Presidential Memoirs Don’t Always Take This Long to Write

The wait is over for the first volume of Barack Obama’s presidential memoirs, “A Promised Land,” which came out on Tuesday.

But as a slew of articles calling the book’s arrival “long-awaited” and “highly anticipated” suggest, it was a considerable wait. Obama took three years and 10 months to publish — longer than any other American president in the last century.

The chart below shows the history. With the exception of presidents who died in office and George H.W. Bush, who never wrote a standard presidential memoir, no modern president has taken as long to publish after leaving the White House.

What accounts for Obama’s comparatively slow pace? A look at how he crafted his memoir, and how past presidents approached theirs, suggests some answers.

First, Obama’s book is long. While he “initially planned to write a 500-page memoir and be done in a year,” The Times’s Jennifer Szalai explained in a review, the book ended up stretching nearly 800 pages and taking more than three times longer to complete. And that’s just volume one; a second remains in the works.

Even so, other presidents have published similarly lengthy memoirs in less time. Bill Clinton’s “My Life” appeared less than three and a half years after he left the White House and weighed in at around 1,000 pages. Harry Truman published the first installment of his two-volume memoirs a full year faster than Obama published his.

Obama’s meticulous approach — and insistence on writing the book himself — offers a second clue. “Obama is a genuine literary stylist,” said Jonathan Alter, the author

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