Barack Obama memoir hailed by booksellers as biggest title of year

Barack Obama memoir hailed by booksellers as biggest title of year

Booksellers have hailed the first volume of Barack Obama's presidential memoirs as the biggest book of the year and potentially the bestselling since the final Harry Potter novel, although some indies have raised concerns about the hardback price.

A Promised Land will be published on 17th November 2020, following the latest US presidential election. It will be 768 pages long, with two 16-page photographic inserts, with the hardback having an RRP of £35, the e-book £15.99 and the audio download £25.

It will be published in the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, India and South Africa in print and digital formats by Viking. It will be released in the US and Canada in hardcover and digital formats by PRH US imprint Crown. It will also be published in 25 languages, with PRH having world language rights.

Waterstones boss James Daunt predicted the title would sell like no other book since the final title in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Bloomsbury Children's Books).

He said: “Dreams from My Father introduced us to a little known US Senator and to a writer of poetic grace. The Audacity of Hope gave thrilling vision to his ambitions for political office. A Promised Land now offers us a grand, lyrical narrative of his presidency. This will be a book of rare consequence. That it will sell as no other book has done since July 21, 2007 is immensely cheering to booksellers.” 

Zool Verjee, head of marketing and publicity for Blackwell's, said he was "extremely excited" by the release. He said: "This will undoubtedly be one of the biggest books of the year for us and its publication so near the US presidential election will stimulate even more sales. The appetite for books about US politics remains undiminished—as illustrated by the release this week of Bob Woodward’s book Rage (S&S) and where US politics books are concerned, Barack Obama really is as big as it gets."

Indies also predicted big things, although there was consternation about the 768-page hardback's suggested list price of £35 in the UK.

Mel Griffin, who runs Griffin Books in Penarth, south Wales, said: "I think it will be a big seller this autumn/Christmas. £35 is indeed a hefty price—I assume it's going to be a pretty hefty book for that—but I will looking to offer pre-orders at a very attractive discount, in order to make the most of the opportunity."

However, at Edinburgh's radical bookshop Lighthouse Books, Mairi Oliver said the huge price was "a slight kick in the teeth", pointing out Waterstones was already offering pre-orders at half price.

She said: "We will of course be stocking Obama's presidential memoir—though the ridiculous price took the wind from our sails a bit. Frankly the pricing reeks of the sort of sales strategy premised on the book being primarily sold at massive discount through the chains and online beasts, leaving independents like us—who couldn't possibly afford to give customers 50% off—out in the cold on a major title, again."

Obama's previous memoirs with Canongate have sold a combined 1.26 million copies for £8.6m through Nielsen BookScan's UK TCM, with the paperback of Dreams from My Father selling 711,403 copies. His wife Michelle's blockbuster Becoming (Viking) has sold 753,020 copies since November 2018. 

Announcing the book yesterday, Obama said: “There’s no feeling like finishing a book, and I’m proud of this one. 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.

“In the book, I’ve also tried to give readers a sense of the personal journey that Michelle and I went through during those years, with all the incredible highs and lows. And finally, at a time when America is going through such enormous upheaval, the book offers some of my broader thoughts on how we can heal the divisions in our country going forward and make our democracy work for everybody—a task that won’t depend on any single president, but on all of us as engaged citizens. Along with being a fun and informative read, I hope more than anything that the book inspires young people across the country—and around the globe—to take up the baton, lift up their voices, and play their part in remaking the world for the better.” 

A publication date for the second, and concluding, volume of the memoirs has not yet been set and will be announced at a later date. Details about the former president's book tour will be announced later this autumn.

PRH said the first volume would provide a “unique and thoughtful” insight into the financial crisis, Vladimir Putin, the Affordable Care Act and clashes with generals on foreign policy.

The synopsis explains: “In his own words, Barack Obama tells in A Promised Land the story of his improbable odyssey from young man searching for his identity to leader of the free world, describing in strikingly personal detail both his political education and the landmark moments of the first term of his historic presidency—a time of dramatic transformation and turmoil.

“Providing a stirring, deeply personal account of history in the making, Obama takes readers on a compelling journey from his earliest political aspirations to the pivotal Iowa caucus victory that demonstrated the power of grassroots activism to the watershed night of November 4, 2008, when he was elected 44th president of the United States, becoming the first African American to hold the nation’s highest office.”

The book had originally been expected last year, with PRH c.e.o. Markus Dohle saying he “hoped” it would be out in autumn 2019.

Dohle said yesterday: “Through his words and actions, President Obama has had an indelible impact on the world and the course of history, serving as a beacon of hope and progress that has inspired so many. He is also a supremely gifted and accomplished writer, and it is a great honour for Penguin Random House to publish A Promised Land for readers everywhere. I know they will find it to be a book that vividly brings history to life, reminding us of the power of democracy even during times of global crisis.”