading role in providing tax cuts to the middle class and taxing the wealthy that runs throughout this text, showing how deeply troubled and preoccupied Barack Obama was with the USA’s economic situation. The Obama Presidency had its many plus points. Still, it failed to accomplish many of the goals mentioned in Barack Obama’s political manifesto Change We Can Believe In, which brought him to power. There is a detailed analysis of the tax system, budgets, tax cuts, TARP, and other measures Obama tried to use to save the American economy and the economy of almost every country globally. Some of these details have been explained very well and in detail, especially if one wishes to understand the terrible negligence of the Bush years which was one of the reasons:
- The economy was in a mess in the years 2009 and 2010.
- The USA got involved in a useless war with Iraq.
According to Barack Obama, it should not have been Iraq that the USA should have been fighting but Afghanistan and the Al Qaida there. It is ironic reading that the very moment Barack Obama decides to go to war with Afghanistan, he receives a call informing him that he had won the Nobel Peace Prize. In the book A Promised Land, one sees the way Barack Obama tried to implement his manifesto as much as possible. However, he admits that he could not live up to most of his expectations. Also, there were several pitfalls and tragedies during the first three years of Barack Obama’s presidency. One of those involved climate change and environmental destruction caused by a massive oil rig leak. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill, also called the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, was the largest marine oil spill in history and was caused by an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig on April 20, 2010. When you read how Barack Obama tackled this issue, you are left gaping in shock that such a terrible mistake could happen and how the capitalists were the least bit concerned by the amount of oil released into the waters.
Reading Barack Obama mourning about the damage the oil spill did to the USA’s waters is heartening. When you read the text carefully, you notice that not many people were concerned about Climate Change and the Environment as much as Barack Obama, which is motivational and inspiring. The book is also divided into three parts:
- Incidents from his personal life.
- His life as a President solving the problems of the USA.
- His relationship with foreign leaders and other politicians between the years 2009-2011.
Naturally, being an Indian, I was most keen on reading his views about my country. However, I was unnerved to see the cold cynicism that Obama displayed towards India’s politicians and its very identity: an exceedingly poor and developing country tied down with a chain to a rock; the chain being a decadent society and the rock being old orthodox customs. I was very saddened by his criticism of BRICS, which as an Indian, hurt me. However, it was not only India that has managed to come under the subjective, biased scrutiny of the 44th President of the USA. Libya, Afghanistan, China, Russia, France, Iran, and many others have been dedicated half of a chapter in this book. Every person, whether American or not, will be eager to read the 44th President’s thoughts.
Several passages relating to President Obama’s personal life make good reading though they are highly simplistic and sugar-coated. I was also shocked to realize that Obama did not:
- Mention his drug addiction problem though he mentioned a lot about his smoking issue.
- His time as a goofy and aimless teenager.
- The times he and his family, especially Michelle Obama, disagreed.
However, he did not mention all that, probably because he has already mentioned them in other books penned by him, though I would have loved to have read them anew here. Also, this biographical series is a Presidential Years series. Therefore, most probably, he focused only on his work as a politician and then President. There are several government workers whom Barack Obama takes the trouble of naming and describing even if it be with only a paragraph. Some of them and their contributions stick with you as you read the book. The men and women who worked with Obama during his campaign and when he became the President of the USA seem to be a mix of young, middle aged, and elderly personalities but who all have one thing in common – their perseverance and dedication to their work. This is especially noticeable during Barack Obama’s Presidential Campaign. President Obama has indeed been blessed with respectable and experienced political aides right throughout his career, and that is half the battle won. However, when he became President, most of his team were young people in their twenties and early thirties who grounded Obama when he became too cynical about the role he was placed in. According to Obama, such young people made him remember his idealistic self of the past and kept him going when things got tough – and things kept on getting tougher and more challenging as the years went by.
In this detailed autobiography, President Obama mentions the rise of the polarization and the right wing politicians and their supporters who started making the news when he campaigned for his first term as President. Obama explains in a clear cut manner how the polarized right came to the fore and was changing the way the USA was looking at issues like immigration, migration, taxes, and Medicare. Obama chronicles the early signs of Donald Trump’s rise in contemporary political history and how he slowly managed to get the necessary support to become the USA’s 45th President in 2016. Although that part is not mentioned yet, we sense Obama’s foreboding, ominous tone here. Obama seems to be worried about the current situation worldwide and in America, a world only becoming more intolerant of each other and creating divisions within and without.
The book is detailed, informative, and I really liked reading about Barack Obama’s relations with other foreign dignitaries. As I said, he has been a bit too free and frank in these sections, but still, they are his honest opinions on the matter, and we must respect that. I especially loved the way Obama described his meeting with Putin, which got me glued to the pages. It is undoubtedly worth reading these little snippets of Obama’s relations during his presidency with these political dictators, prime ministers, and presidents. Obama’s humor comes out well in these parts of the text, though, as I said, he can be a bit too blunt. The problem is that Obama has always been too idealistic and wishes everyone everywhere to look at the world through his lenses of rationalism, but such things are not possible in every country; not all of us are an America!
There are many lovely photographs of President Obama, his family, his workers, and other shots related to the book’s contents, which add to the beauty of the book. I especially loved the photograph of Obama’s younger daughter Sasha walking in Russia’s governmental building, looking like, as Obama said, ‘a pint-sized secret agent’. From the way Obama has described his family, one would think that Malia and Sasha were extremely calm and contented children despite the changes to their lives and routine because of their father’s political career. Malia seems to come out as the meditative one and a thinker. She is undoubted ‘daddy’s favorite’, while Sasha is just like her mother as Obama puts it ‘no one messes with her’. Michelle Obama seems unfazed by the stardom of her politician turned President husband. She gets her strength from her duties as First Lady and her mother, who lives in the White House with the Obama family. Obama seems to portray his family in a rosy glow, but I hardly think such was the case. Another photograph I loved was the studio photograph of a young Obama with a ball in his hand in the arms of his ‘white’ mother. The story of Obama’s life with his mother, a single parent, reminded me of my own life and struggles, looked after by a single parent. My father abandoned me as a newborn because I was a girl. If you want to read more about my life, you can check out my memoir, The Reclusive Writer & Reader of Bandra on my blog’s products page.
The crowning point of this memoir is the killing of Al Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden. One sees here how Obama made it his mission to go after this terrorist leader who ruined the lives of so many in the 9/11 terror attack on American soil. The raid on a Pakistani courtyard is detailed and well described making the last sections of the book an exciting read. However, one cannot ignore the fact that Obama fought too many wars and misjudged that Osama Bin Laden’s death and the war with Afghanistan would bring an end to terror operations in the Middle East. He also did not notice the disturbing rise of the terrorist group ISIS in the Middle East. Regarding the Middle East, Obama also mentions and chronicles the Arab Spring, which is heartening to read.
A Promised Land is a motivating and inspirational read. I gave this book four stars on Goodreads because I disagreed with certain of its contents concerning many third world countries and their issues. I read it in one go, and it is an easy read. Many pages are dedicated to the financial steps taken to help the USA emerge from the economic meltdown that, to many readers, can be a bit tiresome. Still, it will be enlightening for an economist to read and study! If you read those parts of the text slowly, you will understand its central core. If you are looking for gossip, you will not find it in this book, so be warned. The book is a bit cynical, over reflective, and written as if Obama was in one of his old college classes delivering a lecture. His book sounds like a professor giving a lecture, breaking the nuances of his Presidency into simple sections. I hope to read the next book in this series, but I hope it will be something like The Audacity of Hope.
I enjoyed reading and reviewing this book by the 44th American President, Barack Obama. I hope that Joe Biden, whom Obama has set his heart on to change America, can live up to his expectations. If you want to know more about President Joe Biden, you can check out my book review of Joe Biden: American Dreamer by Evan Osnos. I have more American political literature in my library; hoping to read, analyze, and review it for you here on my blog.
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