A presidential journey

In the first volume of his presidential memoirs, Barack Obama writes about his campaign and events during his first term

Illustration of man at the end of a long table sitting in a chair and writing on a piece of paper in the White House oval office

Illustration by Ellen Weinstein

The first of two planned volumes, “A Promised Land” (Crown) provides candid details of the relationships and decisions that shaped the life and presidency of Barack Obama ’91. He writes of his political journey, including the mistakes he made in his first, unsuccessful campaign for Congress and the initial resistance of his wife, Michelle ’88, to his running for president. He covers well-known moments from that presidential campaign, such as the controversy that arose over his relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and lesser-known ones, such as a tense exchange with his then-rival Hillary Clinton on a tarmac.

book coverHis presidency began in the midst of a financial crisis, requiring Obama to assess divergent opinions on what stimulus package to propose that would both pass Congress and restore a cratering economy. He also provides full accounts of other significant events of his time in office, particularly related to health care reform and the mission to find Osama bin Laden, which ends the volume. And he shares the content of many one-on-one conversations with close advisers like David Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel, and Valerie Jarrett.

In addition to the historic decisions that define a presidency, Obama points to myriad small moments that make up the job of a president: He holds a practice session on the proper way to salute at the behest of a staffer; he discovers all his clothes perfectly pressed and displayed by White House valets; he attends White House shows by famous performers like Paul McCartney, who sang the Beatles song “Michelle” to his wife.

Through the successes and disappointments of his tenure, he retains his belief, as the title suggests, in the promise of America. “If I remain hopeful,” he writes, “it’s because I’ve learned to place my faith in my fellow citizens, especially those of the next generation, whose conviction in the equal worth of all people seems to come as second nature, and who insist on making real those principles that their parents and teachers told them were true but perhaps never fully believed themselves.”

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See additional recent alumni books from the Bulletin Summer 2021 issue.