• JTF

A Promised Land: Idealism Forged in Ambivalence


Who is it for: Humans, political junkies, BIPOC populations, Americans.

What makes it special: Sincerity and swagger, both of which the author has in abundance.

Let's make some unnecessary labels: Modern Political Theory, International Relations, Biography, Racial Awareness Education, American History, Ethicism.

Barack Obama's biography narrates his journey to the presidency and his experience during the first term of his administration with charming, sincere, heartfelt, and inspiring recollection. Despite coming in at over 700 pages or 28 hours of audio - a fact easy to overlook for a man that provided nonstop service to his country - the book flows with ease and succinct delivery, both of which are speech characteristics of its author.

Obama's book is unique because of the quiet and intimate moments where he allows the reader to peek behind his brilliant and well-organized thought process. The writing reflects many of the greatest assets and perhaps liabilities of its author. It is idealistic, full of heart, nuanced, deliberate, and ambitious. Its sheer size makes the case to have it broken into at least two separate installments, all with enough material to make for a substantiative piece of literature. Divided into seven parts, each section offers a distinct period narrated chronologically.

In 'the bet,' Obama explains the origins and ingredients of how he would become one of the most influential figures in a generation. He does so with candor, a tremendous sense of humanity, and a reminder that everyone's experience laces and at times determine the outcome of their future. As a biracial child growing up in Hawaii and Indonesia, 'Bar' - his family nickname - experiences the ambivalence that all multiracial and outlier populations face growing up in a homogenous community with a composition different than their own. It is here where Obama forges his empathetic and analytical qualities while trying to understand the world around him and his place within it.

Even though the former president's intellectual giftedness is undisputed, it can be argued that his personal experiences and background played as much a part as the work, dedication, and opportunity afforded to him through his intellect and self-discipline. Those outlier variables separate him from the pool of gifted,and hard-working individuals who often share the ranks among other people with great futures.

Obama's ambition - likely a residual from needing to prove himself - is a powerful complement to his innate emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence he would hone during his early years as a counselor and city organizer on Chicago's south side. The experience in the 'mainland' blended with his unique formative years on the Islands create a unique recipe for a vastly adaptable, sensitive, and self-aware individual. There is no doubt his experience's ambivalence helped him become the first black president of the United States.

The author explains the power of race as he addresses in later sections how systemic inequality and racism are prominent factors that perpetuate a system where those born within homogenous populations rarely stray away from their predisposed roles. Thus, Obama, who has no place to settle, becomes the only choice capable of breaking through to achieve his post within the highest government office.

The book's first sections: the bet, yes we can, and renegade, are incredibly heartfelt, honest, and intimate. The author's narration of his story offers a gift to others in the form of representation. Even for those with no political inclinations or those who find international relations and history tedious and unnecessary. The first three sections compile what could have been a complete biography. A literary work that could become required reading for BIPOC children worldwide, one that offers an example of excellence. Those chapters possess the tried and true formula of a David and Goliath storyline, which would likely resonate with a vast array of readers.

However, his book does not stop there. The fourth section labeled 'the good fight' works as a transition between the first and the latter part of his literary work. It takes the reader from a deeply personal story of triumph, hardship, and ambition into a graduate-level course in international relations, American politics, and geopolitics. For me, as a political science and international relations major in a previous life, the transition felt natural, even welcomed, a trip down memory lane about statesmanship, political and military strategy, as well as diplomacy. However, the latter sections are likely to appear confusing or drawn out in details for a casual reader, packed with Obama's thorough and systematic thought process.

Regardless of the reader's political views or alignments, it cannot be denied that the author addresses this section in the same way he managed his presidency. As a law counselor, he carefully crafts and debates his arguments while leading the reader to conclude what he wants them to adjudicate. Just as his presidency, the sections are well prepared, ambitious, and at times overly methodical and idealistic, drizzled with enough optimism that they might work.

While the latter sections narrate both successes and missed opportunities. It is important to stress that this does not make the second part of the memoir less worthy of attention. In many cases, there is no shortage of accomplishments to what ended being a trunked presidency, a presidency cut short by the obstructionism of the Republican Party. According to my arbitrary division of the book, there is a common thread between the first and second part, one that continues to showcase the experience of the first black president from a humane and intimate perspective even if the stakes and the events detach from the wholesomeness of the book at the beginning. Despite the context, the narrative continues as an honest and personal recollection of Obama's experience.

Overall, the book is a gift to anyone who can commit to reading it. It is an essential piece of literature for those in search of representation. It offers a history lesson with a healthy dose of political theory. The entire experience is a welcome shot of hope and a reminder of the resilience of the human spirit. It is a sharp contrast from the rhetoric that supplanted Obama's legacy and a belated victory lap for one of the most successful and influential presidents in American history. The injustice of ignoring his legacy cannot be rescinded. Still, the book offers some opportunity for celebration in the overshadowed and under-recognized success of his administration. It reminds us of the long road to come in the search for equality and justice for all.