WASHINGTON—In what is being advertised as a bombshell cultural event certain to spark a storm of controversy nationwide, publisher HarperCollins has released this week President Barack Obama's long-awaited new tell-all book about America.
In the 800-page volume, titled O Say Have I Seen: The Real Truth Behind The Red, White, And Blue, the president renders in explicit detail numerous shocking revelations about the United States, including its inability to manage its finances, its struggles with oil addiction, its willful ignorance of the issues that affect it most deeply, and its frequent battles with obesity.
"Anyone with even a passing interest in the nation is going to want to read all the juicy tidbits the president offers up here," publicist Armand Neal said of the book that draws from Obama's firsthand experiences as well as candid conversations with millions of U.S. insiders. "Nobody has had as much firsthand access to America's demons as the president, and he dishes dirt on everything from the nation's self-destructive, codependent relationship with the pharmaceutical industry to its habit of repeatedly borrowing and spending its way into massive amounts of debt. I promise you, he spills everything—everything—about the United States."
The gossipy new account, reportedly the culmination of more than three years of intensive research into the country's checkered past and recent shortcomings, has been described by Obama as "a story [he] had to tell," because he was the only person who knew the full extent of the American people's problems.
Despite significant interest from readers and booksellers, many critics have admonished the president for exploiting and sensationalizing America's failings in order to increase sales. Writing that Obama appeared to have "drawn heavily from the rumor mills," Janet Maslin of The New York Times alleged many of the book's claims, such as the accusation that the American people "continually vote against their own interests in national and local elections," relied largely on unsubstantiated hearsay and conjecture.
Additionally, many reviewers have questioned the veracity of Obama's provocative and much publicized claim that the nation has been violently mistreating the environment for years.
"I thought I knew everything there was to know about America when I started here. Boy, was I wrong," Obama writes in the book's opening paragraph. "It quickly became clear to me that this nation had issues, major issues. While America may appear strong and confident on the outside, the reality is much different. The things I've seen—the greed, the excess, the unbelievable vanity of the United States despite its shrinking reputation around the globe—would make most people think twice about referring to America as the greatest country in the world."
Having garnered significant media attention with its controversial content, O Say Have I Seen has topped Amazon.com's preorder list for several weeks and appears to have piqued the curiosity of those with a casual interest in the nation and hardcore America enthusiasts alike.
"You think you know a country and then you read something like this," said 44-year-old bank teller Rebecca Pelkey of Augusta, ME, who claimed to have been a longtime admirer of America before reading Obama's shocking book. "I knew the U.S. wasn't perfect, but I had no idea just how shallow and dysfunctional it really is. And some of the sordid details about how America has treated minorities over the years were almost too incredible to believe."
"I'll never be able to look at America the same way again," Pelkey added.
Thus far, the president has drawn strong condemnation from those who believe they've been mischaracterized in the book, including former Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis, the Supreme Court, pharmacist Charles Kostopoulos of Seattle, the Defense Department, and the entire Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex, to which Obama devotes an entire chapter, writing in lurid detail about the Texas city's brazen egos, pathological obsession with conspicuous consumption, and refusal to accept any viewpoints other than its own.
While several vocal detractors have openly accused Obama of "shameless self-promotion," claiming the book is nothing more than a publicity stunt to keep his name in the media and boost what they described as his "floundering career," the president has asserted he has "no personal agenda" and his sole impetus for publishing the work is to "set the record straight" about the United States.
"I've held this inside me for quite a while, and I think now's the time for it to come out—for people to know the truth about this country," Obama said on Face The Nation Sunday. "I'm just telling it like it is, and if Americans are offended by what I have to say, well, they don't have to purchase the book."
"But I just had to get this off my chest," Obama added. "Not least of all because I wanted to finally confess that I myself was routinely abused by America for years."