Barack Obama was an award-winning author before he was a Nobel Peace Prize-winning president. The publication of the first volume of his presidential memoirs, A Promised Land, this November, has been a long awaited event and sales are expected to be every bit as sensational as they were for Becoming, the memoir published by Michelle Obama in 2018.
Barack Obama’s first foray into memoir was Dreams from My Father, the much acclaimed memoir about his early life growing up in the United States and his pilgrimage to Kenya, the country where his father had been born and to which he returned when Barack was a young child.
Before becoming President he wrote The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, which was published in 2006. This was something of a political manifesto, setting out his vision for how to deliver on the promise of democracy and how to try and overcome the obstacles and obstructions that partisanship, special interests and money can often throw in its way. Finally, a collection of his speeches were published in 2017 as We Are the Change We Seek. These cover speeches from his early political career and throughout his eight years as President.
While there’s no substitute for listening to Obama tell us about himself, if you’d like to read books about him, there are two books by Five Books interviewees worth pointing to: firstly Barack Obama: The Story, a highly readable book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and biographer David Maraniss, which is not just the story of Obama, but also of his extraordinary family. For a more academic assessment of his presidency, Princeton historian Julian Zelizer has edited an excellent volume entitled The Presidency of Barack Obama: A First Historical Assessment.
Interviews where books by Barack Obama were recommended
Long-time foreign correspondent Michaela Wrong, the author of books on Zaire, Eritrea, Kenya and Rwanda, tells us where to turn for engaging foreign perspectives on Africa. She recommends five of her favourite books on Africa, by anthropologists, journalists and one US president.
When you listen to presidential memoirs as audiobooks, you can hear an American president telling you their own story—at least when it comes to recent presidents. Going further back in time, biographies may be more useful. Veteran audiobook reviewer Robin Whitten, editor of Audiofile magazine, recommends the best audiobooks about US presidents, and explains the crucial role of professional narrators in bringing big books to life.
Twilight of Democracy
by Anne Applebaum
The Narrow Corridor: States, Societies, and the Fate of Liberty
by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson
The Great Demographic Illusion: Majority, Minority, and the Expanding American Mainstream
by Richard Alba
Self-Portrait in Black and White: Family, Fatherhood and Rethinking Race
by Thomas Chatterton Williams
A Promised Land
by Barack Obama
Despite the challenge of authoritarian populism and a new divisiveness in political debate in many countries around the world there are reasons for optimism, argues political scientist Yascha Mounk, author of The People vs. Democracy. He talks us through his selection of the best politics books of 2020.