A Promised Land summary
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A Promised Land Summary | Barack Obama

A Promised Land summary

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Barack Obama’s Perspective

Barack Obama served as the 44th President of the United States. He was the first African-American US President. After graduating from Columbia University in 1983, Obama worked as a community organizer in Chicago. In 1988, he enrolled in Harvard Law School, where he was the first black person to be president of the Harvard Law Review. In 2008, Obama was nominated for president a year after his presidential campaign began. He was elected over Republican John McCain. A year later, he was named the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. 

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A Promised Land is the first of two presidential memoirs by Barack Obama. Obama welcomes readers into his childhood, adolescence, and onward to his political career. This political memoir covers every significant decision Obama had to make by 2011. It outlines the thought process behind these decisions. Obama is honest about the challenges he experienced, having adopted financial instability. He also outlines that he had to straddle between optimistic hope and the reality of tough decision-making.

StoryShot #1: Obama’s Childhood in Hawaii

Obama covers his childhood in each of his books. This is the first book to describe his upbringing in Hawaii in depth. After living in Indonesia for his younger childhood, Obama moved back to Hawaii and lived with his maternal grandparents. These grandparents had left the Midwest before Obama was born to escape the racial turmoil of the 1960s. Obama was a teenager and went by the nickname ‘Barry.’ He spent his teenage years in Hawaii playing basketball and chasing girls. He still retains strong friendships from this time, and his transformation astonishes these childhood friends. To them, the teenage Barry turning into President Obama is a miracle. These same passions for sport and girls transferred over to his college days. He did not engage with student groups or political clubs. Instead, he spent most of his time playing basketball and partying.

Obama states that part of his insufficient direction at this age was because he was uneasy in his own skin. He describes himself as ‘from everywhere and nowhere at once.’ Obama hardly knew his father. Barack Obama Sr. worked in Kenya, and they only ever met once when Barack Jr. was ten. But the two Baracks kept in touch by letter. This lack of a secure identity led Obama to his eventual cure: books. He frequently visited a jumble sale in Honolulu and came home with piles of second-hand books. These books and the characters within them became his companions and solace. That said, Obama admits he also had mixed motives for reading certain books. For example, he read Marx to talk to the ‘long-legged socialist’ who lived in his dorm. He also read Foucault to connect with ‘the ethereal bisexual who wore mostly black.’ Obama loved reading, but he also continued to have a passion for fascinating women.

Another habit Obama picked up during his adolescence was smoking. This is a habit that he struggled to tackle during the early years of his presidency. Obama admits he sometimes secretly smoked up to ten cigarettes a day. The inspiration for him quitting was his daughter, Malia. Malia frowned upon the smell of smoke on Obama’s breath. This was enough to stop his smoking habit.

StoryShot #2: Obama’s Fuel for Presidency

As Obama grew older, he was fueled by social change. He started asking questions about race and social class after experiencing the massive gap between the 1% and the rest of America. At Occidental College, Obama learned more about politics, but his passion remained with social change. This passion is what encouraged him to run for office in the first place. Another inspiration for his political pursuits was his mother. Obama’s mother was always highly opinionated and spent her life rebelling against the conventions. This rebellion included advocating against the Vietnam war and fighting for women’s rights. Although Barack’s mother, Stanley Ann, was not actively involved in politics, she inspired Barack to apply this same passion as the President.

Obama admits there were occasions where his ego took over. This occurred in his failures and successes. He would always notice this, though. He would refocus on the importance of social change and be angry at himself for letting his ego take over. It took Obama a while to understand that politics was his purpose for social change. The first moment he understood this was seeing Harold Washington become the first black mayor of Chicago. This moment encouraged Barack that one day he could also create change through politics. So, Obama suggests to readers that having a purpose from a young age is not essential. You will learn in time how to implement your passions into a specific purpose.

StoryShot #3: Obama’s Illinois Senate Race

Another factor that fueled Obama was his family. Obama explains that one of his biggest failures happened when running for a congressional seat in Illinois in the mid-1990s. The result of this election was a resounding loss. Obama was trounced by his competitor. He uses this failure as an example of how he regroups. After failure, Obama returns to his constant, which is his family. Obama spoke to Michelle and questioned whether politics was his purpose in life. The result was understanding that he should try again, but he needed to regroup and get better. Obama then won the 1996 Illinois Senate race. He served three terms in this position, running from 1997 to 2004. Obama attributes this improvement to spending more time with his family after his failure. This decision allowed Obama to regain his balance. In 2003, Obama gained recognition for opposing George W. Bush’s war in Iraq. The following year, he won a United States Senate seat with a record victory margin of 70% to 27%.

StoryShot #4: Obama’s Political Development

Despite this balance, Michelle was not entirely behind Barack, attempting to run for Senate again. She recognized the importance of Barack spending time with the family and knew that a successful bid would be a barrier. That said, Barack believed in his ability to make a difference. After winning, he decided to follow in Hilary Clinton’s footsteps. Hilary placed massive importance on being a working senator rather than a glamor senator. She wanted to make a difference, rather than only being there to make up the numbers and respond to the media. Barack was the same. He didn’t want the spotlight; he simply wanted to work hard and make a difference. But Hurricane Katrina highlighted it wouldn’t be so easy to get things done. Barack learned the Senate was filled with posturing, which made real change difficult. So, he started to realize that he would need to run for president to achieve his purpose.

Obama notes that others around him seemed to have more confidence in his ability to become president than he did. That said, Obama was still aware that he had to be ready if and when his opportunity came. This awareness allowed Obama to run for president at the right time for the country and himself.

StoryShot #5: A Low-Tech Solution to a Massive Decision

A Promised Land uncovers the intricate details of massive decisions Obama made during his presidency. For example, Obama explains an alternative approach he had to take when calling his first military intervention in Libya. Obama was in Brazil at the time. He had been given a high-tech communication system that was supposed to be super-secure. Just as Obama needed to use it, it stopped working. So, Obama had to use a regular cell phone to make the significant decision of intervening in Libya. The way Obama described this phone was it had probably already been used to order pizza. This same phone was used to deliver a cryptic command to a general in Washington.


We rate A Promised Land 4.5/5.

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