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Barack Obama's inauguration as president on January 20, 2009, inspired the world. But the great promise of "Change We Can Believe In" was immediately tested by the threat of another Great Depression, a worsening war in Afghanistan, and an entrenched and deeply partisan system of business as usual in Washington. Despite all the coverage, the backstory of Obama's historic Barack Obama's inauguration as president on January 20, 2009, inspired the world. But the great promise of "Change We Can Believe In" was immediately tested by the threat of another Great Depression, a worsening war in Afghanistan, and an entrenched and deeply partisan system of business as usual in Washington. Despite all the coverage, the backstory of Obama's historic first year in office has until now remained a mystery.InThe Promise: President Obama, Year One,Jonathan Alter, one of the country's most respected journalists and historians, uses his unique access to the White House to produce the first inside look at Obama's difficult debut.What happened in 2009 inside the Oval Office? What worked and what failed? What is the president really like on the job and off-hours, using what his best friend called "a Rubik's Cube in his brain"? These questions are answered here for the first time. We see how a surprisingly cunning Obama took effective charge in Washington several weeks before his election, made trillion-dollar decisions on the stimulus and budget before he was inaugurated, engineered colossally unpopular bailouts of the banking and auto sectors, and escalated a treacherous war not long after settling into office.The Promiseis a fast-paced and incisive narrative of a young risk-taking president carving his own path amid sky-high expectations and surging joblessness. Alter reveals that it was Obama alone"feeling lucky"who insisted on pushing major health care reform over the objections of his vice president and top advisors, including his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who admitted that "I begged him not to do this."Alter takes the reader inside the room as Obama prevents a fistfight involving a congressman, coldly reprimands the military brass for insubordination, crashes the key meeting at the Copenhagen Climate Change conference, and realizes that a Senate candidate's gaffe about baseball in a Massachusetts special election will dash the big dream of his first year.In Alter's telling, the real Obama is an authentic, demanding, unsentimental, and sometimes overconfident leader. He adapted to the presidency with ease and put more "points on the board" than he is given credit for, but neglected to use his leverage over the banks and failed to connect well with an angry public. We see the famously calm president cursing leaks, playfully trash-talking his advisors, and joking about even the most taboo subjects, still intent on redeeming more of his promise as the problems mount.This brilliant blend of journalism and history offers the freshest reporting and most acute perspective on the biggest story of our time. It will shape impressions of the Obama presidency and of the man himself for years to come.


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Barack Obama's inauguration as president on January 20, 2009, inspired the world. But the great promise of "Change We Can Believe In" was immediately tested by the threat of another Great Depression, a worsening war in Afghanistan, and an entrenched and deeply partisan system of business as usual in Washington. Despite all the coverage, the backstory of Obama's historic Barack Obama's inauguration as president on January 20, 2009, inspired the world. But the great promise of "Change We Can Believe In" was immediately tested by the threat of another Great Depression, a worsening war in Afghanistan, and an entrenched and deeply partisan system of business as usual in Washington. Despite all the coverage, the backstory of Obama's historic first year in office has until now remained a mystery.InThe Promise: President Obama, Year One,Jonathan Alter, one of the country's most respected journalists and historians, uses his unique access to the White House to produce the first inside look at Obama's difficult debut.What happened in 2009 inside the Oval Office? What worked and what failed? What is the president really like on the job and off-hours, using what his best friend called "a Rubik's Cube in his brain"? These questions are answered here for the first time. We see how a surprisingly cunning Obama took effective charge in Washington several weeks before his election, made trillion-dollar decisions on the stimulus and budget before he was inaugurated, engineered colossally unpopular bailouts of the banking and auto sectors, and escalated a treacherous war not long after settling into office.The Promiseis a fast-paced and incisive narrative of a young risk-taking president carving his own path amid sky-high expectations and surging joblessness. Alter reveals that it was Obama alone"feeling lucky"who insisted on pushing major health care reform over the objections of his vice president and top advisors, including his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who admitted that "I begged him not to do this."Alter takes the reader inside the room as Obama prevents a fistfight involving a congressman, coldly reprimands the military brass for insubordination, crashes the key meeting at the Copenhagen Climate Change conference, and realizes that a Senate candidate's gaffe about baseball in a Massachusetts special election will dash the big dream of his first year.In Alter's telling, the real Obama is an authentic, demanding, unsentimental, and sometimes overconfident leader. He adapted to the presidency with ease and put more "points on the board" than he is given credit for, but neglected to use his leverage over the banks and failed to connect well with an angry public. We see the famously calm president cursing leaks, playfully trash-talking his advisors, and joking about even the most taboo subjects, still intent on redeeming more of his promise as the problems mount.This brilliant blend of journalism and history offers the freshest reporting and most acute perspective on the biggest story of our time. It will shape impressions of the Obama presidency and of the man himself for years to come.

30 review for The Promise: President Obama, Year One

  1. 4 out of 5

    Oldroses

    Barack Obama is not a saint. What a relief. "The Promise: President Obama, Year One", written by Jonathan Alter, a "Newsweek" reporter, is a refreshing change from the worshipful treatment of President Obama in "Game Change". Mr. Alter provides an even-handed treatment of the first year of the Obama presidency. He shows us a president who is all too human, making mistakes in both personnel and policies but mostly getting it right. The reader is provided with thorough background information on Barack Obama is not a saint. What a relief. "The Promise: President Obama, Year One", written by Jonathan Alter, a "Newsweek" reporter, is a refreshing change from the worshipful treatment of President Obama in "Game Change". Mr. Alter provides an even-handed treatment of the first year of the Obama presidency. He shows us a president who is all too human, making mistakes in both personnel and policies but mostly getting it right. The reader is provided with thorough background information on all of the major players in President Obama’s administration. I was especially fascinated by the description of Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s agonizing decision whether to take the job as Chief of Staff or remain in the House, eventually succeeding Nancy Pelosi to become the first Jewish Speaker of the House. First Jewish Speaker? I had no idea that anyone thought that way in the 21st century. I thought that we had put silly religious issues behind us. I’m old enough to remember when (Catholic) JFK was running for the presidency and voters (including my Goldwater Republican parents) were terrified that if he were elected, the Pope would be running the country. As history reminds us, JFK was elected and governed the country without the Pope. First Lady Michelle Obama is treated respectfully. I was surprised to learn that despite her husband never having been subject to rumors of infidelity, she is described as “a tiger when it came to Barack and other women.”, the example of Halle Berry’s enthusiasm in campaigning for Obama prompting the future First Lady to forbid her husband to appear with her. Mr. Alter’s previous book, "The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope", dealt with FDR and the New Deal. Not surprisingly, he frequently draws parallels between President Obama’s first year in office and FDR’s first year in office. Both entered office faced with a collapsing economy. Both were forced to clean up the messes left by the previous administrations. And both passed landmark legislation in their first year, Social Security by FDR and health care reform by Obama. It’s often difficult to end a book of this length and breadth, especially with the protagonist still early in his administration and still likely to continue making history, but I found the ending to this book very satisfying. The long, drawn-out battle for health care reform takes up most of the book, but in the end the reader is reminded of President Obama’s other first year accomplishments such as banning pay discrimination against women (always close to my heart), health insurance for millions of children, tightened rules governing credit cards and the crackdown on predatory lending, achievements that have become lost in the noise and confusion of the battle over health care, but which are huge victories in their own right.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Richard Harden

    As a political scientist by training, I have become disgusted with the uninformed rhetoric clogging the airwaves, the internet and the minds of an increasingly more unthinking public. It disturbs me the way writers who should know better, as well as many more who should not and do not care that they do not, misuse terms like "liberal," "conservative," "[un:]constitutional," "progressive," and "moderate." It disturbs me to an even greater extent that the public blindly and uncritically absorbs As a political scientist by training, I have become disgusted with the uninformed rhetoric clogging the airwaves, the internet and the minds of an increasingly more unthinking public. It disturbs me the way writers who should know better, as well as many more who should not and do not care that they do not, misuse terms like "liberal," "conservative," "[un:]constitutional," "progressive," and "moderate." It disturbs me to an even greater extent that the public blindly and uncritically absorbs information that has no basis whatsoever in anything at all resembling fact. Amongst all this abuse, misuse and downright knowingly purposeful ignorance of the truth, it was refreshing to come across an author who took it upon himself to investigate and evaluate in an objective manner the first year of President Obama. While Alter clearly favors the President and his agenda, his report of the first year is unafraid to point out where the White House has let down the public and itself in its mission. He handles political miscues, incompetency and unkept promises as they should be handled - on a scale balancing the good and the bad, and giving a very fair assessment of a unique situation. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in current politics. It should be a mandatory read (with the requirement of passing a test on its contents) for anyone who is going to broadcast or publish commentary on the current presidential administration or either house of Congress.

  3. 4 out of 5

    William

    If you want a concise presentation of President Obama's failures and successes in his Administration's first 18 months, start this book at the Epilogue. In very few pages, you will have a roster of accomplishments that are in many places historic, all far-reaching, and most all completely unheard of by the average voter. This is the story of Obama's presidency so far: that his drive for measurable steps forward -- from the elimination of "middle-man" vendors for student loans that in turn helped If you want a concise presentation of President Obama's failures and successes in his Administration's first 18 months, start this book at the Epilogue. In very few pages, you will have a roster of accomplishments that are in many places historic, all far-reaching, and most all completely unheard of by the average voter. This is the story of Obama's presidency so far: that his drive for measurable steps forward -- from the elimination of "middle-man" vendors for student loans that in turn helped to fund the health care bill, to unprecedented increases in education standards and teacher rewards, to the most thorough Administrative analysis of military policy since the Cuban Missie Crisis, to gaining concessions by China to publicly record its goals for pollution reductions -- occludes the need to score political cheap shots and short-term gains against an unmistakably aggressive, even obstructionist opposition party. Each chapter in The Promise details, sometimes painfully so, one of the major initiatives shaped or confronted by the Obama Administration, and while there are enormous frustrations to be had in Obama's missteps, throughout the course of the book an appreciation builds for not only the gargantuan tasks faced by any politician during the economic recession of 2008-2010, but for the remarkable capability of this current officeholder in taking a hands-on approach to each of the challenges. There is no doubt that, however long it lasts, Obama's presidency will be historic. What is regrettable is how little we realize that each of Obama's lesser known gestures toward reshaping the presidency and regaining economic stability for the United States have affected our long-term growth. You come away feeling that the perhaps prematurely awarded Noble Prize will be less remembered for peace and better thought of as a reward for the economic policies and initiatives taken by Obama that not only saved the Union for the short-term, but probably extended its life. This is a genuinely remarkable presidency, whether or not people are willing to recognize it.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mahlon

    I know, I'm reading this a little late but I thought I'd wait until year 28 were released and then read the entire thing, obviously this never happened. The Promise is one of the best "inside" political books I've ever read. Alter examines The Big issues that defined Obama's presidency and chronicles how he and his policy team dealt with each, he also discusses the political ramifications of these decisions. The issues highlighted are The economy,healthcare, Iraq and Afghanistan, and gays in the I know, I'm reading this a little late but I thought I'd wait until year 2–8 were released and then read the entire thing, obviously this never happened. The Promise is one of the best "inside" political books I've ever read. Alter examines The Big issues that defined Obama's presidency and chronicles how he and his policy team dealt with each, he also discusses the political ramifications of these decisions. The issues highlighted are… The economy,healthcare, Iraq and Afghanistan, and gays in the military, among others. Alter's writing is scrupulously fair, and he's a good narrator of his own work. The level of detail might be seen by some readers as tedious, but for those who like this kind of book, it's a good kind of tedious.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rick

    Reading this right after Game Change was awesome! It's like Harry Potter! I hope they do a year two, and a year three, and maybe in year seven they can take down Voldemort, er, I mean Glenn Beck and Roger Ailes. After Game Change i liked Obama a little bit less but this turned me around and I am in awe of how much he got done in a year. Makes me feel lazy.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    This is the book I would have written about President Obama if I could, so naturally, I'm captivated! Where was Mr. Alter when I was an island, needing a like-minded individual to chew on the issues during primary season? Excellent reporting and analysis.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    This was an interesting read, though I think the book, as history, was sort of doomed from the start. Alter selected the perspective of admiration, rather than dispassion, from the start of the process--the book was then written with the scaffolding of admiration/sympathy as a starting point. And, to be honest, I don't think there was a way to write this type of book without a perspective. He did his research as the events he was writing about were happening. For what it's worth, the research is This was an interesting read, though I think the book, as history, was sort of doomed from the start. Alter selected the perspective of admiration, rather than dispassion, from the start of the process--the book was then written with the scaffolding of admiration/sympathy as a starting point. And, to be honest, I don't think there was a way to write this type of book without a perspective. He did his research as the events he was writing about were happening. For what it's worth, the research is impressive, and I did enjoy reading this book. I stuck little slips of paper on the various pages with short passages that piqued my interest/aroused my anger; I want to write them here (and my reaction) for the sake of remembering them. "This was not what the White House high command had in mind for the president's opening month. 'We had a good plan for the first three weeks, then all of this shit happens,' [Deputy Chief of Staff] Jim Messina lamented." (125) I chuckled at this one, because it reminded me of one of my favorite quotes, from scholar and master of fisticuffs Mike Tyson: "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face." "A congressman approached the first lady at a White House reception after the bill's passage and told her the stimulus was the best antipoverty bill in a generation. 'Shhhh!' The White House didn't want the public thinking that Obama had achieved long-sought public policy objectives under the guise of merely stimulating the economy, even though that's exactly what happened." (131) I think the stimulus is what poisoned the well for Obama's term. Democrats are clearly the party of governmental "anti-poverty" initiatives. Republicans (supposedly) oppose "anti-poverty" plans because of different philosophies about the role of government and a skepticism about the efficacy of such programs. If the stimulus was so chock full of policies that Republicans disliked, and it was passed as "emergency" legislation, it's pretty plain to see why Republicans were so ticked off. "Here Obama's political probity--his determination not to promise something he couldn't deliver--sent him off message." (271) I think Obama's performance in the health care debate ("If you like your plan, you can keep your plan") puts this notion to bed. Sorry, Mr. Alter; this one is just not true. "Early on Obama announced a proposal to cap compensation for top executives at TARP-supported companies, but McCaskill soon learned that the president wasn't going to push it. The same thing happened to Chris Dodd, who attached restrictions on compensation to the Senate's stimulus bill. Geithner and Summers asked Dodd to delete a provision making the bonus restrictions on TARP-backed firms retroactive. After first claiming that he didn't know who arranged for the change, Dodd later admitted it was the administration. In the no-good-deed-goes-unpunished department, Dodd's high profile on restricting bonuses later left him open to the charge that he'd known about the AIG bonuses for weeks and done nothing to object to them. For those who were outraged by the bonuses, Dodd's amendment, which became law, was better than nothing (the position of many Republicans), but it brought unintended consequences as companies found ways around the restriction with delayed compensation." (311) I just can't imagine that anyone who thought about this couldn't have seen those unintended consequences coming. Alter makes it look like no one could have expected it. "Obama was skeptical of cant but still in thrall to the idea that with enough analysis, there was a 'right answer' to everything." (340) I thought this was a particularly perceptive remark, as far as getting at the heart of President Obama's worldview. Altogether, this is a worthwhile read, though if you're looking for a more skeptical take, I suggest looking elsewhere. But this is a good read for understanding Obama's side of the issues, and I am certainly a bit more sympathetic to the president than I was before reading it. I wish I could have given it 3.5 stars.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Irving Koppel

    This very exhaustive and sometimes exhausting account of President Obama's first year in office is well worth the read. If you're a political junkie like me,you'll appreciate the meticulous accounts of all the "sturm und drang" that our new president faced from the beginning. Faced with an unprecedented array of problems left to him by his prede- cessor, Obama had to move rapidly and decisively. Without any help from the Republicans,Obama achieved the following in the first year and a This very exhaustive and sometimes exhausting account of President Obama's first year in office is well worth the read. If you're a political junkie like me,you'll appreciate the meticulous accounts of all the "sturm und drang" that our new president faced from the beginning. Faced with an unprecedented array of problems left to him by his prede- cessor, Obama had to move rapidly and decisively. Without any help from the Republicans,Obama achieved the following in the first year and a quarter:regulation of tobacco by the FDA,cracked down on predatory lenders,reined in credit card companies,extended health insurance to millions more of children; equality of wages for women,began work on "Don't ask-don't tell",increased funds for national parks,made huge investments in railroads,renewable energy and education.Further, he saved the American automobile industry and provided health care for another thirty million Americans. Not bad for a first act,but instead of getting credit, he has been condemned by the opposition for spending excessively. All but $80billion of the original $700billion stimulus has been repaid to the Treasury. Unfortunately,the President has not shared with the public the full extent of the mess left by his predecessor. Moreover, he hasn't claimed credit for all the positive things he has done. That story must now be told before the next election. If it is done effectively,it may rescue the Democratic Congress. If not, we can expect an attempt to undo all the President has done,and we can look forward to two years of gridlock in our national government.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    Halfway through reading The Promise, which thoroughly documents Obama's first year as president, I checked Amazon to see how the book fared with other readers. Many adored the book, yet many criticized it for being too favorable toward Obama. Although I can't deny that Jonathan Alter is clearly a fan of Obama, this book had a few things going for it that kept any bias in check: a) It would be hard to argue that this is from any perspective other than center-left. Particularly during the end as Halfway through reading The Promise, which thoroughly documents Obama's first year as president, I checked Amazon to see how the book fared with other readers. Many adored the book, yet many criticized it for being too favorable toward Obama. Although I can't deny that Jonathan Alter is clearly a fan of Obama, this book had a few things going for it that kept any bias in check: a) It would be hard to argue that this is from any perspective other than center-left. Particularly during the end as the healthcare debate comes to a close, Alter is particularly unkind to hardcore liberals. To me, Alter came across more dismissive of the political fringe — from Tea Party to Huffington Post — than he came across as a flag-waving Obama supporter. b) The book is fascinating, regardless of your political stance. Parts of the book were as exciting and compelling as episodes of The West Wing. If a book like this was written about George W Bush from the center-right perspective, I'd love to read it, despite strongly disliking Bush as president. If you're fascinated by the ugly insider view into the sausage-making of politics, you'll enjoy this book regardless of your political perspective. Overall, this was a very worthwhile read. Recommended.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Insightful and informative look inside the first year of the Obama administrative. Best part was the look inside Obama's personality through how he deals with those in his inner circle to how he treats the American people. Extensive coverage of the economy, foreign policy and the health care bill. It took a while to read but was worth it! Proud to have finished this a few hours before Father's Day because it was my father who introduced me to American politics (Aaron Sorkin did have a hand in it Insightful and informative look inside the first year of the Obama administrative. Best part was the look inside Obama's personality through how he deals with those in his inner circle to how he treats the American people. Extensive coverage of the economy, foreign policy and the health care bill. It took a while to read but was worth it! Proud to have finished this a few hours before Father's Day because it was my father who introduced me to American politics (Aaron Sorkin did have a hand in it as well but Dad explained all the political insides that I didn't get). Happy Father's Day, Dad!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Steve Van Slyke

    Based on some of the negative reviews on Amazon I was expecting something more biased in favor of Obama. But while it often portrays him in a favorable light, the author did not shy away from pointing out several failures of tactics and communications. If you're looking for a good summary of Obama's first year from a relatively neutral viewpoint, this is worth reading. If you're of the "I'd rather see him fail" contingent you won't like it because it fairly points out the many successes he's Based on some of the negative reviews on Amazon I was expecting something more biased in favor of Obama. But while it often portrays him in a favorable light, the author did not shy away from pointing out several failures of tactics and communications. If you're looking for a good summary of Obama's first year from a relatively neutral viewpoint, this is worth reading. If you're of the "I'd rather see him fail" contingent you won't like it because it fairly points out the many successes he's achieved.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Mary Gail O'Dea

    Almost finished with my campaign 2008/obama reading tour and this was an excellent addition to the trip. Jonathan Alter explores the first year of the Obama presidency form the inside. Because the economy still is sluggish, its easy to overlook how much he accomplished in one year. Excellent read.

  13. 5 out of 5

    John

    Alter's reading of the audio was probably a slightly better choice in this case as he gets the nuance down, so it flows reasonably well. Much as I wanted to give it a fourth star, he doesn't quite make it - the book gets bogged down in policy and personalities a bit too often. Recommended for political junkies (and policy wonks), others would likely have a tough time getting through to the end.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn

    I've read a bunch of books about Obama, but I thought this one was by far the best.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Julie Christiano

    Amazing what I did not know that makes me admire President Obama even more- could that even be possible???? Very well researched and written. As Lbball27 noted, I may be addicted to nonfiction!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Landon

    This book has a great insight into the many obstacles faced by this particular President. It is a difficult job made all the more so by the partisanship in Washington, DC today. Honestly feel like this book is a must-read for anybody interested in politics. The first few chapters about Obama's reaction to the economic meltdown compared to everybody else (especially McCain) is good to read about.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ron

    Garbage and complete lies.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Cahyo Purnomo

    The book was one of three compulsory reading materials to be discussed in class. It covers mainly on Obama's first year in 2009 as the first black US President at a crucial time after the collapse of Lehman Brothers. He took office and took charge on how to prevent another Great Depression where 'Too Big Too Fail' issue was hotly debated. His first year presidency also dealt with many complicated domestic issues such as healthcare, education and so on including US foreign policy. The latter The book was one of three compulsory reading materials to be discussed in class. It covers mainly on Obama's first year in 2009 as the first black US President at a crucial time after the collapse of Lehman Brothers. He took office and took charge on how to prevent another Great Depression where 'Too Big Too Fail' issue was hotly debated. His first year presidency also dealt with many complicated domestic issues such as healthcare, education and so on including US foreign policy. The latter dealt chiefly on Iraq and Afghanistan. It was quite interesting how he escaped attempt by military to box him in on Afghanistan. Unfortunately the resignation of General McChrystal was not clearly stated as this was one of the interesting parts of this book. It is also quite interesting to note that though he is an orator with last minute speech writing process but his gift is chairing the meeting! Always well prepared, well organized and makes everyone understands who's in charge! Look forward to reading further after he concluded his two-year term early this year.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Darin

    I've never been a fan of instant history books or instant biographies, but my fascination with the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing of politics, and, I admit, my admiration for President Obama, caused me to read The Promise as soon as it was published. Through first and second hand interviews with hundreds of subjects in and out of government, Jonathan Alter has assembled a compelling portrait of Mr. Obama's first "year" in office. Starting with his acceptance of the Democratic Party I've never been a fan of instant history books or instant biographies, but my fascination with the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing of politics, and, I admit, my admiration for President Obama, caused me to read The Promise as soon as it was published. Through first and second hand interviews with hundreds of subjects in and out of government, Jonathan Alter has assembled a compelling portrait of Mr. Obama's first "year" in office. Starting with his acceptance of the Democratic Party nomination in August 2008 and concluding with the passage of healthcare reform in March 2010, the timeline includes brief passages on the campaign, but truly focuses on the governance of the administration and the interactions between its members with each other and Congress. I've been disappointed by some of the results of Obama's first year; as a progressive I was hoping for policies that matched my worldview more closely. However, Alter has reminded me that, as a candidate, President Obama never described himself as a progressive, and that he has to deal with a deeply partisan political environment where the opposition's platform is to oppose everything vigorously, even when it contains substantial input from them. As an example, healthcare reform closely matches the Republican proposals from 1994 and includes mandates similar to those espoused and signed into law by Mitt Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts. Now that the same package is presented by a Democrat, the same people are against the proposals. Even when the Democrats had a 60 seat majority, enough to overcome filibusters, the egos of various Senators and the wide political viewpoints from far left Bernie Sanders of Vermont to centrist (some may describe as Democrat in Name Only - DINO) Ben Nelson of Nebraska made getting anything passed a back and forth negotiation as complicated as an arms control treaty. While many of Alter's sources are inside government, and he readily illustrates the poisonous political environment, he also levels criticisms at the administration. President Obama is criticized for not taking the lead on various issues, instead opting to let Congress do so in an effort to give them "ownership" which he believed would make them more likely to actually get something done. Overall, the book reads like an extended Newsweek (the magazine which publishes Alter's column) article or well-written blog, which is probably what was intended. However, due to the nature of the book's timeline, it does not contain the analysis one would expect to see in a historical review of President Obama which can only come with more time having passed. I'm not sure if Alter intends to produce a new book for each year of the Obama Presidency, but then, I'm not sure I'd want to read another book summarizing each year either. The Promise stands out from other instant history books, probably because its gestation lasted nearly two years and included sources known to Alter from his coverage in Newsweek.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    Jonathan Alter details the actions taken by the Obama administration through the year 2009. It is a detailed but readable account, in the style of solid, long-form journalism. Alter does a good job of explaining the dynamics and personalities that shaped decisions and politics surrounding the financial and auto bailouts, the stimulus, and, most centrally, the push to pass healthcare reform. Sometimes, the minutiae of policy-making can be a bit of a slog. What is more interesting, perhaps, are Jonathan Alter details the actions taken by the Obama administration through the year 2009. It is a detailed but readable account, in the style of solid, long-form journalism. Alter does a good job of explaining the dynamics and personalities that shaped decisions and politics surrounding the financial and auto bailouts, the stimulus, and, most centrally, the push to pass healthcare reform. Sometimes, the minutiae of policy-making can be a bit of a slog. What is more interesting, perhaps, are accounts of the personalities involved. Alter's Obama comes across as a little sphinx-like, hard to get a read on, which is probably his main strength as a political player (sharply-honed intellect, aside). One of the more colorful people in the book is chief-of-staff, later Chicago mayor, Rahm Emmanuel. The Rahm of this book is very much in the mold of a quasi-Machiavellian, hard-nosed realist. Behind the scenes, Emmanuel played a central role in the way "Obamacare" took shape. Anyone who bewails the loss of the public option has Rahm to blame. (Emmanuel would counter that the public option was never going to be passed and insisting on it would sink the legislation. Then he would flip you off.) Overall, this is an important account of a crucial period in our history. Any fair analysis of the situation compels one to admit that the Obama administration took office at a time when it was very likely that the financial system was about to implode and the largest part of the US manufacturing sector was about to fail. Whatever the shortcomings of their decision-making, and there is much to criticize, one has to admit that the Obama team pulled off some fairly impressive crisis management. When compared with the panicked reactions of the previous Bush administration, the Obama team was a picture of institutional competence. As with most inspirational leaders, Obama's support has suffered when inspiration has come up against the needs of practical governance. Alter's account shows how idealism succumbed to hard reality and the ways in which decisions, taken in a context of crisis and necessity, would set up resistance on the right and erosion of support on the left. The cruel irony of Obama's first year is that his successes fueled his party's defeats in the 2010 elections (and perhaps, from the hindsight of 2013, set up his reelection).

  21. 4 out of 5

    Holly Morrow

    Caveat emptor: The Promise is not so much an appraisal of President Obamas first year in office as a tribute. Maybe Alter (a Newsweek correspondent) will be to this Administration what Woodward was to the Bush Administration the semi-official scribe. Even the criticisms in this book are of the variety that you use in a job interview when asked to describe your greatest weakness (Sometimes I work too hard) where youre trying to find something that objectively complies with the mandate for Caveat emptor: “The Promise” is not so much an appraisal of President Obama’s first year in office as a tribute. Maybe Alter (a Newsweek correspondent) will be to this Administration what Woodward was to the Bush Administration – the semi-official scribe. Even the criticisms in this book are of the variety that you use in a job interview when asked to describe your greatest weakness (“Sometimes I work too hard”) – where you’re trying to find something that objectively complies with the mandate for self-criticism but also illuminates a desirable or admirable trait. So, in Alter’s telling, Obama’s loyalty and devotion to old friends occasionally blinded him to their failures as public servants, or he was too impatient with the nonsense of Congress, or too focused on getting the job done to notice how he was coming across to the public. Alter has an especially annoying habit of tying up a discussion of an issue with a pat, and unsupported, statement that vindicates Obama: after talking about a Persian New Year greeting that Obama recorded for VOA, Alter says, “It may have sounded hokey to Americans, but it played well in Iran.” Really? That’s an interesting assertion, but I wonder how he knows that. Or: “Obama’s first year brought no progress with North Korea, but at least the world was united in how to confront it” – umm, except for CHINA. Anyway, Alter is in the tank for Obama, have I made that clear? But his book is still interesting, mostly because of its backroom drama and interpersonal insights – how the selection of Clinton as SecState unfolded, the dynamics between Obama and his Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, a lot of detail about how the economic team (particularly Summers and Geithner) work together, some backstory on how the Pentagon and certain Generals tried to box the President in on Afghanistan strategy. So, as critical analysis I think this book fails, but as a collection of tidbits fleshing out the context of the major news stories and policy decisions of the last year and a half based on extensive access to Administration officials, it succeeds.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Josh McConnell

    Though relatively easy to read in its syntax, The Promise: President Obama, Year One is most certainly a dense book. If you have no interest in politics and simply want to read more about Obama and his life, then I recommend staying far away from this one. Read Barack Obama's own books for those topics. Instead of an autobiography, The Promise dives right into its analysis of President Obama's first year in office without any extensive introduction. There is no story building nor history of the Though relatively easy to read in its syntax, The Promise: President Obama, Year One is most certainly a dense book. If you have no interest in politics and simply want to read more about Obama and his life, then I recommend staying far away from this one. Read Barack Obama's own books for those topics. Instead of an autobiography, The Promise dives right into its analysis of President Obama's first year in office without any extensive introduction. There is no story building nor history of the President, but simply political analysis layered thickly over 450 pages. All of this is not a bad thing, however. The Promise digs deep into its details, painting a clear picture of various events (wars, health care, education, cabinet members, world catastrophes, etc). If only there was an effective summary of the content that is within the book's pages, as it lists the many successes of Obama's inaugural year (let alone what has followed). President Obama is a very hands-on President but he makes a lot of behind the scene decisions as he doesn't like to flaunt his handiwork. This has reflected poorly on him in the media, who incorrectly suggest the President has not achieved much yet. Instead, the naysayers should be reading this book and understand why America is on pace to be a much better country to live in (and a better global partner to work with) than before. Again, if you are looking for a biography on Barack Obama, pick up one of his own books instead. But if you are willing to soak in 450 pages of pure political dialog, then check out The Promise. It is well researched and written, communicating clearly why Obama is exactly the President the United States needs in office at this time.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mark Valentine

    The power of Alter's narrative lies in the immediacy and transparency of its history. I'll explain: Because the events related still have that sense of 'mist on the glass,' it makes for very engaging reading. Alter states in his Introduction that Journalism is History's first draft; this book then is the second draft of the historical record. Its transparency also makes reading it extremely engaging. Alter has access to the White House and its players and it allows him to write about the The power of Alter's narrative lies in the immediacy and transparency of its history. I'll explain: Because the events related still have that sense of 'mist on the glass,' it makes for very engaging reading. Alter states in his Introduction that Journalism is History's first draft; this book then is the second draft of the historical record. Its transparency also makes reading it extremely engaging. Alter has access to the White House and its players and it allows him to write about the backstory (much like Woodward had access to the Bush Administration, Alter has access to the Obama Administration) with precision. Alter's sentences flow and never become pedantic. My understanding of Obama has greatly improved (even more). He is the right person for this time. In the Epilogue (p. 425), Alter notes that PolitiFact.com has cataloged 502 promises that Obama made during his campaign for President. Obama "had already kept 91 of them and made progress on another 285. The database's 'Obameter' rated 14 as 'broken' and 87 as 'stalled.'" Considering that this is his first year, this documents amazing results, especially after working in the tar pits of Congress. I also gained in learning about how this man acts as President. Since he "lives above the store," reading about who he is with his family, with his associates, and with his enemies I found fascinating reading. Read this book: It is better than any White House tour could ever be. I hope that Alter will continue his recording of history by writing another volume for Year Two--and so on. He is onto something big. So is Obama.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Bookworm

    Not a very good book Author Jonathan Alter takes a look back at the 1st year or so of President Obama's first term in office, from the election to the passage of health care reform (plus a look at 2010). What had the potential to be a fantastic overview of the first year turned out to be mostly dull. It is also clear the journalist is quite biased in favor of the Obama administration. Of which there's nothing wrong with that, since we are all human, but it made me wonder how much of this was the Not a very good book Author Jonathan Alter takes a look back at the 1st year or so of President Obama's first term in office, from the election to the passage of health care reform (plus a look at 2010). What had the potential to be a fantastic overview of the first year turned out to be mostly dull. It is also clear the journalist is quite biased in favor of the Obama administration. Of which there's nothing wrong with that, since we are all human, but it made me wonder how much of this was the author merely wiping away true mistakes and missteps by the administration.   Although Alter does a good job in showing the human side of the President, the book meanders after a while from a chronological retelling to more of one that is thematic. I don't mind either format, but it was a little annoying to figure out exactly where were were in the timeline and I felt the author ran out of gas between the initial few months until the passage of healthcare reform.   As a book for comparison it is always interesting to see how different stories, people, events, etc. are viewed by different writers, people they interviewed, etc. However I felt there wasn't much that was new here (perhaps it was new at the time of the book's publication) and I didn't feel I really got much insight on the people in the book.   Perhaps it's a reflection of my own personal biases--I have more experience with the campaign side of it that the policy. But it was still quite a tedious read that was tough to get through. For historians it might be of interest but I'd take it with some salt and suggest reading other resources.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Rafael Suleiman

    A good examination of year one of the Obama presidency.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    The premise: 1) Alter writes a book about the run-up to FDR's election and his historic first one-hundred days. 2) Barack Obama and his staff blatantly use Alter's FDR book as a map of how to begin their administration. 3) Alter works closely with Obama's staff to document the first year of Obama's administration in order to ultimately release a book about the run-up to Barack Obama's election and his historic first year. All in all, I'd say it's a pretty neat trick. And, as it happens, it's a The premise: 1) Alter writes a book about the run-up to FDR's election and his historic first one-hundred days. 2) Barack Obama and his staff blatantly use Alter's FDR book as a map of how to begin their administration. 3) Alter works closely with Obama's staff to document the first year of Obama's administration in order to ultimately release a book about the run-up to Barack Obama's election and his historic first year. All in all, I'd say it's a pretty neat trick. And, as it happens, it's a pretty good book as well. Alter touches on all the high and low points of Obama's first year in a manner that seems evenhanded overall. Personally, I believe Alter is a little too generous towards Obama where, to put it lightly, more constructive criticism would have been warranted. After reading Alter's "insider" account of the administration, I do feel inclined to be more sympathetic towards decisions made by the Obama administration that I remember being angered by at the time they occurred. One final note...I finished the book--the last chapter of which is about Obama's plan for Afghanistan--the night before the details of General McChrystal's interview with Rolling Stone broke. If I had any question about the overall veracity of the material Alter published, it ceased to exist that morning.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Christina

    Reading this just after the GOP sweep in the midterms has left a bitter taste in my mouth. So much opportunity lost! Yet, Alter in many ways explains why, even though the book was written before the election. It is amazing how an administration can do so much and receive credit for so little. Yes, a lot of it is superficial messaging. Yes, many of us who are political junkies were dying for a man like Obama to speak to us like adults after 8 years of 'Git 'er done!' But once elected, the White Reading this just after the GOP sweep in the midterms has left a bitter taste in my mouth. So much opportunity lost! Yet, Alter in many ways explains why, even though the book was written before the election. It is amazing how an administration can do so much and receive credit for so little. Yes, a lot of it is superficial messaging. Yes, many of us who are political junkies were dying for a man like Obama to speak to us like adults after 8 years of 'Git 'er done!' But once elected, the White House teams' unwillingness to bend to some of that need for superficial messaging meant that he lost touch with all BUT the most dedicated, wonky supporters. Sure *I* loved learning how the sausage was made, but I'm a nut! The average out of work, or barely working American losing his house didn't give a rats ass. Alter does a great job explaining the machinations behind the scenes that happened and he rightfully highlights the very real, long term advances in foreign policy achieved by Obama personally. But this book also reveals those shortcomings that would grow into the discontent leading to the mid term losses. It's a great read for both supporters and detractors of this President.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    I'm usually skeptical of the value of current events books written on such a short timetable, but Alter's account is deeply reported and compellingly written. The author is unquestionably sympathetic to Obama but generally even-handed in his approach (though defending Obama's preference for "extraordinarily smart men and women" by slamming the Bush White House for its "legions of second-raters" is a cheap shot). My favorite behind-the-scenes revelation was that Rupert Murdoch planned to endorse I'm usually skeptical of the value of current events books written on such a short timetable, but Alter's account is deeply reported and compellingly written. The author is unquestionably sympathetic to Obama but generally even-handed in his approach (though defending Obama's preference for "extraordinarily smart men and women" by slamming the Bush White House for its "legions of second-raters" is a cheap shot). My favorite behind-the-scenes revelation was that Rupert Murdoch planned to endorse Obama over McCain until Roger Ailes threatened to quit as Fox News chief (seriously; see p. 275). Alter also offers interesting explanations for some of the Administration's first-year shortcomings, such as its lack of businesspeople on staff (the tax issues faced by Geithner and Daschle complicated the vetting process for later high-income candidates) and its communication problems (90% of the general electorate doesn't closely follow the news media, something the other 10% of us often forgets). Of course none of these strengths ultimately compensates for the lack of a long-term perspective, but as a "second draft of history," this is as good as it gets.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    One of those books that is so well written and interesting that your able to read quickly despite it being over 400 pages. The book is an insider view of Obama's first year in office, which provides a detailed look at the state of the country after Bush and company ran things for eight years. Needless to say, things were much worse than team Obama imagined. The author is lightly critical of the President, but you are able to get a real sense of how Obama's mind works and his vision for the One of those books that is so well written and interesting that your able to read quickly despite it being over 400 pages. The book is an insider view of Obama's first year in office, which provides a detailed look at the state of the country after Bush and company ran things for eight years. Needless to say, things were much worse than team Obama imagined. The author is lightly critical of the President, but you are able to get a real sense of how Obama's mind works and his vision for the country. I will admit that this book has turned me from a skeptic to a supporter of the President and I learned alot about the inner workings, or not, of Washington D.C. I would recommend this one to anyone, but especially to those that might think they know who Obama is, or what he has done, but perhaps really don't know; I include myself in that boat. The author has also written a book on FDR's first year in office, which I hope to read, and the paralells are very interesting to the lover of presidential history. Do I know dare say that I am "Fired up and ready to go!"

  30. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    I had to read this book for class and I was kind of biased against it from the beginning. Why would you write a book about the first year of a presidency and publish it immediately after? Do you want history to make you look dumb? My other fear was that no one could write this book without a lot of bias and that was borne out. Clearly he loves Obama. Sure, he shows him making mistakes but nothing that really damages him. Alter clearly loves Obama. Which is fine, I guess, but I got really tired I had to read this book for class and I was kind of biased against it from the beginning. Why would you write a book about the first year of a presidency and publish it immediately after? Do you want history to make you look dumb? My other fear was that no one could write this book without a lot of bias and that was borne out. Clearly he loves Obama. Sure, he shows him making mistakes but nothing that really damages him. Alter clearly loves Obama. Which is fine, I guess, but I got really tired of him telling me that I should too. If you are a good author, you can convince me to see it your way. If you are constantly telling me what I should think it doesn't make for a very interesting read AND it makes me doubt that you have enough evidence to just convince me. Also was a weird time to read an epilogue about the ultimate success of the ACA and the vindication of Obama's year one strategy. Time for a new epilogue! Or just wait 20 years and write the better book.

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