#REVIEW: A Promised Land, by Barack Obama

This one sat on my shelf for a lot longer than I expected it to. Amazon tells me it arrived at my house on February 6, so it took almost exactly four months for me to actually read it once I had it. There are reasons, I suppose; the fact that the damn book is two inches thick and 700-pages-plus-endnotes long certainly had something to do with it, but the simple fact is that while I wanted to hear what Barack Obama had to say about his presidency, I didn’t really feel like I was ready for it. Frankly, I was angry with him, and not really for any good reason; the last four years were not his fault, but that doesn’t change the fact that I wasn’t really ready to remind myself of a time where I not only liked the president but was reasonably happy to be living in America. And while I feel like Joe Biden has had an enormously consequential first 100 days, it remains to be seen whether we’ll be right back neck-deep in shit in a couple of years.

On Sunday, unwilling to take yet another Unread Shelf picture with this damn book in it, I begrudgingly picked it up and started it. The entire idea of wading through it made me tired, frankly, and I was fully prepared to force myself through a hundred pages and then put it down, convincing myself that I’d tried and it’s not like I can’t pick it back up later. I wasn’t going to burn the thing or anything, but I definitely wasn’t looking forward to it.

Well, it’s the 3rd, and I probably read the last 300 pages of the thing today– which turned out to only be volume one of Obama’s memoirs, ending with the night they killed Osama bin Laden– so apparently I got over that. Obama has always been an engaging author (I have both of his previous books) and that is on full display here. There is also something about reading what is essentially a history book about a time that I remember. I have said this before, but let me remind you: not only have I voted for Obama nearly every time he has run for public office (I moved into his district in 1998; he became an Illinois state Senator in 1997) but my life intersected with his in a lot of ways. I know exactly where his home in Hyde Park was. His first kiss with Michelle was at a Baskin-Robbins that was literally across the street from my first apartment in Chicago; there’s a plaque there now. I had several classes with Bill Ayers in graduate school, and Ayers was very nearly my Ph.D advisor. And I’ve met Jeremiah Wright, his pastor. I am one of those people who was telling everyone that he was going to be our first Black President, although I figured it would be 2012 or 2016 before he ran. Honestly, I wasn’t terribly happy with his decision to run in 2008, thinking he was too young and inexperienced; his campaign convinced me I was wrong about that. Obama was my President in a way that no other President has been, and unless Pete Buttigieg actually succeeds in gaining the White House at some point in the future, it’s hard to imagine that any such thing will happen again.

tl;dr I barely put the damn book down for four days, and even took it to work on Tuesday. It’s exactly as good as Barack Obama’s memoirs ought to be, and it shouldn’t be especially surprising that I enjoyed it. Honestly, I feel dumb that it surprised me; I let myself get too caught up in my head over the whole thing and forgot that being reminded of a time where even if I didn’t agree with everything the guy in the White House did (he made terrible choices on education, which was the worst thing about his presidency, or at least his domestic policy) I at least trusted him to think. And there’s something to be said about voting for someone who you are absolutely certain is smarter than you. I wish I could do it more often, honestly.

(Before you say anything: Hillary Clinton and Kamala Harris are both smarter than me. I’m not convinced that Biden is, but he’s absolutely a better President than I could be.)

Anyway, go read the book. Even if you don’t tear through it like I did, it’s engaging and interesting, and while I can imagine someone who finds it a little dry (did you find Obama too professorial? You will feel the same way about the book. He gets into the weeds.) I am absolutely not that person. Maybe wait for paperback, as the list price of the hardcover is $45, but go read it.

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Luther M. Siler

The author of SKYLIGHTS, THE BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES and several other books.

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