Praise from the cool, reserved president was scarce. When he liked how a speech went, he gave a “satisfied thump to the podium.”

Obama would rewrite mediocre speeches on the spot. A jet-lagged POTUS wanted just one take while recording his Passover remarks in 2012. All good until he encountered a line about the relentless persecution of Jews, which he grumpily dismissed as a “downer.” Isn’t a seder supposed to be a party? “What’s the deal? Like, ‘Everyone’s out to get us, have some matzo.’ ” He grabbed a laptop and rewrote the script.

In Litt’s telling, the prez worked so hard that “[his] puffy eye circles had their own puffy eye circles.” Designated joke writer Litt quipped that POTUS would look like Morgan Freeman before his tenure was up. “That’s not even funny,” he replied.

Obama was no bully, but he was intimidating. During the filming of an address about the government shutdown, Litt saw a light smoldering, “releasing … toxic smoke just a few inches from the president’s left ear.” Obama didn’t notice, but Litt was frozen, afraid to say anything. Luckily, one of his colleagues grabbed a towel and extinguished it.

Obama’s stumbles—, for instance—resulted from too few self-doubts. No one was the “designated pessimist” who’d tell him a program was headed for disaster.