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The Promise: President Obama, Year One Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 18, 2010

3.8 out of 5 stars 94 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Author and Newsweek editor Alter (The Defining Moment: FDR'S Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope) chronicles Obama's first year (plus) as U.S. President, from pre-inauguration planning through the passage of health care reform in March, 2010, in this engaging, fast-moving contemporary history. Exploring Obama's "temperament, his approach to decision making, and his analysis of his ambitious first year," as well as the overarching questions of "What happened?" and "How well did he do?", Alter will remind readers why they voted as they did, and why Obama was ultimately victorious. Tasked with "the worst set of problems of any incoming president since Roosevelt in 1933," Obama served up a range of big-ticket solutions that included "the huge and underappreciated stimulus package, the auto bailouts, bank rescue and regulation... sending sixty-one thousand more troops to Afghanistan, and a health care bill," each of which Alter addresses in depth. Alter finds that, despite the denial of right-wingers, Obama performed admirably in the first year, with progress on 50 percent of his campaign promises (and completion of 18 percent). Alter's prose is swift and subtly inspiring; the "Yes, we can!" motto rarely appears but provides an undercurrent for his record of accomplishment. Readers interested in political process and the reality of progressive politics will enjoy this well-considered take on the current administration, a "second draft" of history from a dedicated journalist who wisely anticipates "dozens more versions to come."

From Bookmarks Magazine

Drawing on insider access and more than 200 interviews with key players, Washington veteran Jonathan Alter examines the nascent Obama presidency with a journalist's eye for the telling detail and a historian's perspective. Despite the transparency that the office of president demands (for the most part), Obama remains enigmatic--ebullient, confident, and optimistic; aloof, demanding, and maybe a bit out of touch. Alter, whose obvious admiration for Obama never impedes his journalistic instincts (he candidly discusses Obama's missteps with Wall Street, for example), captures those contradictions well. Presidential chroniclers won't have the advantage of hindsight for some time, but "when it comes ... to the first draft of history, The Promise is more polished--and far more thoughtful--than most" (Los Angeles Times).

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (May 18, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439101191
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439101193
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (94 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #565,919 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jonathan Alter (b. 1957, Chicago, Illinois) is an author, journalist,and television commentator. Since 1983, he has been a correspondent and columnist for Newsweek. He is also an analyst for NBC News and MSNBC, where he appears three or four times a week.

Alter is the author of "The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope" (2006), a national bestseller, and "The Promise: President Obama, Year One" (2010), which went to number 4 on the New York Times Bestseller List and was named one of the 100 "Notable Books of the Year" by the Times. He is also the author of "Between the Lines: A View Inside American Politics, Media and Culture" (2008), a collection of his Newsweek columns. He currently serves as the co-executive producer, with Garry Trudeau, of the Amazon original program Alpha House, starring John Goodman, Mark Consuelos. He lives in Montclair, New Jersey with his wife, Emily Lazar, a producer for "The Colbert Report," and their three children, Charlotte, Tommy and Molly.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is a vivid description of the day-to-day operation of the Obama administration in the chaotic first year of his presidency. Overall, I think it was a fair assessment of both Obama's strengths and his weaknesses.

I'm surprised that some of the reviewers here think that Alter's book is overly biased in favor of Obama.

It's clear that the writer thinks highly of Obama personally -- he portrays him as highly intelligent and possessed of effective leadership skills. But Alter is also very clear-eyed about where Obama has gone wrong in the first year of his presidency.

Alter gives Obama credit for actions early in the presidency (the bank and automaker bail-outs) that were unpopular, but probably saved the recession from tipping over into a depression, and for the historic health care legislation. With health care, Obama delivered on something that presidents since FDR have tried and failed to do. Nobody thinks it is a perfect plan but it is something that can be built on.

But Alter faults Obama in other crucial areas -- particularly jobs and housing. Obama, as portrayed by Alter, errs in relying too heavily on one set of economists -- Geithner, Summers, and their acolytes -- while essentially ignoring contradictory views. Everything had to be funnelled through Summers. Obama, in Alter's analysis, thereby encloses himself in the "bubble" that he had said he was going to try to avoid.

Alter also faults Obama for failing to communicate effectively with the American people about what he was trying to do. Obama's cool, unemotional personality does not serve him well, in a situation which required the warmth and empathy that an FDR or a Clinton were able to convey.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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12 Comments 35 of 45 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover
I am an independent who voted for Obama in 2008 and don't regret it (although I am somewhat disappointed in his first year). However, in writing books about politicians, the political scientist in me believes it is crucial to remain objective and try to separate the spin from the reality. For whatever reason, all too often the journalists with the best access in political circles also tend to be the most biased or least analytical. Unfortunately, Jonathan Alter's The Promise: President Obama, Year One is no exception. This book is, to put it kindly, very sympathetic toward the administration.

What do I mean by "sympathetic"? I don't certainly mind if an author admires his subject or favors his policy choices. However, Alter seems determined to find no fault with Obama and dismiss all of his failures as the fault of others. In the introduction, Alter seems to blame Obama's first-year woes on the president's overconfidence in the - get this - the American people. Too often, voters are portrayed as dumb, Republicans as devious, and Obama's policy choices as all brilliant, if misunderstood. However, let's be honest - there are many people who have honest concerns about Obama's policies. I myself agree with some (foreign policy), but not others (healthcare). Sometimes, I got the sense Alter simply repeated spin from the administration. This sort of bias in The Promise: President Obama, Year One is simply unacceptable in real a history.

This type of "journalistic history" book is really built around a few revealing anecdotes, without much substance or depth.
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