So I warn you that this review will have an extremely liberal internationalist bias, and I don’t want to create unnecessary drama, which politics will inevitably do sometimes. So feel free to skip this review if you don’t want to read about this. We’re all book lovers, let’s be civil 🙂
I’m not sure if I have mentioned this before, but most days I drive to work with a friend, and we always listen to an audiobook 🙂
And because this is a long book (almost 30 hours), and we had been working from home a couple of times a week, then she went on holiday, then I had a holiday, then the company we work for had a summer shutdown, it’s been slow going. A whole whopping 3 months to get through this book because the both of us needed to be in the car for us to listen to it.
But let me tell you, this was such a treat. I loved all aspects of this book.
Let me preface this review with a disclaimer that I was not born, nor have I ever lived in the US. I was born in Brazil, and have lived in Europe on and off again since I left university in 2006. I did my master’s degree in the US, but on a partially online scheme, which meant I was never there longer than 3-4 weeks at a time a couple times a year and only after Obama left office. Alas, the world is still largely US-centric, be it driven by Hollywood, or TV, or popular culture in general, so here I find myself wanting to read about their former president despite myself.
With that out of the way, let’s get on with this review. First of all, if you want to pick this up, I highly recommend the audio. Obama’s narration was like a soothing balm to me after a long day of work. I could just let go of the stress under his calm, steady cadence and thoughtful commentary.
Just for a quick summary, Obama talks about the circumstances that brought him into politics: the influence from his mother and grandparents, growing up in Hawaii, living in Indonesia, college, law school, starting out as a community leader, his time on the state senate, how the resurfacing of a speech he’d given years before propelled him into the spotlight and the senate, and finally the presidential campaign and his first 2 years as president.
Yes. This 30-hour book doesn’t have enough time to go past his decision to run for re-election. And that’s because Obama really reflects on all his actions, basically taking us with him step-by-step on his decision process and it’s fascinating.
Obama took office in the midst of the financial crisis in 2008/2009 and I had no idea how much he actually managed to get done within those first 2 years. He discusses in detail the approach they took on the financial crisis, healthcare reform, climate initiatives, foreign policy, retreating from Iraq, doubling down on Al Qaeda finishing up with the operation that killed Bin Laden.
While a lot of what he discussed and achieved are in my opinion very small steps towards giving his people access to things that should be universal human rights (i.e. free healthcare), you can see what victories they are when you consider the minefield that American politics are.
All is interspaced with a level of self-awareness I feel is lacking from politicians these days. He explains his thought-process, but also analyses his decision in hindsight, owning up to his mistakes, while clearly doing the best he could with the information he had available at the time. And he still manages to sound hopeful despite the unbelievable resistance faced by every single idea or improvement he proposed. I’m kind of looking forward for a second part of his memoir, where he discusses the last 6 years of his presidency, and the slow fall into this abyss of bigotry and nationalism that not only America, but large parts of the world fell into following those hopeful times covered in the first book.
All I can say is, in a world of so much disinformation these days, it was a breath of fresh air to get so much thoughtfulness and transparency. 5/5