A Promised Land

I am delighted to have finally completed reading the book – “A Promised Land” by Barack Obama.

I must say – going through this book was quite a run. It took me more than a month. I spent the last whole weekend laying on the bed, reading this one – I exhausted myself to a point where I started to almost feel numb.

This post is not a review of the Presidential memoir – I do not think I am capable enough to be criticizing this book and breaking it down by the details. I just wanted to summarize everything that I learned from this book and my takeaways from his journey.

This very much reminded me of History books which we used to read in school. It felt like he took his diary entries from the past twenty so years and made it into a book – it is elaborately detailed. A lot of names – not relatable – faceless characters – assassinations – indirect hints – racism – media outlets – drama and thrill. 

The common theme I noticed – he took up a problem, described the situation, the main characters, the supporting characters, and built a plot thereafter. Has anyone ever complimented him for being such an amazing storyteller? 

Someone asked Mr. Obama if he ever felt “lucky” – to which he responded that he felt lucky every single day. He mentioned to the person that his full name is Barack “Hussein” Obama. With that middle name, he still managed to achieve something in the United States, which in itself is big deal. 

Highlights from the Book

Vision

  • Barack didn’t wake up one day and decide to take on the world problems into his own hands. He reads-reads-and-reads a lot. Most of the books he mentioned were non-fiction and related to Politics. That helped him form his ultimate vision. 
  • He dreamt of a better America. The one with no racial discrimination, equality, and more power handed to its citizens. It’s the vision which drove him through his career and has still kept him on the right path.
  • Many people would be surprised to know that until the age of 40, he had barely achieved “enough”. He was still struggling to pay his debts and was nowhere close to the Presidential race. The fact that he never gave up and kept moving ahead is a great example of how a strong vision and unshakeable passion for change can itself move things and change destinies.

Early Days

  • He mentions that his mighty will and determination were acquired from his family and good friends. His growing years in Hawaii and Indonesian roots gave him a strong holding of the political scenario.
  • He was brought up by two strong women, his grand-mom and mother. Both of them were opinionated and were way ahead of their times. In many sorts, they defied the “normal” of their times. The incidents set an example for young Barack. It’s not a surprise that he went on to marry Michelle who is a headstrong and independent woman herself. He talks about raising two daughters and the kind of values he wants them to inherit.
  • Barack talks about his early days at Columbia University where he pursued his Bachelors’s. He later took 2 years off to work with the local parties on campaign work. He shares that meeting people in-person during the campaign work made him more humble and grounded. He was quite high-necked and spoke in Law the whole time, but gradually it smoothened out. He learned – Not everyone will be able to pick the message he is conveying if he spoke in a cryptic law language.

Family

  • Instead of painting a perfect picture of him and Michelle, he puts down some of the harsh details of their married life. He talks about how his Political campaign work affected their relationship, how Michelle was struggling to take care of two young daughters when Barack was busy with his public appearances for State and later country-wide elections. 
  • They also went for couples therapy. It was refreshing to learn about it, not all personalities are open to sharing such details about their life. He missed out on a lot during his active Political days.
  • Michelle was the perfect first lady – a lady of poise, and glamor. She provided unconditional support to her dear husband, Barack. She always was careful about her position in the legal matters – and tried not to cross the line and take part in the legal decisions as her role didn’t have scope for it. She never cared about the public persona and tried everything the best shot.

Media Coverage

  • He touches on the topic of how his family was targeted by the Media houses when they suddenly came in limelight by becoming a democratic candidate. His writing felt agitated and this came up multiple times in the book. 
  • Michelle was tagged as being “too stubborn” and a misfit for being the First Lady. Barack on the other side was criticized and mocked for his last name. It sounded too similar to “Osama”. Conspiracy theories also made up stories that he was apparently “plotted” in the United States to pass on secret information. They had no proof, the media was basically the most popular tweets as legitimate cases on TV. Media outlets thought he was too extreme and not a good fit for being a democratic candidate. 
  • One of the major motivating factors for him was that If he becomes the President, he’ll be the first Black President of the United States. He’d be the face for a million kids who can look at him and aspire to follow his path. He can set an example for Black Americans across as to what can be achieved with sheer hard work and dedication. Unfortunately, the media did not hesitate to mock his “black” heritage, and dug dip into his childhood to find something that can prove that he isn’t black “enough”. That was quite funny to me.

One of the most intimate quotes in the book comes from his mother “As you grow old, you don’t change at all inside. Inside you – you stay the same jolly person, but the bare bones make you helpless. It deprives you of a long life.”

Presidential Race

  • One of my favorite parts was the fight for becoming the Democratic Candidate. He talks about Hillary Clinton, and how he empathized with her for doing everything she did in the face of all the criticism she had to face as the wife of Bill Clinton. I found this part to be utterly honest. He tries his best to defend Hillary’s tactics only to cement his own. We all know the results, but somehow I was curious as to how Hillary took the defeat.
  • The winning and hugging moments when Presidential results were out. I could feel the victory through his words – I was happy for him and his entire campaign team.
  • I got goosebumps when he mentioned that choosing between John McCain and him will decide the future of millions of Americans for decades to come.

The Tenure

  • He dedicated almost a chapter to Joe Biden. About two decades older than Barack, he brings out the other side of Joe in the book that the world is not familiar with. His wife and daughter were killed, his son died due to cancer, his remarriage, his commitment to Politics. Despite all tragic events, He is energetic, cheerful, and full of enthusiasm. He sure deserves to be the 46th President of the United States.
  • His failed attempt at uniting the Democratic and Republican parties. He talks about how he tried to have Republicans’ word in big decisions – and how the Republicans always condoned his decisions.
  • The transition from normal life to being the President of the United States was fun to read. They asked their new staff to wear “normal” clothes, and they obediently denied stating they wish to treat the Obama family with the same respect and dignity as the earlier families who resided in the House.
  • He gives a detailed account of his staff members – brings them to the spotlight by mentioning their names.
  • How Michelle’s mother took care of Sasha and Malia when both the parents were busy taking care of the business and work.

Crisis

  • He was warned about the 2008 Housing Market crash by his wallstreet friends. Yet, he took it lightly and discarded the warnings. He already had a lot on the plate at that time, so he neglected the apparent warnings. The same problem came flying on his face as soon as he joined the office. 
  • The whole debacle for the Stimulus bill and the friction by the opposing party.
  • Stress Test for Housing Market – The stress test exercises that were conducted would ensure that the Banks have enough capital to survive any shocks. So, as part of the test, the bankers were made to “image the unimaginable”. 
  • He praises himself and his legislation for steering the market and the country toward a better path during the global crises in 2009. He wrote a letter to himself acknowledging his work.

World Leaders

  • Barack’s first big conference – G20 summit. His acute observations and detailed descriptions of the world leaders. His strong opinions on Russia. He has a full-length description for Putin. 
  • He commented on how China can outgrow the United States, to become a global leader. China has all favorable conditions like a high-skilled population, culturally-rich, unity, and a developing mindset. The only thing pulling the country down is the conservative political parties, and that might hinder their progress. He says that the US is all up for the battle of the countries to compete against China. 
  • India was also mentioned, but nothing substantial, just some observations by the President. He talks about Manmohan Singh. I think Putin, and Manmohan Singh’s descriptions stood out the most for me in the book.
  • He sure can win over anyone in negotiations. G20 was one such example of it. He won deals that took everyone by surprise.

War Zone

  • He mentions his visits to the military hospitals to meet the injured soldiers in Afghanistan War. He gives a detailed account of the challenges to bring down the terrorist groups. 
  • Some of the common scenes at the hospital were – seeing young men struggling for their lives, meeting handicapped soldiers and their families – it’s heart-wrenching to learn that most of these soldiers were aged less than 25. One thing he wanted to work on was to bring down people dying on the battlefield.
  • He had dedicated a time to read Letters from the soldiers and veterans – it helped him to understand their circumstances. He definitely wanted the Afghan war to end, so the soldiers can safely return to their families back in the US.

The Rest

  • The best memory of Obama’s administration was the Healthcare Reform Law. He shares his personal story of how a healthcare plan gave them security when Sasha was diagnosed with some disease as a kid. Without a healthcare plan, they would have been in instant trouble. Hence, he wanted every citizen to have that security in the face of an emergency.
  • He shares his fond childhood memories, a California trip with his family as a kid, and how he was fascinated by the country scape. As a father of two young daughters, he shares how times have changed, and how today’s kids have lost the aptitude to appreciate Nature. He says they are “always in their phones – plugged in”!
  • He pushed the Environment Protection Bill to all the World Leaders at one of the global summits. He negotiated the deal, almost blackmailing the leaders into signing it, though not in a bad way. This was fun to read – mark it if you want to learn some negotiation skills. 
  • Deep Water Horizon Oil spill – Small leak under the ocean which led to big Blast. It killed marine creatures in the surrounding space. In no time, Media started pointing to Obama somehow stating he was doing “enough”. This happened while he was in South America – he quickly hired a team of experts, made some bold choices, sealed the leaking area, and got the problem sorted – all this while meeting other country leads. 
  • Media blindly follow the Republican Idea – “Govt was the problem, not the company. Govt is trying to save money. They didn’t want to spend money on important things” This was a completely wrong message that the media didn’t at all hesitate to spread. 
  • The dramatic ending with the killing of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. Hands down! The whole military operation was stretched into two chapters, and writing almost felt like a movie script. This happened when Obama was surrounded by the “natural birth controversy” – this event ultimately shut down all the jokers. The revenge was finally taken! The mastermind behind 9/11 was captured – in the most civilized way possible. Definitely Go read this part. 

——————————– Yes, We Can ——————————–

These were just the highlights!!!! The book was mainly written to cement Barack’s name and legacy for the next generations. He will be remembered as a hardworking, visionary, and inspiring figure of this decade.

This video hits different if you see it after completing the book. You almost feel connected to him, as you spent almost 30 hours of your life reading his journey and learning his experience.

PS – I thought of reading “Becoming” by Michelle Obama after this. But, just wanted to go light on me – so I decided to take up “Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah as my next adventure. He is one of my favorite standup comedians and I am excited to learn more about his early life. Looking forward to it.

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