Book Review of Barak Obama’s “A Promised Land”

Book Review of Barak Obama’s “A Promised Land”

By Dan Watt, B.A. Anthropology and History, W.L.U.

“Here’s the thing,” I would say.  “Most people, wherever they’re from whatever they look like, are looking for the same thing. They’re not trying to get filthy rich.  They don’t expect someone else to do what they can do for themselves.

“But they do expect that if they’re willing to work, they should be able to find a job that supports a family.  They expect that they shouldn’t go bankrupt just because they get sick.  They expect that their kids should be able to get a good education, one that prepares them for this new economy, and they should be able to afford college if they’ve put in the effort.  They want to be safe, from criminals or terrorists.  And they figure that after a lifetime of work, they should be able to retire with dignity and respect.”  – Barak Obama (p. 48)

A Promised Land is an insightful autobiography of national and international politics that gives you a front row seat to what it’s like to be a political leader.  Obama describes where his values came from and his evolution as a person and politician.  He doesn’t claim everything he did succeeded but he does demonstrate how his team did the best they could under the circumstances.  He gives examples of what his goals were and the necessity to often make compromises to reach those goals. 

The book is in chronological order with historical inserts of social, political, environmental, military, and economic history to help the reader understand why certain events like the economic crash in 2008 happened, and why the war in Afghanistan continued.

Throughout A Promised Land Obama refers to the influences his mother, Ann Dunham, and his maternal grandmother, Madelyn Lee Payne Dunham, had on his belief system. 

When he was a child and his mother found out he had been part of a group teasing another kid his mother sat him down and told him:  “You know, Barry (his nickname), there are people in the world who think only about themselves.  They don’t care what happens to other people so long as they get what they want.  They put other people down to make themselves feel important.  Then there are people who do the opposite, who are able to imagine how others must feel, and make sure that they don’t do things that hurt people.  So, which kind of person do you want to be?”  (6-7)  From his maternal grandmother he learned stoicism:  “She taught me to marry passion with reason, to not get overly excited when life was going well, and to not get too down when it went badly.” (114) 

Obama gives credit to those who helped him along the way.

Such as his Chief of Staff during his early senator days, Pete Rouse, who helped him recruit “a topflight staff”.   (55)  David Axelrod, media consultant (43) and Robert Gibbs, communications director (50) along with a host of others are mentioned throughout the book giving a sense that a democratic leadership is really a ‘We’ government.  

He also talks about how surprise moments drove home his belief in himself and that he could become the next leader of the United States.  In Greenwood, South Carolina, he was preparing to give a speech when he heard Edith Childs shout out: “Fired up!” and the gathering reply with: “Ready to go!”  Obama admits hearing the chant energized him.  The chant became the rallying call throughout his candidacy for the presidency.  (97, 196)  The chant was also a reminder throughout his campaign that he wasn’t just running for the presidency but that upholding belief in the Declaration of Independence still meant something. 

He mentions that “a burly, bearded guy in biker garb and covered with tattoos strode up to me after an event and shoved something into my hand.  It was his lucky metal poker chip…”  As others gave him their tokens or lucky charms he started keeping them in his pocket during speeches.  (p. 190)

Obama demonstrates his willingness to work with individuals in a bipartisan manner and his thankfulness to those who stood up for him when others were attacking his character.

In his junior year as a senator Obama connected with Dick Lugar, a Republican from Indiana and the chair of Foreign Relations Committee.  Lugar and Democratic Senator Sam Nunn were able to pass legislation that allowed America to help the Soviet Union deactivate nuclear warheads.  Lugar invited Obama to travel with him to Russia to see where nuclear weapons were deactivated.  He mentions how Lugar opened his eyes to the difference a senator could really make.  (60-61)  

When Sarah Palin started accusing Obama of “palling around with terrorists who would target their own country” and other false accusations it was John McCain, his Republican competitor for the presidency, who stood up for him.  At a rally in Minnesota McCain told the audience, “I have to tell you, he is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States.”  (195)

Obama lets future leaders know that anything you do in a public place will be made into news.

At the Western Wall in Jerusalem he wrote a prayer on a piece of paper and placed it into the wall.  It was meant as a private message to God but someone dug it out after he departed and gave it to an Israeli newspaper who printed it.  (160)   

Keeping grounded is something Obama truly believes in. 

When Michelle asked her mother Marian Shields Robinson to help take care of the girls and also so she has someone to talk to Obama embraces the idea.  “My mother-in-law didn’t act like she was better than anybody else, so our daughters never even considered that an option.”  (223)

Obama made sure he visited Walter Reed and Bethesda naval hospitals throughout his tenure as president.  Seeing up close what war can do to an individual reminded him to be as sure as he could be, that the decisions he made, were the right ones.  Not all the sons and daughters in the United States military came back alive, and many others that did, didn’t always come home whole.  He mentions visiting a soldier so bandaged up the soldier’s mother had to remind Obama that he and her son had met before.  (576-577)

Obama learned early in life to reverse the roles so he could try to understand another person or groups perspective. 

He demonstrates this often in the book so the reader sees both sides of an argument.  On why the Tea Party seemed such an attraction to working and middle class whites he points out that: “Many of the working- and middle-class whites gravitating to the Tea Party had suffered for decades from sluggish wages, rising costs and the loss of the steady blue-collar work that provided secure retirements.”  (404)

To initiate a program to protect the environment Obama once more demonstrated that getting the job done was his first priority.   

He used the cap-and-trade system initiated by the Republican President George H. W. Bush’s administration in 1990 as a template.  In Obama’s words Bush’s system worked, because “Despite dire predictions that the measure would lead to factory closures and mass layoffs, the offending companies had quickly figured out cost-efficient ways to retrofit their factories, and within a few years, the problem of acid rain had all but disappeared.” (501)

There is so much in this book I have not mentioned.  It took me a long time to read, not because it’s a big book at 700 odd pages but because Obama deals with so many aspects of his personal and political life.  His grandmother and mother’s influence; his love for his wife Michelle and their two girls Sasha and Malia Ann; his gratefulness towards all the hard work the people he collaborated with on his journey to the senate and then the presidency; and how his knowledge of national and world affairs helped him to see from different perspectives that allowed him to negotiate whenever possible but demand if necessary.

This book answered a lot of questions I had about a number of events over the last twenty years.  I still remember watching a meeting Obama was holding at a town on TV.  To paraphrase, I heard him say: This is what people are asking and this how I reply.  I had never heard a leader say that before.  And he did answer.

In conclusion, I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in taking political science, or simply wanting to learn what leadership should be like.

Review of Chris Hadfield’s: An Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth

Review of An Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth by Chris Hadfield

Although this book has been out since 2013 I only just read it.

I am always looking for a story that is motivational, not because it tells me what I want to hear but because it’s real.  An Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth is about perseverance but also to remember your family and friends, even when you’re out in space.

By talking about the lessons he learned to become an astronaut Chris Hadfield makes it clear his wife Helene played a major role in his success.  Helene encouraged him but also grounded him, reminding him of the sacrifices she and their family made, and reminding him to include them.  Throughout the book Chris shows his mistakes, his successes and the absolute importance of being a team player, whether as leader or co-pilot.

One of his major points is being a square trying to fit into a round hole.  His approach to becoming an astronaut was to become an Air Force pilot and mechanical engineer all the while knowing it would be next to impossible to go into space.  What I enjoyed throughout the book was that he constantly learned and went on the basis of that if the square can’t get through the circle, that he doesn’t become an astronaut, he has his pilot and engineering skills to fall back on.  He didn’t put all his eggs into one basket.

He talks about sweating the small stuff.  He points out that as an astronaut, if you don’t sweat the small stuff (haven’t prepared by going over all the finer details) you could kill yourself and your crew mates.

Encouraging others and being encouraged is a theme he mentions continuously.  He talks about the importance of “investing in other people’s success doesn’t just make them more likely to enjoy working with me.  It also improves my own chances of survival and success.”

He makes it clear how important team work is “No astronaut, no matter how brilliant or brave, is a solo act.  Our expertise is the result of the training provided by thousands of experts around the world, and the support provided by thousands of technicians in five different space agencies.”

Singing David Bowie’s Space Oddity on the International Space Station was his son Evan’s idea.  An idea that has a lot of children now interested in space.  As Chris Hadfield mentions in his book, spaceflight isn’t just about looking away from the Earth but at it.  Satellites allow for communication, the ability to study weather and pollution patterns.  To find things that might not otherwise be able to be found such as planes that need to make emergency landings or boats lost at sea. 

In conclusion this is a fantastic book.  I have not added page numbers to the quotes I used because I want you to read the book yourself.

Book Review of Cixin Lui’s “Death’s End”

Book Review of Cixin Lui’s “Death’s End” (translated by Ken Liu), the third book in the Three Body Problem.

* In Chinese the surname is placed first

Cixin Lui has written the next evolution in Science Fiction.  Whereas Star Trek asks how will we react to certain circumstances, Cixin Lui suggests what could happen.

How Cixin Lui was able to combine known physics with theoretical physics and display it on a universal scale, is mind boggling.  For those of us who grew up in the Western Hemisphere, he also introduces Eastern history and philosophy.  Furthermore, he combines all of this by including individuals throughout the Earth’s history, bringing us all together.

The creators of Game of Thrones are now going to turn Cixin Lui’s book into a Netflix’s series.

I will try to say this in a vague way that only those who have read the series will grasp.  If I could ask Cixin Lui directly, my questions for him would be:

Why destroy landscape if it’s limited?

What happens when two dimensions meets four dimensions?

The Three Body Problem is a fascinating and important series.

I highly recommend it.

D.W.     

Review of Heartland by John Holland

I purchased John Holland’s poetry book Dry Bones as a gift for my librarian sister-in-law.  I won’t comment on the book because poetry is personal.  I did read it before I gave it to her.  The only regret is that I didn’t buy the book directly from John and ask him to sign it.  After reading Dry Bones I wanted to read more of his work so I purchased Heartland.  

Listening to Johnny Cash sing Nine Inch Nail’s “Hurt” and to Mazzy Star’s “Into Dust” made sense while I started reading John Holland’s Heartland: Four Novellas set in the Australian Outback.  But as I continued to read I think listening to David Bowie or Peter Gabriel singing Heroes made even  more sense.

The environment and animals are uniquely Australian but the human essence of the stories could take place anywhere.

Each story drew me in as though I was a character sharing the same experiences as the main characters.

All the stories could easily be made into a movie or mini series.  And considering John’s background there is a great deal of sage advice mixed into the telling of “Left of the Rising Sun”.  Knowledge that could save someone’s life.

The ebook and paperback are available for Kindle and Amazon Books.

Enjoy!  And Keep Safe!

D.W.

 

 

Review of Anthony B. Carey’s book The Pain-Free Program

This is an excellent book by Anthony B. Carey, M.A., C.S.C.S.

I just finished a Functional Training Program Specialist course through ACE and part of the curriculum was to read The Pain-Free Program.

What I really enjoyed about the book is it’s realistic and based on real life.

The exercise and stretch program is designed to help alleviate pain and increase functional ability by correcting imbalances in the body.

Six Forms are used.  Each form describes a posture.  Examples are kyphosis–rounded upper back, and lordosis–excessive curvature in lower back.

Within each Form are three possible groups:  Physical Worker (construction, etc.), Dexterity Worker (accountant, etc.), Multi-tasking (stay at home parent, postal worker, etc.).

Once the Form and type of work or lifestyle are determined an individual and design a program suited to them.

I’ve greatly simplified this.  The goal is to demonstrate why I like this book so much.

Below are some examples to help you out should you follow the book.

Hard to believe these pictures were taken fifteen years ago.

Krystal G nee H front view posture
Front view with lines to determine imbalances: model: Krystal G nee H

Krystal G nee H side view posture
Side view with lines to determine imbalances: model: Krystal G nee H

Kyphotic Posture Example
Kyphosis view with lines to determine imbalances: model: Krystal G nee H

Lordosis Example with line
Lordosis view with lines to determine imbalances: model: Krystal G nee H

 

Review of Cixin Liu’s “The Three-Body Problem” translated by Ken Liu

A couple of weeks ago I decided I needed to take a break from working on my own stories and read someone elses.  As I walked down the aisles at Indigo’s in Cambridge (Canada) I came across an interesting title called “The Three-Body Problem” in the science fiction section.

This is a Hugo winning story for best science fiction originally written in Chinese and later translated into English and German.

After years of reading science, fantasy, and historical fiction along with other genres I didn’t think I could find something completely original to read.  Cixin Liu’s book caught my attention and held it until the end.  I’m not an astophycisist, nor an engineer, nor a mathematician so I am grateful he does an amazing job of explaining the sophisticated scientific concepts that run throughout the book.  There is also the fascinating matter of taking me on a journey through Chinese history and way of thinking.

Ken Liu sums up the book for those of us brought up in the West in the postscript of the book:  “The English words are arranged in such a way that the reader sees a glimpse of another culture’s pattern of thinking, hears an echo of another language’s rhythms and cadences, and feels a tremor of another people’s gestures and movements.”

A marvel of a story to read outdoors, or inside across from a  large bay window, where you can glance up at the stars.

D.W.

Liu Cixin:

https://www.amazon.com/Cixin-Liu/e/B007JP96JU

Ken Liu

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“On Hitler’s Mountain” by Irmgard A. Hunt (a plug for a book well worth reading)

Occasionally I’ll review a book on here, or promote a friend who is an author or artist.

A friend lent me an amazing book called: “On Hitler’s Mountain” by Irmgard A. Hunt. Irmgard lived in the mountains of Berchtesgaden where Hitler had his retreat. She relates how Hitler came into power, what happened to those who opposed him, the indoctrination of German and Austrian youth into Nazi beliefs, the effects of war, and what happened up until the Marshall Plan. Her mother makes an interesting comment later in the book about American or any other democracy: “If there were a bad economic downturn or perhaps a war with the Soviets, Americans too might accept a leader who promised to save them and the fatherland. We did not know how fast Hitler would change everything once he was chancellor. But he did.” The book reminded me how events affect different people in different ways and that, whether we want to hear it or not, it is vital not to alter substantiated historical information so those events never happen again.