Former President Barack Obama was taken aback when he found out he was being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, asking “For what?”
Details of the moment, along with tales of his political career, are outlined in his new book “A Promised Land,” which was released on Tuesday.
Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 from the Norwegian Nobel Committee for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between people,” amidst the backdrop of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He jokes in the book that upon waking up to a phone call one October morning and receiving news of the award, he tells his wife and First Lady Michelle Obama “I’m getting the Nobel Peace Prize.”
“That’s wonderful, honey,” she said, before going back to sleep.
He flew to Oslo, Norway, to receive the award and wrote in his book that the crowd outside his hotel room made him think about the gravity of that point in history.
“The idea that I, or any one person, could bring order to such chaos seemed laughable,” he wrote. “On some level, the crowds below were cheering an illusion.”
After the ceremony was over, Obama recalls thinking: “Whatever you do won’t be enough, I heard their voices say. Try anyway.”
The former secretary of the committee that selected Obama as the recipient, Geir Lundestad, also recalled in his own memoir that Obama was surprised to be chosen, adding that he regretted giving him the award.
“No Nobel Peace Prize ever elicited more attention than the 2009 prize to Barack Obama,” Lundestad wrote in 2015. “Even many of Obama’s supporters believed that the prize was a mistake. In that sense, the committee didn’t achieve what it had hoped for.”
At the time, Lundestad faced a backlash from the committee for breaking with tradition to discuss the procedures that go into choosing a Nobel Prize winner, a usually secretive process.