cover image A Promised Land

A Promised Land

Barack Obama. Crown, $45 (751p) ISBN 978-1-5247-6316-9

In the first volume of his presidential memoirs, Obama (The Audacity of Hope) delivers a remarkably introspective chronicle of his rise to the White House and his first two-and-a-half years in office. Aiming to give readers "a sense of what it's like to be the president of the United States," Obama mixes thorough rundowns of legislative matters (the Affordable Care Act, the DREAM Act) and foreign affairs (the Arab Spring, the assassination of Osama bin Laden) with intimate details about the doubts he felt in launching his presidential campaign, the strangeness of life in the public eye, and the toll his political ambitions took on his family life. He gives ample credit to campaign staffers, White House aides, and lawmakers for his successes, and holds himself accountable for mistakes, including his 2008 remarks about working-class Republican voters who "get bitter" and "cling to guns or religion," and his failure to "rally the nation... behind what I knew to be right" ahead of the 2010 midterms, which saw Democrats lose control of the House of Representatives. Though he offers blunt assessments of opponents, including Republican senator Mitch McConnell and the Koch brothers, Obama also expresses grudging admiration for the discipline of their messaging. The book is shot through with memorable turns of phrase (letters from constituents "were like an IV drip from the real world") and astute history lessons and policy analysis. This sterling account rises above the crowded field of presidential postmortems. (Nov.)