The latest in the uncrowded genre of Presidential Memoirs 

November 28, 2020 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, journalism.

The presidential memoir is a publishing genré into which only a few can legitimately enter — although it might be fun to see some imaginative writer pen a fictional presidential memoir that qualified in some other genré, such as a detective story.

(The term “fictional presidential memoir” might set some of you wags thinking, “Redundancy?” Okay, have your fun.)

In the words of the immortal Max Schulman, creator of Dobie Gillis, “I digress.”

So, in the rare field of presidential memoirs, we were treated recently to a truly rare item: a presidential memoir that a former president actually wrote.

You will remember that before Barack Obama was president, senator, professor, community organizer, and husband to Michelle, he was a writer. (I did a JPROF post of this sometime back.) The book is titled A Promised Land, and it took Obama about three-and-a-half years to write it.

That’s a long time. One of the reasons that it took so long is that it’s a long book — more than 800 pages. Another reason is that Obama wrote it himself.

The New York Times has more on that and how Obama’s book compares to recent previous entries into the genre.

Even so, other presidents have published similarly lengthy memoirs in less time. Bill Clinton’s “My Life” appeared less than three and a half years after he left the White House and weighed in at around 1,000 pages. Harry Truman published the first installment of his two-volume memoirs a full year faster than Obama published his.

Obama’s meticulous approach — and insistence on writing the book himself — offers a second clue. “Obama is a genuine literary stylist,” said Jonathan Alter, the author of two books about the 44th president. “And anybody who has ever tried to be one knows that it can be like squeezing blood from a stone.” Source: Presidential Memoirs Don’t Always Take This Long to Write – The New York Times

How will Obama’s book stack up against others in the field? That has yet to be determined, but it’s universally agreed that the memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant qualify as some of the finest writing that anyone who has held military or political office in this country has ever done.

I’ve written about him before, too:

The life of Ulysses S. Grant: Ending with a Triumph

Ulysses Grant: Writing and dying – in public view

Obama’s book has gotten a lot of rave reviews so far. We need more time, however, before we know whether or not his book will compare favorably to that of General Grant.

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