Barack Obama's Memoir is The Biggest Publishing Story of the Year

Adrienne Westenfeld
·3-min read
Photo credit: Joe Raedle
Photo credit: Joe Raedle

From Esquire

Years after the record-breaking bidding war for memoirs from Barack and Michelle Obama, which ended in a staggering $65 million advance from Penguin Random House, the former president’s memoir is finally here. A Promised Land, the first volume of Obama’s two-part memoir, will hit shelves on November 17th. Yet if you’ve heard anything about the book’s remarkable path to publication, you may be worried about getting a copy—and with good reason.

Demand for A Promised Land is expected to be extraordinary, and the book will be translated into 25 languages, including Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, Czech, Finnish, and Vietnamese. It will span Obama’s early political career in Chicago, his history-making presidential run in 2008, and conclude with the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011.

“There’s no feeling like finishing a book, and I’m proud of this one,” Obama said. “I’ve spent the last few years reflecting on my presidency, and in A Promised Land I’ve tried to provide an honest accounting of my presidential campaign and my time in office: the key events and people who shaped it, my take on what I got right and the mistakes I made, and the political, economic, and cultural forces that my team and I had to confront then—and that as a nation we are grappling with still.”

A Promised Land is far from Obama’s first book. Dreams From My Father, his first memoir, was published in 1995, with a much paltrier advance of $40,000. The Audacity of Hope, his second memoir, debuted in 2006. Dreams From My Father has since sold 3.3 million copies in the United States and Canada, while The Audacity of Hope has sold 4.2 million copies. Obama also wrote a children’s book in 2010, Of Thee I Sing, which told the stories of thirteen prominent Americans, including Jackie Robinson, Billie Holiday, and Georgia O’Keefe. Obama dedicated the book to his young daughters.

“That has to be the single biggest arc in the history of publishing,” said editor Peter Osnos, who published Dreams From My Father at Times Books, of Obama’s journey from a $40,000 advance to a $65 million advance.

If sales of Michelle Obama’s 2018 memoir, Becoming, are any indication, A Promised Land will be a smash hit. Becoming sold ten million copies in the United States and Canada in its first six months alone, appearing as a mainstay on bestseller lists throughout 2018. Barnes & Noble CEO James Daunt predicts that A Promised Land will “sell as no other book has done since July 21, 2007”—the date Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows hit shelves, an industry all-timer.

Don’t wait until it’s too late to buy. Whether A Promised Land is up to bat at your book club, you’re looking to buy it as a holiday gift, or you simply can’t wait to dive in yourself, it could fly off the shelves in short order. In fact, the sooner you buy, the better, because at 768 pages, you’ll have your reading work cut out for you during this long, cold winter.

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