It is readily apparent from the length of this book that President Obama has enjoyed the works of Dostoevsky, and every page of this book is worth the read. This is not a good memoir. This is a good book full stop.
I can’t tell you the number of times I laughed, cried, and was otherwise deeply moved by this, the first volume of Obama’s record of his time in office. I went for the audio book, as I often do with autobiographies read by the author, and I strongly recommend it here. Unsurprisingly, President Obama brings his characteristic charm in delivering his beautifully, vividly, unpretentiously, and very frankly written account of events I recall from a vastly different perspective, back when I was a naive 20-year old only learning the herculean effort it takes to effect any kind of lasting change.
The President offers insights that I hadn’t considered, details of the obstacles he faced that were often either not reported on, misreported, or weren’t heard. As a young person, I really hadn’t truly understood the breathless speed with which the Obama administration worked, and I certainly didn’t understand the power that even a minority of Republicans could exert in stalling his agenda. Getting an insider’s view into why certain calls were made and how, what outcomes he was satisfied with and which he wasn’t, have provided an alternate perspective that meaningfully enriches my understanding of political dynamics I had, like most people, limited exposure to.
He also reflects on his experiences with his heart out, something that was likely impossible for a lot of his time in office. His confusion at having been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. His battle for affordable health care being driven, in part, by the sacrifices his mother and grandmother had to make to their own health to keep their family above water. His journey into politics driven by a need to find a community. The strategies he used to be able to leave politics with his soul intact. The President very deftly moves through events in a way that balances stressful, infuriating, painful, high stakes negotiations with jokes about Michelle or the girls mocking him, or celebrating victories with his staff.
For all the times that I cried, and I feel like I was on the verge of tears for about half of this twenty-nine-hour audio book, I laughed just as much. And I mean loud, having to pause the recording, belly laughs. As much as I’ve always enjoyed President Obama’s droll sense of humor, it comes across even better here, where he is untethered from the obligations of running for office or running a country. The President even swears. Who knew.
This book will be a balm to your heart as we face years of instability, even as some sanity returns to the White House. It reminded me that hope is hard, radical, powerful, and essential to making a difference.
Happy Inauguration Day, folks.