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The World as It Is: A Memoir of the Obama…
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The World as It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House

by Ben Rhodes

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Reading this book was sort of a like reliving the ten years of Obama's candidacy and presidency with the benefit of hindsight. Ben Rhodes worked on the Obama campaign and then served as deputy national security adviser for much of Obama's presidency. This book offers an excellent overview of the major foreign policy initiatives of the past few years - the Myanmar genocide, the Iran Nuclear Deal, the assignation of Osama bin Laden, the negotiations with Cuba - all feature in this book. For those interested in foreign affairs and the American presidency, this book is well worth the read. ( )
  wagner.sarah35 | Oct 11, 2018 |
I don't really understand the point of this book. Everybody today knows the history, and we don't need a play-by-play. Ten years from now, it might be better; then it might find an audience that doesn't already know the story, and, more importantly, those ten years would give Rhodes more time to reflect.

As it is, there is nowhere near enough perspective. There are lots of excuses (along the lines of "I argued for X and was the only one") and very little bridge-burning.

There is an obsession with speeches over action, which reminds me of the West Wing television series. No wonder he feels stuck in reactive mode, when his all-nighters are spent fine tuning the phrasing for a speech noone will listen to, instead of on planning policy. (He tries to justify this odd priority by saying that Obama hadn't been in Washington long, so he needed the speeches to communicate his priorities to his departments. I am not convinced.)

Perhaps the shallowness is itself revealing, but I would rather read a deeper, more questioned story. (After starting this book I read Obama's "Dreams from my Father" before returning to Rhodes; that was much better written and argued.) ( )
  breic | Sep 11, 2018 |
'The World as it Is', by Obama's speechwriter Ben Rhodes, is political non-fiction at its best: well-written, fast-paced, timely, and with enough nuggets of inside information to make it feel like you're getting the real deal. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Rhodes seems like a truly good guy who finds himself in a progressively responsible position working for a young black Chicagoan who has moved into the most powerful position in the world. He starts out as one of many youngsters on Obama's team and ends up as not only the president's wordsmith but as the guy who was most responsible for negotiating the thaw in our relationship with Cuba. In the process he finds his marriage buffeted by his irregular and demanding schedule and his name dragged through the mud by partisan operators on the right (for example, he crafted some talking points and emails that were misquoted and taken out of context by the Benghazi folks led by Trey Gowdy). It's striking to see in the small photo collection in the book the obvious visible impact of his stressful work on his appearance over an 8 year period.

I voted for Obama twice, thought he did a decent job and felt he represented our country very well on the world stage. After the last two years of the Trump show, and after reading how his predecessor functioned in the role, I can only tell you that this tome will make you appreciate President Obama even more. It tells us 'how the sausage is made' but more importantly provides insight into how a president who is a truly professional and decent public servant functioned in all sorts of situations. At least a couple dozen times I found myself wondering how the current occupant of the White House would operate in similar circumstances, how he'd deal with the people under him, and so forth. Rhodes is an 'Obama guy' without a doubt, but I thought he was fair in his portrayal of the former president's personality, warts and all.

The most enjoyable part of this book, for me, was the account of how a young guy makes his way up the ladder in a political pressure cooker and succeeds. Rhodes is a bit of a tragic figure due to his being vilified by GOP operatives for a couple things, but his ascension to a role that the president not only trusted but expanded is admirable. Again, this well-written account was both enjoyable and instructive and ought to be of interest to anyone who's into current affairs in the US. ( )
  gmmartz | Aug 10, 2018 |
Ben Rhodes is a wonderful storyteller. In this insightful tale, he brings the reader on a trip through ten years with Barack Obama, from his campaign for president to his eight years in office. As a person who was a member of Obama's inner circle for those ten years, he is able to provide the reader with the thoughts and reasons behind everything that was done both in front of the cameras and behind the scenes. I have always been impressed with Obama, but after reading this my admiration for the man and president has grown. Rhodes reminds us of all that we had and all that we have lost with the election of Trump. I hope he keeps writing and following his bliss. He is an incredible writer. ( )
  Susan.Macura | Aug 2, 2018 |
Obama: It’s true, Ben does not have African blood running through his veins. But few others so closely see the world through my eyes like he can. Ben’s one of the few who’ve been with me since that first presidential campaign. His memoir is one of the smartest reflections I’ve seen as to how we approached foreign policy, and one of the most compelling stories I’ve seen about what it’s actually like to serve the American people for eight years in the White House.
  Egaro | Jul 24, 2018 |
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Epigraph
The clouds were building up now for the trade wind and he looked ahead and saw a flight of wild ducks etching themselves against the sky and he knew no man was ever alone on the sea.

-- Ernest Hemingway
Dedication
For my parents
First words
For the first time in a foreign country as president of the United States of America, Barack Hussein Obama eased into his seat as a Secret Service agent shut the heavy door. (Prologue)
For the final time in a foreign country as President of the United States of America, Barack Hussein Obama eased into his seat as a Secret Service agent shut the heavy door.
The first time I met Barack Obama, I didn't want to say a word.
Quotations
"What if we were wrong?" Obama said, sitting opposite me in the Beast.
"Wrong about what?" I asked.
[...]
Now he told me about a piece he had read in The New York Times, a column asserting that liberals had forgotten how important identity is to people, that we had embraced a message indistinguishable from John Lennon's "Imagine" -- touting an empty cosmopolitan globalism that could no longer reach people. Imagine all the people, sharing all the world.

"Maybe we pushed too far," he said. "Maybe people just want to fall back into their tribe."
[...]
What if we were wrong?
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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"For nearly ten years, Ben Rhodes saw almost everything that happened at the center of the Obama administration, first as a speechwriter, then as deputy national security advisor, and finally as a multipurpose aide and close collaborator. He started every morning in the Oval Office with the President's Daily Briefing, traveled the world with Obama, and was at the center of some of the most consequential and controversial moments of the presidency. Now he tells the full story of his partnership--and, ultimately, friendship--with a man who also happened to be a historic president of the United States. ... Rhodes shows what it was like to be there from the early days of the Obama campaign to the final hours of the presidency. It is a story populated by such characters as Susan Rice, Samantha Power, Hillary Clinton, Bob Gates, and--above all--Barack Obama, who comes to life on the page in moments of great urgency and disarming intimacy. This is the most vivid portrayal yet of Obama's worldview and presidency, a chronicle of a political education and an essential record of the forces that shaped the last decade."--… (more)

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