Barack Obama does not like salt, apparently. One of his big moves in the last year of his presidency was a sweeping health care reform to make Americans reduce their abnormal sodium intake. His plan: Encourage companies to lower the salinity of salamis, sausages, fries, granola and other packaged food, and help people lead healthier and happier lives.
A Promised Land sticks to that vision. Coming as it does after a bitterly fought election, the first part of Obama’s long-awaited presidential memoir works like low-salt comfort food. At 768 pages, it is a satisfyingly large pack of flowing prose and revealing pictures, of lofty ideas and soothing insights, all peppered with wit and political wisdom. Conspicuously absent, though, is the salt that turns all good biographies into great ones—a self-critical gaze at one’s motives and deeds.
The new memoir differs from Obama’s earlier (and more intimate) ones; it is not a Gandhi-esque story of his struggles and experiments with truth. Rather, some of his observations in A Promised Land are so cloying that readers may feel the need for more than a pinch of salt. Like the part where Obama rates his own presidency: “[Michelle and I] took satisfaction in knowing that we’d done our very best... the country was in better shape now than it had been when I’d started.” Curiously, the thought crosses his mind while he is on his last trip on Air Force One, days before Donald Trump’s inauguration as US president.
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