Book Review, “The Promised Land”

Ben Miles

If the best and the brightest is what we want in American politics, we’ve had it. Reading Barack Obama’s 701-page memoir of his tenure as 44th president of the United States (which Obama himself has stated is only the first volume), “The Promised Land” provides a credible and convincing account of, not only Obama’s intelligence and literary skill, it also showcases his authenticity and altruism.

Obama writes that subsequent to a failed congressional campaign, and with fewer than two years as a U.S. Senator, he tells his wife, Michelle, that he is considering a run for the presidency, she gives this furious reply, “God Barack … when will it ever be enough?” Evoking a statement that she had hurled at him earlier, “It’s like you have a hole to fill.”

Not only is this an instance of gloves off honesty, it’s also a revealing portrait of Ms. Obama’s reluctance to become submerged beneath the spotlight of national politics and the loss of privacy that comes with the possibility of becoming the First Family of the nation.

In a treatise that ranges from the Great Recession, to two unresolved wars – all of which Obama was faced with upon entering office – we are given details on the slow process of turning the wheel of government. For instance, what a struggle it was to achieve the passage of the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare.

At a time when passage of that comprehensive healthcare legislation was in doubt, Obama’s recalls being ask by his administration’s director of legislative affairs, Phil Shiliro, “Do you feel lucky?”

The president’s response, “Where are we Phil?” Uncertain of exactly what the leader of the western world was asking, Mr. Shiliro, awkwardly replied, “The Oval Office.” Grilling Mr. Shiliro further, The President asks, “And what’s my name?” “Barack Obama” Director Shiliro answers. “Barack Hussein Obama,” the President asserts. “And I’m here with you in the Oval Office. Brother, I always feel lucky.”

But, of course, a successful presidential administration takes much more than mere luck. Each day the president is faced with unknowns – from natural calamities, to school shootings, to international terrorism – and the Obama administration saw its (unfair) share of each of these sorts of events. So, while luck, good fortune, and unexpected favor may often come a president’s way – skill and knowing, as Prussian Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck proclaimed in the late 19th century, that “Politics is the art of the possible,” is essential in having a competent and effective presidential administration.

“The Promised Land” is a deep dive into to complexities of being President of the United States. Full with its share of the daily minutiae of national leadership and the regular conflicts and obstacles that a partisan political divide presents, the memoir of Obama’s first presidential term is also replete with the drama of politics in the era of terrorism.

The book culminates with the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011. The uncertainties and strategizing surrounding this event is wholly absorbing and reads like a page-turning thriller. For anyone interested in the skills of leadership, from delegating responsibilities to knowing as Harry Truman knew, where “the buck stops,” “The Promised Land” provides a multitude of lessons.

If luck is the junction where preparation intersects with opportunity, we see this crossroad in vivid literary terms in Barack Obama’s “The Promised Land.” Surely volume two will offer telling revelations into the 44th president’s second term in office.

“The Promised Land”

Published by Crown, an imprint of Random House,

a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

Copyright 2020 by Barack Obama

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Deluxe Edition ISBN: 978-0-593-23904-9

Ebook ISBN: 978-1-5247-6318-3



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