5 Things I Learned From Reading Barack Obama’s Latest Memoir

Stephen Ngao
7 min readDec 1, 2020



A Promised Land is a memoir written by the 44th U.S. President, Barack Obama; it details the events of his Administration’s first term. This first volume of the two-part memoir is broken into seven parts.

Here’s a list of 5 takeaways I encountered from reading the book :

  • I Love Your Words, Man!
  • Banker’s Bailout vs. Joe the Plumber
  • Seedy Politics, Even Seedier Congress
  • Black People Are Just Way Too Cool
  • If The World is Flat, Then Jump!

I Love Your Words, Man!

It’s honestly refreshing to hear a former president speak eloquently about a gamut of global events. From the blunt assessments of his own agenda, to the descriptiveness of his interactions with other people, he’s tapped into something that young people can glean from right away. In so few ways, he’s able to take an idea or a philosophy and dissect it in the professorial prose most voters either seemed to forget or overlooked simply because it’s just too damn wordy. Whereas, with his successor (i.e. the man with the word salad), Obama makes the effort to disassociate himself from the opposition party by stating the arguments and supporting them with facts. If you’ve ever seen TV shows like VEEP or House of Cards, it seems that the former president implies the level of “verbal jousting” isn’t as far off from what they convey — witty banter littered with curse words to get certain points across. Though, I’d caution any future readers to brace yourself with the amount of parentheses he uses intermittently (like seriously, it was a bit too much for me).

Banker’s Bailout vs. Joe the Plumber

Around the middle part of his memoir, Obama reflects on the hard-pressed decisions his team faced in the middle of a crumbling economy because of Wall Street’s greed. While he does his part in explaining the build up of how the subprime mortgage market eventually caused one of the largest bubbles in economic history, it goes without saying that he ultimately jumped on the backs of those more versed in Keynesian economics. Granted, he admits that he didn’t major in economics, it’s evident that the actions his team took were largely influenced to increase aggregate demand. He makes the case for how globalization influenced job loss in our country because of rising economies like China and India, as well as the outsourcing done by multinationals to put themselves ahead of the capitalist forefront at the expense of the average-day American worker.

However, it was interesting to learn more about his mother’s work performing microfinance in Indonesia. He also talks about his grandmother’s career in the banking industry. You would think that the lessons they taught him about being financially prudent, learning to stick to a budget, that he would consequently apply it to his own agenda. Instead, banks were given bailouts because of their greedy tentacles entrenching the levers of the American economy.

I was left with the impression that folks like his mother and his grandparents would have cared more for “Joe the Plumber” than for Wall Street. Though, the matter of pulling the plug or switching the doormat while our feet are still standing atop of it seemed like a riskier play than fully pivoting from the status quo attributed to the capital gains of the global credit market as propagated by the same folks who never got arrested for their heinous crimes. He speculates that the impression of how the bankers received their bailout might’ve led to the fallout in voter turnout for the 2010 midterm elections.

Seedy Politics, Even Seedier Congress

So often during the memoir, Obama took great lengths to defend the decisions his Administration made. The pattern here implies that whether a policy has good intentions from the start, they ultimately get watered down because of all the special interests involved (he exemplifies this with the ACA in particular). Both Democrats and Republicans would offer their support for certain bills but always on conditional terms. This often required the Obama Administration to make concessions or alter bills between the different levels of Congress just to get something passed. I think for a lot of voters, especially the younger ones who voted for him in the first place, noticed this and became upset with the way politics are done in Washington D.C.

It also goes without saying that because of his race, Obama received plenty of double standards. He makes effort to explain how and why folks like John Boehner and Mitch McConnell explicitly enacted to deny his term from receiving any positive success, even if it meant reneging a bill for the betterment of the country. Voters should take note of how much self-interests play a part in the political process. An interesting segment is when he references the insemination of the Tea Party and the role that conservative media outlets played in breeding the ‘birtherism’ movement which ultimately led to the rise of Donald Trump. Nevertheless, If we want a better government, we need to have better transparency and hold those accountable to their faults.

Black People Are Just Way Too Cool!

During the 2008 campaign, Obama talks about his experiences rallying voters across the country. He talks about the youthful coalition put together with the grassroots efforts of volunteers from around the country. He also talks about listening to Jay-Z and Eminem before delivering key speeches (which I found to be pretty cool). Admittedly, he’s got a knack for keeping in touch with the hip-hop culture, relative to his political peers. I think one of the more thrilling episodes in the memoir is when he describes attending a climate change conference. Leaders from China, India, Brazil, and South Africa sequestered themselves in a conference room to stymie the United States, Germany, and France from negotiating the terms of a renewed Kyoto protocol. The manner in which Obama tracks down the surreptitious meeting and ultimately bursts into the conference room to the chagrin (and surprise) of China’s leadership makes it seem like a James Bond scene — especially with the one-liner, dry wit humor of the former president.

Much like Michael Jordan, when the pressure was on the line, Obama ostensibly conveyed a laid-back and poised manner. He attributes this to his Hawaiian upbringing which I think most Californians can relate to. I think one of the more telling episodes is when he’s instructing the Navy SEALs team to hunt down Osama bin Laden. While this mission is taking place, he’s visiting the former Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff. Once the meeting is concluded, the timing comes for him to “make the call” so the Navy SEALs team can invade the compound to terminate the target. Literally, he’s eating a handful of almonds and casually using a cell phone to communicate, “You have my authorization” — four simple words to end the renown terrorists’ life. Thankfully, the mission was a success, or else he probably would’ve been a one-term president.

Many folks in the Black community ask, “What has he done for our people?” The answer is not much. I mean, it’s easy to peddle statistics about unemployment, tax rates, income changes, etc. However, the systemic oppression that even he faced from the likes of Congress or the media ought to let folks know that there’s still plenty of work to be done. The consternation he felt from his reaction to the Henry Louis Gates arrest controversy in Cambridge, MA is one that most if not all Black folks experience in their day-to-day lives. It’s a good approach to convey the truthful impact about how race played a role in the work of his presidency. Nevertheless, he said it himself in his 2004 DNC speech about wanting to be a president for all Americans.

If The World is Flat, Then Jump!

2020 has been a tough year for many people across the globe. Millions of people infected, thousands of lives lost due to COVID-19. While we’re on the precipice of a new year, it should be underscored with hope. Actually, no…wait a minute. I think we’re done with all this “hopey, changey stuff.” We need real matters dealt with real solutions. Here in the U.S., the representative democracy we’re all a part of is not to be taken lightly. People go out of their way to misinform, and under appropriate facts for fictitious data. The alarming part is with the role of the Internet, we now have a bevy of information decentralized at the swipe of our thumbs or the click of the mouse. It’s that easy to generate a Facebook page or a Twitter account and get into the mix of “reporting.”

What I’ve learned is that Obama is cognizant of this, he makes the effort to diagnose how the role of the media has played out in reshaping the political landscape. You can think the world is flat, be my guest! Or, you can think that aliens are randomly dropping monoliths here and there, go for it! But one thing everyone is certain of, a politician is always a politician is always a politician. While Obama credited himself for saying he’s a centrist, he made several tongue-in-cheek references to him being a Black Muslim socialist — so the question still begs, when is he going to come out of the proverbial closet?!?

All jokes aside: whether you stand on one side of the spectrum or the other, or even smack dab in the middle, there will always be power in numbers. We need to get our hands dirty to give ourselves a fighting chance at building a world that improves our livelihoods. We shouldn’t be tolerant of the special-interests, the geopolitical agenda, or even of selfish deeds of those we empower to assume they’re looking after us. They might say they are, but I always feel like it’s a wrestling match on display. Behind closed doors, in the locker room, they’re all towel-snapping one another and ingratiating themselves with the incentives to please those who propagate the purses of their political capital.

Reminds me of the Ab-Soul song, Terrorist Threats:

Peep the concept
You’ve got progress, you’ve got congress
We protest in hopes they confess
Just proceed on your conquest
I ain’t got no gavel, I ain’t finna fight nobody battle
I just wanna be free, I ain’t finna be nobody’s chattel

Thanks for reading. Now do yourself a favor, and dance to this jam!



Stephen Ngao

Aspiring entrepreneur in love with music, film, finance, and tech. Carpe diem!