Author: Ben Rhodes

Publisher: Random House

ISBN: 978-0-525-50935

Ben Rhodes served as deputy national security adviser to President Barack Obama all eight years, overseeing communications, speechwriting, public diplomacy, and global engagement programming. From 2007 to 2008, he was senior speechwriter and foreign policy adviser for the Obama campaign. This book is his story. Through his eyes and ears we come to know Mr. Obama—the astute politician, the visionary, and, most of all, the man.

Technically, this book is a memoir. It’s the best I’ve ever read because it reads like a suspense novel—multifaceted and exciting plot, interesting characters, and international settings—I could hardly put it down. Maybe that’s not surprising. Mr. Rhodes has an MFA from NYU. Some would see that degree as one possible necessary condition for writing good prose, although it’s not a sufficient condition for doing so. Let’s just say that it worked for Mr. Rhodes. People who attacked him often used that against him, saying he wrote fiction as a member of Mr. Obama’s staff. That seems ironic when the man who succeeded Mr. Obama has 1000+ serious lies to his name and came to power aided by Russian GRU agents who spread lies across social media and will probably do so in the coming U.S. midterm elections.

The most revealing part of the book for me were the long-term negotiations necessary to renew relations between Cuba and the U.S. This bold step was largely orchestrated by Mr. Rhodes and occurred with the help of Pope Francis. The reader will get to know and understand the Cuban negotiating team too, not as adversaries but as human beings. As shown many times in the book, the diplomatic path isn’t an easy one, but getting people to sit down and discuss their various points of view is better than bellicose alternatives.

Another example of that theme is arranging for Mr. Obama to sit down and enjoy a meal with Anthony Bourdain in Laos. How that came about is enlightening. The staff of a president can put in many hours of work, many of them not at home, as they sacrifice time with family and friends. Mr. Rhodes would relax in a hotel somewhere in the U.S. or abroad by watching Mr. Bourdain’s show.

These are but some of the insider scenes the reader will find in this fascinating book. Some of them I knew about but revisited again; others I discovered for the first time. Many of the characters in them still make the news—Cardinal McCarrick, participant in renewing relations with Cuba, has other problems now, and Guccifer 2.0 and those GRU agents figure prominently in recent indictments from Special Prosecutor Mueller’s team. But Mr. Rhodes probably enjoys being out of the news now, avoiding the personal attacks that characterized some of his time as White House staff member.

There are moments of deep sadness in the book too. Considering what happened in 2016 and since, many readers can guess what those moments are. The story told here explains why many of us now say, “We miss you, Mr. Obama.” Thank you Mr. Rhodes for telling it.