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Book: A Promised Land, by Barack Obama

"A Promised Land" is a political memoir written by the 44th President of United States – Mr. Barack Obama. It is quite a voluminous book with 902 pages (cover to cover), 689 pages (excluding photograph inserts, acknowledgements, credits and index). But an autobiography of a former US President of such stature, who has done tremendous work during two terms of his Presidency, it is obvious. And hang in there - this is just the first volume of the title.

Though I planned to finish reading this book by end of 2021, I took a little more than 4 months to complete. I started to read the autobiography precisely the same time I started this blog, so most of my personal time went into learning, building, writing, editing, proof-reading and re-reading my work and hence the delay in completing this wonderful book.

                                            

In this volume, Mr. Obama details his personal life, career before politics, political career, campaigns, all prominent events during his first term in the White House and ends with meeting the team that raided and killed Osama Bin Laden, at his hide out.  

One of the most appealing aspects about this book is Mr. Obama had been very transparent and straight forward in explaining his journey. He had been honest in describing his teen life including his smoking habit, drug usage, unsuccessful attempts at wooing girls; self-checking if he is trying to just satisfy his ego by running for Presidency or really intends to create a difference in the lives of millions of Americans.

He had been equally honest and genuine in putting across his opinions and encounters with political heads of major nations during his tenure like the French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel, Russia President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin, India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, former US President Bush, Donald Trump etc. in this book. 

Another aspect is his style of writing. Not even at one point, the reader will realize he is reading a memoir. The events unfold so gracefully that he believes he is in a one-on-one dialogue with Mr. Obama. The language is so simple and the way of storytelling very compelling.

Many criticized the book for being too detailed covering all the events and people involved in his journey. For those who haven't yet read the book, yes Mr. Obama has explained at length about the background for getting into politics; issues pertaining to the great recession and unemployment, deep water horizon, equal pay, LGBTQ rights in the US; political unrest in the Middle Eastern countries and US’s support for them etc. Personally, I felt that was very essential to provide holistic view, which otherwise doesn't give the reader the depth of socio-economic impact these issues posed.

The episodes involving war, unrest he went through whenever he had to send military troops to a war zone, his mental state when visiting hospitalized military personnel and meeting the grieving military family members depicts how strongly he opposed war. But ironically, he inherited the Iraq and Afghanistan wars that began during his predecessor's administration and presided over the complete withdrawal of US military forces from Iraq.

The chapters on how Mr. Obama strived hard to revive American economy after the great depression through Recovery Act in 2009; reform healthcare through Affordable Care Act in 2010, benefitting millions of Americans who were deprived of quality health care at affordable cost; Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act which gave women employees the power to sue employers denying them fair pay on the basis of gender; LGBTQ rights through DADT (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell); the DREAM Act to provide temporary legal residence and a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants staying in the US, reflect the personal encounters he and his family (grandmother, mother, relatives etc.) faced in the past, the values with which he was brought up and the importance he gave to mankind irrespective of nationality, race, gender and color.

Mr. Obama took every opportunity in this book, to appreciate his staff who assisted him in his journey, not just limiting to his political aids like Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, Joe Biden, Reggie Love, John Favreau, Robert Gibbs, Valerie Jarret, Michael Mullen etc., but admired his support staff like security personnel, chefs, etc. which we seldom witness now-a-days and proves once again what a great leader he is. 

Though this book majorly focuses on his political life, he touches upon his personal aspects in between. He reminiscences about his wife Michelle and turns nostalgic “there were nights when, lying next to Michelle in the dark, I’d think about those days when everything between us felt lighter, when her smile was more constant and our love less encumbered, and my heart would suddenly tighten at the thought that those days might not return.” He had to limit his family trips, dinner dates with Michelle owing to the security aspect and media coverage involved. He was constantly surrounded by media, not allowed to carry a personal mobile and had to use a blackberry which was modified to send/receive mails from only a small list of contacts, approved by cybersecurity personnel.

In another instance, he recalls how he missed to witness the growth of his two daughters. He mentions “Michelle and I tried to approximate a normal childhood for my daughters, it was hard if not impossible for me to take them places like an ordinary dad would. We couldn’t go to an amusement park together, making an impromptu stop for burgers along the way. I couldn’t take them, as I once had, on lazy Sunday afternoon bike rides”; “If the girls felt a sense of loss over this, they didn’t show it. But I felt it acutely.”

Just before Mr. Obama made his final decision to run for US Presidential election, in a team meeting on staffing and logistics for the campaign, Michelle asks Mr. Obama, “Why do you need to be President?” for which he sums up his vision as "There’s no guarantee we can pull it off. Here’s one thing I know for sure, though. I know that the day I raise my right hand and take the oath to be president of the United States, the world will start looking at America differently. I know that kids all around this country—Black kids, Hispanic kids, kids who don’t fit in—they’ll see themselves differently, too, their horizons lifted, their possibilities expanded. And that alone…that would be worth it.” This not only tore up and made everyone in that room still, but mine too!!! 

This book is a genuine, self-critical, elaborate and beautifully written memoir by one of the finest leaders the world has witnessed. I am looking forward to the publication of second volume and much eager to read Mr. Obama’s review about his Presidential tenure - does he consider himself successful in transforming America into the nation he dreamt of? 

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