Why Barack Obama Quit Smoking & Other Revelations From A Promised Land

The 768 page memoir charts Obama's time in the White House and beyond.


Barack Obama's first post-presidential memoir has finally arrived. A Promised Land is out now, and it's full of revelations about the 44th POTUS' path to the White House and his experiences in the highest office in the land. It's Obama's first book in a decade, and his first memoir in 14 years, following 2010's Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters and 2006's The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. Clocking in at just under 800 pages and providing an escape to a better time, A Promised Land is just the nostalgic doorstopper we need to close out 2020.

Obama planted the seed for A Promised Land way back in 2017, when he and Michelle O. signed a book deal worth a reported $65 million or more. The first release from that deal, Michelle's Becoming, quickly became the best-selling book of 2018, and we have no doubt Barack's book will be a triumph as well.

Keep reading for the five biggest revelations from A Promised Land:

Politics allowed Obama to find his place in the world.

From the beginning of Barack Obama's first presidential campaign, opponents called his loyalties and qualifications into question by suggesting that he was a Muslim born in Kenya, rather than a Christian born in Hawaii. By 2011, when the president released his long-form birth certificate, political journalists and researchers had reached a consensus, thoroughly documented by The Atlantic's Alex Eichler: the birther movement was a racist attack on the first Black, major-party candidate in 20 years. As Obama reveals in A Promised Land, however, those attacks were part of an overarching trend in his life, because his mixed-race heritage and globetrotting upbringing had made it difficult for him to find a place to belong. He writes:

"I wanted to tell a more personal story that might inspire young people considering a life of public service: how my career in politics really started with a search for a place to fit in, a way to explain the different strands of my mixed-up heritage, and how it was only by hitching my wagon to something larger than myself that I was ultimately able to locate a community and purpose for my life."

He & Michelle know just how bad the U.S. health care system is.

Obama's chapter on passing the Affordable Care Act contains the story of his youngest daughter Sasha's bout of viral meningitis, contracted when she was only three months old.

"Each time I met a parent struggling to come up with the money to get treatment for a sick child, I thought back to the night Michelle and I had to take three-month-old Sasha to the emergency room for what turned out to be viral meningitis," Obama writes, remarking on "the terror and the helplessness we felt as the nurses whisked her away for a spinal tap, and the realization that we might never have caught the infection in time had the girls not had a regular pediatrician we felt comfortable calling in the middle of the night."

Obama sets the story straight on how he gave up smoking.

It's no secret that Americans' health was at the front and center of Barack and Michelle Obama's agenda. He pushed to get the Affordable Care Act onto his desk, and she spent eight years in the White House trying to interest children in exercise and healthful eating. Lest he be considered a hypocrite, President Obama tried to quit smoking early in his presidency, but found that the stress of running the United States called for nicotine. He writes that he would smoke up to half a pack of cigarettes a day, and would hide his smoking habit from others. Ultimately, after seeing Malia's disappointment in his continued tobacco use, he kicked the habit by chewing piece upon piece of nicotine gum.

He doesn't mince words about Sarah Palin.

In their first presidential campaign, Barack Obama and Joe Biden faced off against the late Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and former Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin. During the campaign and in the years that followed, McCain's running mate made frequent headlines for her gaffes, which included the erroneous assertion that Paul Revere was a loyalist, a suggestion to send in Dutch dike crews to clean up after Deepwater Horizon, and her invention of the word "refudiate."

In A Promised Land, Obama goes all-in on what Palin's proud anti-intellectualism meant for the United States, writing that: "Through Palin, it seemed as if the dark spirits that had long been lurking on the edges of the modern Republican Party — xenophobia, anti intellectualism, paranoid conspiracy theories, an antipathy toward Black and brown folks — were finding their way to center stage." He goes on to say that he would like to believe that McCain, who passed away from brain cancer in 2018 at age 81, would have chosen a different running mate, had he known that Palin's "spectacular rise and... validation as a candidate would provide a template for future politicians, shifting [the Republican] party's center and the country's politics overall in a direction [McCain] abhorred."

Obama shows how a peaceful transition is supposed to work.

Although Obama wrote and finalized A Promised Land far ahead of the 2020 election, his new memoir offers a stark look at how much different his journey from election to inauguration was from the current situation facing Joe Biden.

"Whether because of his respect for the institution, lessons from his father, bad memories of his own transition... or just basic decency, President Bush would end up doing all he could to make the 11 weeks between my election and his departure go smoothly," Obama writes. He takes care to note just how warm and welcoming Laura, Jenna, and Barbara were to Michelle, Malia, and Sasha, adding that: "I promised myself that when the time came, I would treat my successor the same way."