The headline from Britain’s The Independent reads, “Barack Obama’s A Promised Land review: An elegant, thoughtful memoir from the coolest president America ever had.”
I couldn’t put it better myself and would highly recommend paddling your way through the 700-odd pages of Obama’s latest bestseller. Even if you think you have a good idea about how he became president and what happened while he was in the White House, Obama’s book offers a unique firsthand account and is simply a delight to read.
Even when Obama is describing things that have been described many times before, he seems to do it in a way that is fresh and profound. His description of the Oval Office, for example, blends commentary on the processes and portent involved in running America from the room with an interest in detail and a turn of phrase that Ernest Hemingway might have been proud of. For example:
“There are the busts of long-dead leaders and Remington’s famous bronze cowboy; the antique grandfather clock and the built-in bookcases; the thick oval carpet with a stern eagle stitched into its center; and the Resolute desk—a gift from Queen Victoria in 1880, ornately carved from the hull of a British ship that a U.S. whaling crew helped salvage after a catastrophe, full of hidden draws and nooks and with a central panel that pops open, delighting any child who has a chance to crawl through it.”
Structurally, the book trips along the chronology from Obama’s birth to the assassination of Osama Bin Laden in 2011 (there’s a Volume II coming for everything after that). It’s an easy read that capture Obama’s own story, while offering surprisingly clear general histories of key events, such as the global financial crisis. And unlike Bill Clinton’s presidential memoir, for instance, it doesn’t become bogged down in acknowledging or thanking every person Obama has ever met.
In fact, we like Obama’s writing so much at Editor Group that we once created, and trademarked, a writing training course called ‘Write Like Obama®’. That course centred on what we saw as seven pillars of Obama’s prose. Those were as follows and they’re all on full display in A Promised Land:
- Clarity: Obama uses language to inform rather than confuse.
- Tone: He matches the tone of his writing to the audience it is intended for and the purpose for which it is written.
- Structure: He builds his documents so they work as wholes, from powerful beginning to ringing end.
- Detail: He adds conviction and resonance to his writing with carefully observed detail and powerful facts.
- Nuance: Obama expresses ideas simply but not simplistically.
- Poetry: He enhances the power of his prose with poetic devices.
- Rhetoric: He uses a rich repertoire of rhetorical devices to connect with and influence his audience.
If you like the idea of any of those points, Obama’s book offers a writing masterclass. A further tip is to get it as an audiobook, so you get not just the information but hours and hours of the author’s famously melodious voice. And we do still have the Write Like Obama® course, so let us know if you’d like us to dust it off to deliver some time at your organisation!
By Grant Butler