REVIEW: A Promised Land

By Barack Obama

Reviewed By Jessica T. Mathews

Obama is a gifted writer. His prose is lean, supple, graphic, and lively. In a dozen words, he can snap a memorable picture of a political interlocutor or a foreign leader.

He set out to recount what happened during his presidency, elucidate the subtleties of policy debates, and convey “what it’s like to be the president of the United States.”

Although he has succeeded in each, these multiple ambitions mean that what was intended to be a single-volume, 500-page memoir ended up being 700 pages and only covering the first 30 months of his presidency.

The book’s length is also the result of thoughtful but unfinished conversations he holds with himself on nearly every subject. Phrases such as “To this day I wonder . . . whether I should have been bolder” appear on the page after page.

Obama began writing only a month after the end of his eight-year tenure as president. Had he taken longer to digest the experience, more of these open-ended reflections might have reached conclusions.

Perhaps that will come in the next instalment, which may also address some of the odd omissions in this volume, such as the nuclear policy issues to which he devoted so much effort while in office.


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