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Publisher's Summary

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.

In The Promise, 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 in 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 Promise is 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.

Alter takes the listener 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 bounces back after a disastrous Massachusetts election to redeem a promise that had eluded presidents since FDR.

©2010 Jonathan Alter (P)2010 Simon & Schuster

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

the only way to read a book like this

I loved the book. I never would have gone through it if I had to read it. but listening to it suited my life style very well. It was interesting to the end and J. Alter's voice was perfect for the book
Even though it had many details it kept my attention to the end.
I look forward to the second year.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Andy
  • Westport, CT, United States
  • 05-30-10

goes way beyond the headlines and soundbites

Jonathan Alter's latest book provides an interesting and detailed "behind the scenes" view. His terrific narration, coupled with great research, makes you feel you were actually in the room. This book delivers colorful detail into the machinations from the run-up to the election through Obama's first year in office. Best of all, it is going to help me better understand how Obama will lead us going forward.

13 of 14 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Gives Great Insight

The Promise really captured the essence of Obama, his personality, his decision making ability, his managerial style. Surprisingly, the book did a superb job of analyzing the key people around him notably Rahm Emanuel, Larry Summers, and Timothy Geithner and the rationale behind his policy decisions and priorities. The discussion about his "battle" with the military complex is fascinating.

It was a riveting read, from balancing the Republican strategy of saying no, the dynamics versus each of the Clintons and the remarkable campaign he mounted to win the Democratic nomination and then the presidency. How McCain and Palin were viewed was amusing.

The best book I have read by far on Obama from his campaign through is first year in office.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

good

Personally, I think this is a fairly good narrative of the President's first year. It brings you through the journey of first year. His highs and his lows. While It does feel the author is a little partial to Obama, the author does show both good and bad. But ultimately this is chronicle of his first year. And I feel that most of the negative reviews are angry this isnt another Laura Ingram berate against Obama. If you want that, there are books you can buy, This is not it. Otherwise this is a good book to buy.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Amazing journalism and writing

I always knew Jonathan Alter was brilliant, listening to him frequently on MSNBC, but this book is insightful work. Every story was exciting, and I'll tell you why: for many of us political junkies, we know the public stories; what we don't know are the "behind the scenes" stories of President Obama's first year. Alter gives us this, with clarity and compelling prose.

The recent events with General McChrystal's resignation is made more clear after you've learned how the President developed his Afgan policy and the way he affirmed buy-in.

Of course the bottom line is that, again and again, I am pleased that Barack Obama is our president, and Alter's book helps me feel assured how the President and his staff are likely handling current crises (like BP).

I highly recommend this book. If I had my way, it would be required reading for every American who voted for the President; it would reaffirm their choice (despite some acknowledged screw-ups and a realization that "real change," almost by definition is "slow change.").

Good listening!

9 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Good book

Good summary of the Obama's first year in office. There is an excellent chapter on Obama's character.

The narration is amateurish. His voice often sounds tired. If Alter is going to do a book per year, his publisher should hire a professional reader.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Chris
  • Bonita, CA, United States
  • 06-15-10

Best Book on Obama's Presidency

If your a tea bagger or love listening to Glenn Beck than this is not the book for you. But if you want to learn how the Obama Administration functions and what Obama's leadership style is like you will find this book endlessly fascinating. By far the best book out there on the Obama Presidency.

6 of 10 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

incredible, well read first rate

I just finished listening to it , August, 2016, so it really is ironic how most of how Obama started his presidency, the promises he made, came true and far exceeded our expectations.
Thank you, Mr. Alter!!!

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • ivan
  • seattle, WA, United States
  • 06-25-12

a decent book

The Promise provides a good summary of the firs months of the Obama presidency.

Its a decent book that succeeds in what it sets out to do.

Jonathan Alter is clearly sympathetic to Obama and his brand of pragmatic liberalism. So if you're looking for a neutral or a negative view of the president, this book will probably be an irritating disappointment.

By noting that this volume is decent I also want to highlight that it's not great.

Yes, by reading The Promise you would get a little more insider information about the young presidency than you would if you were following Obama in the pages of the New York Times. But you won't get that much more.

Most of the book consists of rehashing what any political junkie already knows (but may have forgotten).

Tidbits of novel insights are intermixed with the authors prolonged analysis and interpretations that can get redundant. They are by no means intolerable, its just that instead of having a feeling of reading a detailed history one often has a sense of consuming a vague, supportive editorial.

I don't have a problem with a liberal bias. I am a liberal and will enthusiastically support Obama in the upcoming elections. But this books lengthy and supportive psychoanalysis of Obama's character and vague support of his policies gets a little old.

Atler's transparent admiration of Obama shrouds the narrative with a blurry softness.

Basically, my problem is that instead of concrete information, after a brief and adequate summary of some event in 2009 you then get pro-Obama analysis of the event and the book moves on to something new.

Its not bad, and is pretty informative but leaves you without a sense of any great insight.




  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

A bit Biased

The fairly liberal author really likes Obama and his accomplishments in the first year, which is not surprising but it becomes very obvious sometimes (even for me, someone who favors Obama) which is not good for a book that is supposed to be a very early draft of history of the first year of the Obama presidency.
However, the book is full of details about what happened in the first year (even though they mostly favor Obama) and more importantly it offers details on Obama's management style and his attitude towards the commander-in-cheif and top executive job.
Enjoy the details of the book (especially, if you're interested in politics like I'm) but remember that it's a first somehow biased draft of history.