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From the author of First In His Class, the definitive biography of Bill Clinton, and When Pride Still Mattered, the bestselling biography of Vince Lombardi, and They Marched Into Sunlight, the classic saga of the Vietnam eraa stunning new multigenerational biography of Barack Obama. From one of our preeminent journalists and modern historians comes the epic story of Barack From the author of First In His Class, the definitive biography of Bill Clinton, and When Pride Still Mattered, the bestselling biography of Vince Lombardi, and They Marched Into Sunlight, the classic saga of the Vietnam era—a stunning new multigenerational biography of Barack Obama. From one of our preeminent journalists and modern historians comes the epic story of Barack Obama and the world that created him. In Barack Obama: The Story, David Maraniss has written a deeply reported generational biography teeming with fresh insights and revealing information, a masterly narrative drawn from hundreds of interviews, including with President Obama in the Oval Office, and a trove of letters, journals, diaries, and other documents. The book unfolds in the small towns of Kansas and the remote villages of western Kenya, following the personal struggles of Obama’s white and black ancestors through the swirl of the twentieth century. It is a roots story on a global scale, a saga of constant movement, frustration and accomplishment, strong women and weak men, hopes lost and deferred, people leaving and being left. Disparate family threads converge in the climactic chapters as Obama reaches adulthood and travels from Honolulu to Los Angeles to New York to Chicago, trying to make sense of his past, establish his own identity, and prepare for his political future. Barack Obama: The Story chronicles as never before the forces that shaped the first black president of the United States and explains why he thinks and acts as he does. Much like the author’s classic study of Bill Clinton, First in His Class, this promises to become a seminal book that will redefine a president.


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From the author of First In His Class, the definitive biography of Bill Clinton, and When Pride Still Mattered, the bestselling biography of Vince Lombardi, and They Marched Into Sunlight, the classic saga of the Vietnam eraa stunning new multigenerational biography of Barack Obama. From one of our preeminent journalists and modern historians comes the epic story of Barack From the author of First In His Class, the definitive biography of Bill Clinton, and When Pride Still Mattered, the bestselling biography of Vince Lombardi, and They Marched Into Sunlight, the classic saga of the Vietnam era—a stunning new multigenerational biography of Barack Obama. From one of our preeminent journalists and modern historians comes the epic story of Barack Obama and the world that created him. In Barack Obama: The Story, David Maraniss has written a deeply reported generational biography teeming with fresh insights and revealing information, a masterly narrative drawn from hundreds of interviews, including with President Obama in the Oval Office, and a trove of letters, journals, diaries, and other documents. The book unfolds in the small towns of Kansas and the remote villages of western Kenya, following the personal struggles of Obama’s white and black ancestors through the swirl of the twentieth century. It is a roots story on a global scale, a saga of constant movement, frustration and accomplishment, strong women and weak men, hopes lost and deferred, people leaving and being left. Disparate family threads converge in the climactic chapters as Obama reaches adulthood and travels from Honolulu to Los Angeles to New York to Chicago, trying to make sense of his past, establish his own identity, and prepare for his political future. Barack Obama: The Story chronicles as never before the forces that shaped the first black president of the United States and explains why he thinks and acts as he does. Much like the author’s classic study of Bill Clinton, First in His Class, this promises to become a seminal book that will redefine a president.

59 review for Barack Obama: The Story

  1. 4 out of 5

    Mara

    The title of David Maraniss' well-researched tome doesn't reveal all that much about its contents. As he mentions in the introduction, we won't be seeing our Obama (aka Barry, aka POTUS 44) until chapter seven of this eighteen-chapter volume, and the narration stops with his departure for Harvard Law in 1988. So, this is some pretty deep background; as it is described in various summaries, a multi-generational epic. Two points about yours truly before I proceed- I have not read Dreams from The title of David Maraniss' well-researched tome doesn't reveal all that much about its contents. As he mentions in the introduction, we won't be seeing our Obama (aka Barry, aka POTUS 44) until chapter seven of this eighteen-chapter volume, and the narration stops with his departure for Harvard Law in 1988. So, this is some pretty deep background; as it is described in various summaries, a multi-generational epic. Two points about yours truly before I proceed- I have not read Dreams from My Father , and (by pure coincidence, as far as I know) happened to be concurrently reading Mistakes Were Made (but not by me) while working my way through this biography. Why am I telling you these things? The first is relevant because Maraniss' book is, in many ways, a narrative fact-checking of Obama's memoir. While this biography definitely stands on its own, Maraniss' findings are frequently compared and contrasted to Obama's earlier narrative, which meant very little to me as I have not read it. I bring up my simultaneous literature choice due to its influence on my own thoughts regarding the nature of memory, and narratives as reflections of "truth." I believe in facts and fact-checking, and believe them to be important. However, I the cognitive mechanisms of things like "source confusion" were salient for me as I read. Onward ho! Roots: Obama's parents were quite a pair. They were, spoiler alert, not of the same race, place or, well, a lot of things. Neither parent played a constant role in Obama's life, but this was emphatically so with Barack Obama Sr. who was, by most measures, not really a "father" to the future president at all (they basically met once, in 1971). As it turns out, this may have been for the best given the senior Obama's track record for bigamy, irresponsibility, alcoholism and reckless driving, which would end his life in 1982. Stanley Ann Dunham was, likewise, a complex character. Born in Kansas, she met Obama's father while she was in college in Hawaii. They were briefly married (though the elder Obama's marital status in Kenya at the time is unclear), including at the time of President Obama's birth in 1961. There's a lot of moving around, another child and another marriage in there- her story could (and has been) fill a book all its own. The big summary point, for me, had to do with Stanley Ann's comfort with (and perhaps preference for) her "outsider status" in various environments. She was an anthropologist by trade, so this was a useful trait to have. However, one need only think back to one's own "wonder years" to realize that this isn't always a desirable feature of a young person's life. Hawaii, Haoles, and Hapas: Yes, President Barack Hussein Obama was born in Hawaii which, in 1961 was (and today is) part of the United States. Some of Obama's formative years were also spent living in Indonesia, but the bulk of his youth and his high-school years were spent living in Honolulu (primarily with his grandparents, as Stanley Ann was back with baby sister Mia in Indonesia). Hawaii has a racial dynamic all its own- one that is cleverly lampooned in the South Park episode, Going Native . Any popular vacation destination has a certain derision for tourists, but the point about Hawaii that Maraniss makes is really one of acute racial awareness. I can't claim to know all of the nuances of the terms Haole (essentially, white person, but with a flare of "newcomer") and Hapa (mixed-race), but they were certainly ideas of which Obama was acutely aware. By the time Obama was enrolled at the prestigious Punahou School , however, he had a sense of belonging to at least two "family" units: his semi-stoner, but harmlessly adolescent group of friends known as " the Choom Gang ," and the basketball team. Though I love basketball, Maraniss' discussion of what details of Obama's account of his bball days may or may not have been accurate was a big lull in the book for me (one I think was only partly due to my not having read the memoir with which Maraniss cross-checks play time). This is also around the time when Maraniss starts comparing Obama to the young Bill Clinton- the summary point of which is that Obama was in no way the young, glad-handing politician that Clinton may have been as a fourth grader. The Mainland and Beyond: That Obama tried on and struggled with various identities during his college years is no surprise- it's pretty par for the course. That much of this would be intertwined with race is also not a shock. While it was interesting to hear various voices speak to Obama's character and evolution from his days at Occidental College, to his transfer to Columbia and his role as a community organizer in Chicago, it sometimes felt like much ado about nothing. It's not that I don't believe the facts or stories, it's just that any inconsistencies between these accounts and Obama's didn't seem particularly scandalous. This was when I felt like Maraniss was just giving discrepancies for discrepancies' sake. Three and a half stars feels just about right for me on this one- Maraniss did a lot of research, and kept me interested, but one of us (and it very well may have been me) started to run out of energy toward the end.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Darlene

    This biography of President Barack Obama by David Maraniss is incredibly well- researched and is presented without bias. Having read Dreams From my Father and The Audacity of Hope written by President Obama, I already possessed knowledge of his personal story and what influenced and shaped his belief system. This book, however, took me on an incredible journey starting a couple of generations before President Obama's birth in Hawaii. Mr. Maraniss traveled to Kansas, Kenya, Indonesia and Hawaii This biography of President Barack Obama by David Maraniss is incredibly well- researched and is presented without bias. Having read Dreams From my Father and The Audacity of Hope written by President Obama, I already possessed knowledge of his personal story and what influenced and shaped his belief system. This book, however, took me on an incredible journey starting a couple of generations before President Obama's birth in Hawaii. Mr. Maraniss traveled to Kansas, Kenya, Indonesia and Hawaii to interview members of the President's family and people who were friends and acquaintances of his... these travels made for some interesting reading. Mr. Maraniss introduced the President's family on both his mother's and father's sides and like most families, they are an eclectic and colorful cast of characters. Mr. Maraniss presented a very strong case that Barack Obama became the man he is and indeed the president he is, in many ways, due to his biracial and multi-cultural background. As a huge fan and supporter of President Obama, I thoroughly enjoyed this well- researched and thoughtful book about, not only his life, but also the life of his family and extended family. Since this biography ended with the President leaving his community organizing job in Chicago to attend Harvard Law school, I am assuming there will be a volume 2.. which I am very much looking forward to reading. Even if you are not a fan or supporter of Barack Obama and his policies, I think you will find that he has an extraordinary life story.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    This book was excerpted in Vanity Fair, which focused on his relationships before he went to Harvard Law. But that's only one small part of this epic story of his parents' and grandparents' experiences. It's a sad story on both sides, which makes the President's incredible success all the more remarkable. I was so touched by the events in this book that I made another donation to his campaign!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Toni

    This was okay, but disappointing. David Maraniss digs up some interesting / juicy stuff, especially on Obama's New York years. But he also spends waaaayyyy too long on Obama's genealogy, which (beyond maybe his parents) I, for one, could care less about. More annoying still was this tick he has of dwelling far too long on the little coincidences, chance encounters, and twists of fate that color all of our lives, Obama being no exception. As a former history major, I found this sort of chaos This was okay, but disappointing. David Maraniss digs up some interesting / juicy stuff, especially on Obama's New York years. But he also spends waaaayyyy too long on Obama's genealogy, which (beyond maybe his parents) I, for one, could care less about. More annoying still was this tick he has of dwelling far too long on the little coincidences, chance encounters, and twists of fate that color all of our lives, Obama being no exception. As a former history major, I found this sort of chaos theory of life a uniquely uninteresting lens through which to recount a history, or even a biography. He may be right on various levels, but there are ways to get that idea across without bludgeoning the reader to death with it. By the fiftieth time that Maraniss returned to harp on the theme (recounting said chance encounters, etc., over and over and over and over in so doing), it felt patronizing and vacuous.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    https://bestpresidentialbios.com/2019... David Maranisss Barack Obama: The Story was published in 2012. Maraniss is a journalist who won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting in 1993 while covering Bill Clintons presidential campaign and was a Pulitzer finalist in 1996, 2002 and 2004. He is the author of nearly a dozen books including biographies of Bill Clinton, Roberto Clemente and Vince Lombardi. In addition to thoroughly reviewing Obamas life through his decision to attend Harvard Law https://bestpresidentialbios.com/2019... David Maraniss’s “Barack Obama: The Story” was published in 2012. Maraniss is a journalist who won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting in 1993 while covering Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign and was a Pulitzer finalist in 1996, 2002 and 2004. He is the author of nearly a dozen books including biographies of Bill Clinton, Roberto Clemente and Vince Lombardi. In addition to thoroughly reviewing Obama’s life through his decision to attend Harvard Law School in 1988, this impressively-researched 571-page biography explores his rich (and famously complex) family heritage in unprecedented detail. At first glance this book seems to resemble Maraniss’s compelling “First in His Class” covering Bill Clinton’s pre-presidency. But unlike that biography, which covers Clinton’s life through the launch of his presidential campaign, much of this book is focused on the lives of people Obama barely knew and ends when he is just twenty-seven years old – nearly a decade before he entered politics and two decades before he entered the White House. During his research for this book Maraniss traveled to each of the key places in Obama’s life and heritage including Kenya, Indonesia, Hawaii, Kansas and New York. This allows him to fully flesh out each of the main characters in this multi-generational and multi-cultural portrait: Obama’s elusive and frequently loathsome father, his frustratingly footloose mother, his maternal grandparents, and Obama himself. Maraniss achieves two objectives by exploring Obama’s family tree in the first half of the book: he examines the external factors which biracial Barack confronted as he came of age and, secondarily, he exposes inconsistencies and inaccuracies in his subject’s 1995 memoir “Dreams from My Father” relating to Obama’s family history. Maraniss’s writing style demonstrates his talent as a perceptive observer, keen analyst and articulate writer. The review of Barack Obama’s family lineage, however, has a tendency to devolve into a blizzard of names and seemingly trivial details which readers may have a hard time fully absorbing. But while this book does not provide an entirely carefree journey, it does reward the patient reader. The book’s second half carries Obama from his birth to various parts of the globe before depositing him in Chicago where he worked as a community organizer. This portion of the narrative is more consistently engaging and Maraniss devotes much of it to assembling a richly textured profile – almost a character study – of the future president. Unfortunately the book ends somewhat abruptly, just as the reader is becoming fully invested in Obama’s persona (and potential). But given the groundwork laid in this book and knowing what awaits the young Obama, it is hard to imagine Maraniss abandoning his subject. A follow-up volume (or two) seems all-but-certain. Some readers will feel this biography reaches too far back into Obama’s family lineage, chasing too many leads and exploring unnecessary tangents. Others will find coverage of his ancestry fascinating but too detailed and hard to follow. These perspectives have merit and the book requires greater-than-average patience. But it does reveal its full value once the disparate threads of Obama’s life converge in the last chapters. Overall, “Barack Obama: The Story” provides a robust and well-written introduction to Obama’s ancestry and early life. Anyone seeking a simple narrative of his life will do well to choose another biography. But for readers interested in a front-row seat to Obama’s journey of self-discovery and who can allow the labyrinthine story to unfold, this biography might be close to perfect. Overall rating: 4¼ stars

  6. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    I am about halfway into the book but find it fascinating. It is SO detailed starting with the background of both grandparents on both sides of the family and the family of the 2nd husband his mother married from Indonesia. Despite all the myths, Barack Obama's father was not a Muslim but an atheist. Barack's (Barry as a child) mother had the strongest influence on shaping his spiritual and ethical grounding. This is a a very good read and can hardly put it down... still reading and to be I am about halfway into the book but find it fascinating. It is SO detailed starting with the background of both grandparents on both sides of the family and the family of the 2nd husband his mother married from Indonesia. Despite all the myths, Barack Obama's father was not a Muslim but an atheist. Barack's (Barry as a child) mother had the strongest influence on shaping his spiritual and ethical grounding. This is a a very good read and can hardly put it down... still reading and to be continued! Finally finished and have so much admiration for Barack Obama, from where he came from and what he made of himself. I am now reading a book about his mother by Janny Scott called A Singular Woman........... he got all the good stuff from his mom.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    This was a very detailed biography of Barack Obama, but not only him. No this book also includes his family. In fact, almost half of this book mainly focuses on his grandparents, and parents. Barack Obama himself is not really involved with the first 50% of the book since he is a child. While I do commend Maraniss for his research prowess, it also makes for a very dry read. Educational all the same, but so very dry. For an almost 700 page book and a 24 hour long audiobook, that makes for some This was a very detailed biography of Barack Obama, but not only him. No this book also includes his family. In fact, almost half of this book mainly focuses on his grandparents, and parents. Barack Obama himself is not really involved with the first 50% of the book since he is a child. While I do commend Maraniss for his research prowess, it also makes for a very dry read. Educational all the same, but so very dry. For an almost 700 page book and a 24 hour long audiobook, that makes for some tedious reading. I did enjoy learning about how Obama grew up, but I think I was hoping for more insight that comes from a personal light. Also, I was kind of sad that this didn't really talk much about his political career. I mainly read this because I was fascinated about his political career and how he managed to go from student to Senator to President. What I got was a detailed history of his family and what it was like to grow up in Indonesia among other places. Overall, decent biography but I think I'm going to go read Obama's memoirs.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Catherine Woodman

    Well, this book is massive in scope. Maraniss has writtena global, multigenerational saga that spans decades and ends right before Obama goes off to Harvard Law Schoolbut in the end, I am not sure that it culminates in the emergence of a young man who is knowable, recognizable and real. Recognizable and perhaps more real, but I am not sure how much more knowable he really is at the end of the day. The book goes back to his great grandparents on both sides, and ironically, there are almost more Well, this book is massive in scope. Maraniss has writtena global, multigenerational saga that spans decades and ends right before Obama goes off to Harvard Law School—but in the end, I am not sure that it culminates in the emergence of a young man who is knowable, recognizable and real. Recognizable and perhaps more real, but I am not sure how much more knowable he really is at the end of the day. The book goes back to his great grandparents on both sides, and ironically, there are almost more pictures from the era that ended before Obama’s birth than there are from his growing up experiences. What we do figure out pretty quickly is that he was not lucky in his parentage. His father was all sorts of things that the son is not. Obama the senior was brash, arrogant, a heavy drinker, a womanizer, an abuser, and someone who burned out rather quickly when things did not go exactly his way. He saw himself as the smartest man in the world and woe those who failed to grasp that—Obama the younger’s real luck in his father was that his mother cut ties with him early enough that there was not much in the way of damage done. His father bestowed his talented genes upon the son and high tailed it out of Hawaii. The story with his mother was almost as sad—she did not really focus on her son in many ways. He lived briefly in Indonesia with her when she remarried, but the fact that he didn’t quite fit in there meant that he went back to Hawaii to live with her parents. They were good parent figures for him and he got a quality education there, on an island that was more multi-cultural than most of the United States at the time—but those cultures didn’t include his, and that served to further isolate him. Our 44th President comes across as smart, hard working, and not attention-seeking—his drive to enter politics was very different from his father’s. He was not seeking the center of attention. He wanted to solve problems. The comparisons of his demeanor during his student days to Bill Clinton’s are very telling of who they became, and why they are not friends. Their skill sets are entirely different as well—and Clinton is undeniably the better politician but Obama is the guy you would want to discuss the book you just read with. Obama also seemed like better boyfriend material. By the end of the book, I could see the struggles that Obama faced in his family of origin, and why he might appear to be more withholding and aloof—but otherwise, it left more questions than it answered for me.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    David Maraniss is one of those people who reminds his readers of what good journalism looks like. He's also one of the better biographers working today. In this book, Maraniss has produced a solid, informative account of the events that shaped the character of Barack Obama. Overall, this is a critical but positive assessment of Obama's youth. While some of the more irresponsible pundits have combed the book for out-of-context "gotcha" nuggets, anyone who actually reads this book will quickly see David Maraniss is one of those people who reminds his readers of what good journalism looks like. He's also one of the better biographers working today. In this book, Maraniss has produced a solid, informative account of the events that shaped the character of Barack Obama. Overall, this is a critical but positive assessment of Obama's youth. While some of the more irresponsible pundits have combed the book for out-of-context "gotcha" nuggets, anyone who actually reads this book will quickly see through the b.s. spewed out by many of Obama's critics. (This means you, Dinesh D'Souza!) Maraniss goes back through three generations of Obama's family and carries his story through his subject's formative years, up to the time Obama decides to leave community organizing in Chicago for law school at Harvard. Anyone wanting an account of the future president's political life will be disappointed, given the scope of the book. This isn't to say there is nothing to interest the political junky. Maraniss examines how Obama's development, his Bildung, impacts on how he has approached the presidency. Although the narrative feels a little exhaustively detailed at times, but overall it is a fascinating examination of a one man's personal and intellectual development. The portrait that emerges is of an intensely cerebral, well-balanced personality. One fascinating aspect of this book is the way the differences between autobiography and memoir (i.e. "Dreams from my Father) play out. Maraniss analyzes and corrects the narrative set out by Obama in his memoir. He shows how memoir, as a genre, is more concerned with subjectively exploring themes within a life, rather than setting forth a factual and objective account (relatively ojective, within the unavoidable scope of personal bias).

  10. 4 out of 5

    Corey Preston

    A lot of things to be frustrated with here, including (in order of escalating frustration): (a) absence of PBO for more than half the book--way too much focus on individuals who had no impact on his life whatsoever; cutting off just when things start to get interesting (pre-law school); (b) constantly rehashing and hammering the same, simple thesis (PBO has always been cautiously bold--excuse my french, but no shit...); and (c) constantly "fact checking" PBO's prior biographies--there are a few A lot of things to be frustrated with here, including (in order of escalating frustration): (a) absence of PBO for more than half the book--way too much focus on individuals who had no impact on his life whatsoever; cutting off just when things start to get interesting (pre-law school); (b) constantly rehashing and hammering the same, simple thesis (PBO has always been cautiously bold--excuse my french, but no shit...); and (c) constantly "fact checking" PBO's prior biographies--there are a few instances where the President's use of literary license is 100% illuminating, but Maraniss feels the need to examine and explain every potential inconsistency, apparently lacking the PBO's sense for what is necessary for a compelling and illustrative narrative, and what's just annoying fat... But the worst offense is Maraniss's decision to write this book through the lens of the here and now. When discussing PBO's excellence in school, for instance, or his somewhat transient period as a NY college student, or his brief education in Indonesia, Maraniss feels the need to address the Donald Trumps of the world who scream that PBO is secretly stupid and lazy and possibly a terrorist. Juxtaposing what you want to be the definitive story of a president, and an historic one at that, with the paranoid, opportunistic ramblings of a fart in the wind like Donald Trump, elevates that bologna to an historical perch too--which makes this book a weird and short-sighted political rebuttal, rather than a great historical document. ****Also, for what it's worth, by far the MOST compelling writing in this book comes from the extensive diaries of PBO's Australian girlfriend, and from the classically and hilariously depressing college poetry of PBO himself...****

  11. 4 out of 5

    Bobbettylou

    Wow, what a book! Exhaustive, at times exhausting, yet hard-to-put-down. Everything you ever wanted to know about our 44th president from four generations before his birth to his inauguration. In 641 pages of prose. One wonders and marvels at how Maraniss uncovered and organized all the information. It must have been several years, at least, of unrelenting work to interview the hundreds of people who make up the story, including the main caracter himself in an oval office interview(s). All of Wow, what a book! Exhaustive, at times exhausting, yet hard-to-put-down. Everything you ever wanted to know about our 44th president from four generations before his birth to his inauguration. In 641 pages of prose. One wonders and marvels at how Maraniss uncovered and organized all the information. It must have been several years, at least, of unrelenting work to interview the hundreds of people who make up the story, including the main caracter himself in an oval office interview(s). All of that is well-documented and much of it is reported verbatum. Same for an equal amount of material from hard-to-reach and highly personal sources such as diaries, personal correspondence and obscure sources in out-of-the-way places in Kenya and Indonesia, not to mention Kansas and Hawaii. The main disappointment is that the story,published in 2012, ends in 1989, just as Obama is heading off to Harvard Law School. Events since then - Michelle, Illinois legislature, US Senate and 2008 presidential race - are mentioned only in a two-page "coda." The only explanation I can think of is that, even though Maraniss is a historian AND a journalist, he is best at analysing and interpreting events from a distance. The past 10 years are too recent and too well-known, (if seriously misunderstood.) One hopes for the sequal yet to be published, "Barack Obama: The Rest of the Story!" Maybe I will take a breather from Maraniss while I do some other reading, then delve into his Pulitzer Prize-winning "Bill Clinton: First in His Class."

  12. 5 out of 5

    Nita

    I thought this would be a biography of President Obama, and in a way it was, but it was more a biography of the people instrumental in making him who he is. This book was a little hard for me to read; I wish I had had the time to really settle into it. It had a lot of pretty dry narrative (much of which, I regret to say,I skimmed over) interspersed with (MUCH more interesting!)first person stories of Obama's family and upbringing. Actually, the man who becomes our President doesn't become a I thought this would be a biography of President Obama, and in a way it was, but it was more a biography of the people instrumental in making him who he is. This book was a little hard for me to read; I wish I had had the time to really settle into it. It had a lot of pretty dry narrative (much of which, I regret to say,I skimmed over) interspersed with (MUCH more interesting!)first person stories of Obama's family and upbringing. Actually, the man who becomes our President doesn't become a major figure in the story until fairly late in the book. This book is largely centered around the parents, grandparents and great-grandparents of Barack Obama, and how their lives helped shape him. Portions of the story take place in Kansas as well as Africa in the 1920s, proceeding to Chicago in the 1980s. We meet Obama's African half-brothers and -sisters, his school chums in Hawaii and on the mainland, and learn interesting pieces of history, Obama's and the world's, along the way. One thing I gleaned from this book: I finally learned exactly what a "community organizer" does, and discovered that President of the United States is just that, but on a macro scale! I was not prepared for the end of the book, since there was still quite a number of pages to go! These were 38 pages of acknowledgments, notes, bibliography and photo credits, in addition to a comprehensive index. This author did his research. This was an excellent background of President Barack Obama.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Stan Lanier

    This was an awful lot of work for less than expected payback. Maraniss certainly can write educated and attractive sentences. I had some difficulty understanding the conceptuality controlling his narrative. Perhaps the MASS of detail was supposed to verify Maraniss's conclusions about President Obama's psychological make-up. Too often, however, I found myself wondering when would a chapter end, and I had to make a conscious decision to finish the book. In the end, I cannot say that Maraniss This was an awful lot of work for less than expected payback. Maraniss certainly can write educated and attractive sentences. I had some difficulty understanding the conceptuality controlling his narrative. Perhaps the MASS of detail was supposed to verify Maraniss's conclusions about President Obama's psychological make-up. Too often, however, I found myself wondering when would a chapter end, and I had to make a conscious decision to finish the book. In the end, I cannot say that Maraniss offered a completely satisfying explanation. The one "aha" moment I took away was that President Obama's caution has little to do with a black man operating in a white society: apparently, this caution was characteristic of him as a community organizer in Chicago as he moved through a thoroughly black society. If this book had been badly written-- I'd never have finished.

  14. 4 out of 5

    David Tracey

    We may never run out of new books explaining Barrack Obama. Or rather attempting to. This one gets full marks for research, even if too many of the facts end up on the page. The level of detail may be exhausting for some readers, particularly when delving into the lives of people such as grandparents. The meticulous approach is more welcomed for periods of Obama's life that seem more likely to reveal psychological information, such as his school years in Hawaii. But maybe because it ends before We may never run out of new books explaining Barrack Obama. Or rather attempting to. This one gets full marks for research, even if too many of the facts end up on the page. The level of detail may be exhausting for some readers, particularly when delving into the lives of people such as grandparents. The meticulous approach is more welcomed for periods of Obama's life that seem more likely to reveal psychological information, such as his school years in Hawaii. But maybe because it ends before he gets into Harvard, you may finish this book, as with many other Obama books including David Remnick's The Bridge, still wondering as I did: interesting guy, glad in he's in there...but just how did he get to be president?

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jerry

    This is an interesting and fairly even-handed account of the family background and early life of Barack Obama. It has more about the ancestors than about Barack Obama II. And I was disappointed that the book ends before Obama entered Harvard Law School, thus omitting some of the interesting Chicago political background. This leaves us with Edward Kleins book The Amateur to fill in the later years. The main thread of the book is Obamas struggle to establish his own identity. It reaches far in his This is an interesting and fairly even-handed account of the family background and early life of Barack Obama. It has more about the ancestors than about Barack Obama II. And I was disappointed that the book ends before Obama entered Harvard Law School, thus omitting some of the interesting Chicago political background. This leaves us with Edward Klein’s book The Amateur to fill in the later years. The main thread of the book is Obama’s struggle to establish his own identity. It reaches far in his family history and makes numerous connections along the way foreword. The book finds inaccuracies in some of the accounts in Obama’s book Dreams From My Father, such as the anti-colonial struggles of the Kenyan and Indonesian ancestors of Obama: “A distinct pattern is evident here in the threads of the Obama story that weave through Kenya and Indonesia. Both countries came out of colonialism into freedom after a difficult struggle against white European nations. And in both instances, the family mythology, or at least the story as passed down to the American grandson (or step-grandson) and subsequently passed along by him, was of a grandfather standing up against the colonialists and facing the consequences of his bravery: Hussein Onyango detained and tortured by the British; Martodihardjo killed by the Dutch. While a lack of records establishing the truth one way or another makes it slightly less certain that the Hussein Onyango story was false, neither the Kenyan account nor the Indonesian one holds up well under scrutiny.” The import of Obama being admitted to Punahou School, among the top ten secondary schools in the nation: “Money did not get Barry in. His mother barely had any, and lived thousands of miles away. He was now staying in a cramped two-bedroom apartment on the tenth floor of the Punahou Circle Apartments, five blocks from school, with his grandfather, who scraped by selling life insurance, and his grandmother, an underpaid bank officer. Athletic potential did not get him there either, not this chubby kid who had been away from any American sport except tennis since he was six. He performed well on the ten-dollar Educational Testing Service entrance exam for fifth-graders, but there was nothing in his record to affirm his grandmother's conviction that he was a genius. Based on his background alone the boy ‘never would have gotten into Punahou—not in a million years,’ said Neil Abercrombie, a keen observer of island sociology who had known Barry's father in college. But Barry made the select cut when more than nine out of ten applicants could not. He got in due to several converging factors, including the persistence of his mother, who was tireless at working the system, even from afar; his own winning performance during interviews with the admissions office; a need-based scholarship program that had begun targeting students of his potential and diverse background; and the influence of two wealthy alumni, Stan Dunham's boss, John S. Williamson, at the insurance agency, and Madelyn's boss at the Bank of Hawaii, Frank Manaut, who was on the Punahou board of trustees.” “Barry Obama, with his uncommon family and history, represented a bit of each of them up and down the hallway [at Occidental College]. He was black and white, preppie and Choom Ganger and sunny surfer, basketball lifer and writer and perceptive observer, wholly American and yet the son of an African and intimately familiar with Asia from his years in Indonesia. His ability to connect across racial and cultural lines, evident at Oxy and thereafter, was not merely a superficial art of survival but more authentically rooted in his life and being.” A description of his time in New York: “Over the next four years in New York, from late summer 1981 to midsummer 1985, a time in his life seemingly so spare that it later inspired its own mystery-laced characterization by journalists as ‘the Dark Years.’ He went east with every intention of confronting the world, yet ended up more disengaged than engaged. He arrived determined to escape the sun-splashed ease of Hawaii and Los Angeles and affirm his racial identity near the epicenter of American blackness, yet ended up living with white and Pakistani roommates, or alone, making no lasting relationships with African Americans at Columbia or in the city as a whole, spending more time away from school with old friends than on campus with new ones, and entering into successive love affairs with two young white women, Alexandra McNear and Genevieve Cook, the first a former classmate from Oxy, the second an Australian with connections to Indonesia.” The author tries to analyze Obama’s early life as it influenced his later years: “’Caught without a class, a structure, or tradition to support me, in a sense the choice to take a different path is made for me.... The only way to assuage my feelings of isolation are to absorb all the traditions [and all the] classes; make them mine, me theirs.’ Here, at age twenty-two, was an idea that would become a key to later understanding Obama the politician and public figure. Without a class meant that he was entering his adult life without financial security. Without a structure meant he had grown up lacking a solid family foundation, his father gone from the start, his mother often elsewhere, his grandparents doing the best they could, but all leading to his sense of being a rootless outsider. Without a tradition was a reference to his lack of religious grounding and his hapa status, white and black, feeling completely at home in neither race. Eventually he could make a few essential choices in terms of how he would live out his personal life, moving inexorably toward the black world. But in a larger sense, in terms of his ambitions beyond family, he did not want to be constricted by narrow choices. The different path he saw for himself was to rise above the divisions of culture and society, politics and economics, and embrace something larger-embrace it all. To make a particular choice would be to limit him, he wrote in the letter to Alex, because ‘taken separately, they are unacceptable and untenable.’” Obama’s one and only job in the private sector, a one-year job as a writer for a business information firm, Business International is detailed along with his feelings about it. “B.I. represented a holding pattern, a place where he could earn some money before moving on to his future, but it was also a convenient setting for his internal story. In what his mother characterized as ‘a rather mumbled telephone conversation’ with him over the long-distance lines between New York and Jakarta, he described his job to her. ‘He calls it working for the enemy because some of the reports are written for commercial firms that want to invest in [Third World] countries,’ Ann reported in a letter to her mentor back in Honolulu, Alice Dewey. Later, when he wrote those few paragraphs about B.I. in his memoir, he repeated that idea: ‘Like a spy behind enemy lines, I arrived every day at my mid-Manhattan office and sat at my computer terminal, checking the Reuters machine that blinked bright emerald messages from across the globe.’ His mother, ever the optimist when it came to her son, apparently saw more merit to the job than he did. ‘He seems to be learning a lot about the realities of international finance and politics,’ she noted in her letter to Dewey, ‘and I think that information stands him in good stead in the future.’ Obama wrote a letter to his former girlfriend, Alex McNear, during that period, the last he would write to her. As in his telephone conversation with his mother, he expressed a distaste for the corporate world.” “Beenu Mahmood saw a shift in Obama that corresponded to Genevieve's perceptions. Among the Pakistani friends, Mahmood was the one to whom Barack had once confided his grand political ambitions in the form of the question of whether he could ever be president of the United States. Now Mahmood could see Obama slowly but carefully distancing himself from the Pakistanis as a necessary step in establishing his political identity. For years, when Obama was around them he seemed to share their attitudes as sophisticated outsiders who looked at politics from an international perspective. He was one of them, in that sense. But that is not what he wanted for his future, and to get to where he wanted to go he had to change—not cut off the Pakistanis as friends, but push away enough to establish a clear and separate identity. As a result, Mahmood recalled, ‘the first shift I saw him undertaking was to view himself as an American in a much more fundamental way.’" Obama’s Chicago community organizing boss Kellerman related content of his job interview: “Why did he want this line of work, with its low pay, long hours, and endless frustration? How did he feel about living and working in the black community for the first time in his life? I asked him, 'Why do you want to do this? Why do you want to organize? You graduated from Columbia. You are an African American when corporations are looking for people like you. Why don't you do something else?' But first, Why? Where does this come from? What place and how deep does it come from? And what I got from him was that the people in the civil rights movement were his heroes. And I also got from him that his mom was a social activist, an academic social activist, but a social activist." Obama explained to his boss Kellerman why he was leaving his job: “He said he was planning to leave his job and go to law school. There were two reasons for the decision, he said. First, he did not want to end up like his father. Law school would send him on the way toward economic security, something his father never had. And second, he had concluded that community organizers did not have enough power. Their work was important on the street level, where small victories were hard earned, but to change the conditions that Professor Wilson laid out so clearly would require a power that was wider and stronger. Law school would arm him with more skills, more power to effect social change. It would allow him to engage in a more public life.”

  16. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    http://philadelphiareviewofbooks.com/... Perhaps no Americans racial identity has been parsed so publically and in such great depth as Barack Obamas. We forget, in the heat of the current election and Mitt Romneys inscrutability, that the major stumbling point for Obamas primary campaign against a well-known and well-defined Hilary Clinton, and then against the ubiquitous curmudgeon John McCain, was his lack of public identity. Anyone who read his 1995 memoir Dreams from My Father, which by the http://philadelphiareviewofbooks.com/... Perhaps no American’s racial identity has been parsed so publically and in such great depth as Barack Obama’s. We forget, in the heat of the current election and Mitt Romney’s inscrutability, that the major stumbling point for Obama’s primary campaign against a well-known and well-defined Hilary Clinton, and then against the ubiquitous curmudgeon John McCain, was his lack of public identity. Anyone who read his 1995 memoir Dreams from My Father, which by the 2008 election would have been millions of people, knew this lack of public identity could be traced back to the difficult formation of the young Obama’s personal identity. In an October 22, 2008 report from the Democratic National Convention in Denver, David Samuels, writing for The New Republic, sifted through this idea in light of Obama’s underwhelming speech. “I believe that the painful process of self-formation that Barack Obama went through, and his self-awareness about the process, might be good equipment for a president to have, but watching Obama give the most important speech of his lifetime, if not mine, it is easy to conclude that Ralph Ellison knew what he was talking about. Here he is, Barack Obama, the first black man to be nominated for president by a major party, and he can’t speak honestly about who he is and what he believes. He can’t or he won’t–either way, he’s invisible.” Just as Ralph Ellison’s narrator in Invisible Man navigates the treacherous shoals of racial identity in his rise from a small southern college to Harlem, the epicenter of African-American culture in the early-20th century, Obama dealt deftly with issues of race and personal history in his early political career. How many politicians, after all, provide such searching personal accounts of their lives before attaining national office? Samuels writes, “It is one of the outstanding ironies of Obama’s story that his political rise has been fueled by a tactical grasp of the same racial logic that condemned Ellison’s invisible man to living in a basement by himself. The blank screen approach that Obama has embraced works well in a moment dominated by the collapse of Wall Street and the Iraq war, issues for which all possible solutions seem unpalatable; what voters want is to feel that things will change, without too much uncomfortable detail about what will actually happen.” The most pivotal moments in Obama’s quest for self-identity occur in lonely cold-water apartments on the West Side of Manhattan near Columbia University’s campus and across town in East Harlem. The irony Samuels writes so vividly of comes from the fact that the formation of Obama’s self-conception, whether invented, compressed or a mixture of the two, contains a strong rejection of the complacency of the white grandparents who raised him. The father who Obama inherited his dreams from was, by all accounts, a monster – an adulterer, an alcoholic, an absent father, and unable to compromise in his professional life. “Obama’s decision to identify with the lineage of his black Kenyan father to the exclusion of his white U.S.-born mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, and her parents allows him a measure of release from the cruel racial logic that binds Ellison’s narrator–he comes from outside American society, and therefore he is not entirely bound by the overdetermined racial logic that unites the children of slaves and masters.” So, unlike Ellison’s narrator who never had the choice, Obama chooses to identify himself with the black-skinned members of his family, and then more concretely with an African-American community he had little to no contact with until he left New York to work as a community organizer in Chicago’s South Side. While Ellison’s narrator writes his own story up to a point, he could only do so within the confines of the community he was born into, and when that runs its course, he is destroyed not only by the white community outside his own, but also by radical, violent elements within his own community. Obama, as has been perhaps overstated, can switch codes in a way that was not always possible for an African-American. But this ability comes not so much from talent, as the luck of his birth and his ability to choose his own fate which was facilitated by his unlikely heritage. Samuels continues, “Barack Obama understands both sides of the global equation that makes America possible, but he has decided that he can’t speak the truth about who he is and what he has seen and what he knows about the world. Obama is the kind of leader we need, which is why it is a shame that he has decided to remain invisible.” Obama must reserve that truth for a book none of his detractors will read without hunting for conspiracy or nitpicking for inaccuracy. They, and many more sympathetic to the president’s political agenda, will miss the point. Ta-Nehisi Coates in an article titled “Fear of a Black President” in the September issue of The Atlantic cites evidence of Obama’s inability to talk about race in public without drawing the ire of his political opponents and, ironically, charges of racism. Obama’s response to the arrest of Henry Louis Gates for “breaking in” to his own house near Harvard’s campus or Obama’s statement that if he had a son he would look a lot like Trayvon Martin, come off, for guilty white Americans, as too racially charged. It turns out many of us want our first black president to be “half as black” as any white politician. I’m not sure if Coates had Bill Clinton in mind when he wrote this, but the latitude given to white liberal politicians in talking about race is so much more than black liberal politicians, an exact reversal of the state of all other discourse in American society, whether intellectual or casual. The symbolic significance of Clint Eastwood’s “comedic” interview with an empty chair and an invisible black president at the Republican National Convention in Tampa this August, cannot be understated. While criticism of Obama’s policies, his campaign or his rhetoric are certainly fair game, no serious-minded person, which we would hope the Republicans count a few among their ranks, can suggest Obama is irrelevant or absurd and invisible. “While I am deeply committed to free speech and dissent, the sight of a white man figuratively putting a proud black man in his place is nevertheless disgusting,” wrote Craig Detweiler on his Doc Hollywood blog at patheos.com. For progressives, all this talk of identity and race in America still leaves the problems of policy. In a feverish essay in September’s issue of Harper’s David Samuels revisited his theories about Obama’s created personal identity and “in a final stab at untangling the knot that makes Obama both a man of his age and a man who often seems incapable of directly addressing the problems he was voted into office to solve,” bought a $250 ticket to an Obama fundraiser in New York City. Unfortunately, Samuels, like Obama, can’t move much beyond the politics of personality and concludes, “He is better than the rich people who pay for his campaigns, because he has seen more and felt more. He’s aesthetically gifted, and wrapped up in himself. He’s the president we deserve, and who speaks to us in our own language, whose objective is to paper over the cracks rather than to tell us who we are.” He has not closed Guantanamo, or ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, or doubled the Peace Corps, or given an annual State of the World address, or officially recognized the Armenian genocide, all of which he promised, among many more concrete things, during his candidacy. In the end, the politics of Washington and the two parties trump the politics of identity. Still, it is remarkable how differently Barack Obama’s wife, Michelle, can inhabit her racial identity and how, in Barack’s own words, this disqualifies her from a career in politics. Her DNC speech in Charlotte, while perfectly resonant and well-crafted, in the words of Nora Connor at The Revealer, “was sending a calm, tactical GO FUCK YOURSELVES to the Romneys and Ryans of our political universe, and kinda also to the campaign and media mechanisms that demand a Mommy-In-Chief.” Michelle Obama’s rhetoric, in terms of race, can be infinitely more visible than her husband’s, and this says more about the country as a whole than it does about their two differing personalities. In his new biography of Obama, Barack Obama: The Story, David Maraniss begins generations before the future 44th President of the United States was born, both in Kenya and Kansas, and ends well before Obama set out on his career as a politician. In this manner, Maraniss occupies himself with the same period of time Obama himself wrote about in Dreams from My Father, and many of the facts that Obama admittedly compressed are parsed and analyzed with a much longer view. Maraniss often does not agree with Obama’s harsh assessment of his mother as a naïve white liberal, a head-in-the-clouds do-gooder, but his narrative supports the picture of Obama as a lonely soul, abandoned by an unloving father and a loving mother to responsible grandparents and a childhood of surprising privilege and calm. Maraniss introduces the story of Obama with a globe trek from Indonesia to Hawaii to Chicago, so when he begins the history of the white side of Obama’s family in small town Kansas, we see how sheltered and nostalgic the heartland can be. Framing the president’s auspicious ancestry as somewhat magical, even in this most plain of geographies, the sense of destiny arises immediately out of death, when Obama’s great-grandmother kills herself in her husband’s auto shop, sending her two young sons to live with their grandparents, which, like much else in Obama’s family tree, is famously repeated in later generations. The stories of Obama’s two sets of grandparents, though on two strikingly different continents and in disparate circumstances, resemble each other in their history of harsh men and beleaguered, defeated women. Contrary to Obama’s self-chosen mythology, it is the Dunham side of his family that begins to break from this unfortunate mold, sending him on the path to become a consummate family man who supports his strong, empowered wife. Obama’s white grandparents have a typical, searching early-adulthood and many of the myths of their openness and perhaps Obama’s desire to be a writer come from this period. His grandfather, Stanley, appears to be the prototypical mid-century failed writer turned furniture (and then insurance) salesman. The life of Obama’s father, on the other hand, filled with achievement and promise, is wrapped up in the story of African independence from colonial rule. As an exceptional student, Barack Sr. leaves Kenya with the assistance of missionaries and political radicals in an emerging democracy movement. In Hawaii he excels at his studies and the socializing and drinking typical of universities and meets Stanley Ann Dunham in a Russian language course in his second year. Barack Sr. and Stanley Ann, before they met, both came from circumstances not necessarily conducive to academic excellence, but both rose above their peers – Dunham in the Seattle suburbs, Obama in a Kenyan prep school where he had to do chores to pay tuition. He gets her pregnant and then leaves for Harvard and finally returns to Kenya with a different woman, where he starts a third family and always talks about sending for the “little bull” he left behind in Hawaii. Kenyan culture, during this era, was modernizing but still largely tribal. Barack Sr.’s chauvinism, normal for the era, was amplified by his paternalistic Luo heritage, in which the personal concerns of the father trump all familial duties. The same male-centric patterns can be seen on the Dunham side. It’s Stanley’s listlessness that moves his young family from Kansas to Seattle and then to Hawaii, but unlike the Luo women in Kenya at the time, Madelyn Dunham, Stanley’s wife, is the real breadwinner and emotional center and head of household. Though his ancestry is undoubtedly rich with characters and with exceptional men and women, Obama’s family situation, the dysfunction of it, his mother and father’s separate ramblings, create what must have been an intensely lonely childhood. Though Maraniss portrays little Barry’s relationship with his grandparents as nothing but warm, Obama must have realized at an early age that he was, for all intents and purposes, an orphan. While Maraniss does show an impressive pattern of multicultural richness in Obama’s family history, he seems bent on deflating some myths Obama perpetuated about his family in his memoirs, such as his step-grandfather’s death in the Dutch Aggression in Indonesia. He does manage to convincingly deflate Obama’s conception of his mother. While Obama is often harsh in describing his mother’s perceived ignorance, particularly in the wider scope of world affairs, it was her cosmopolitanism and sense of adventure that exposed him to a new world above the traditional racial dichotomies of the mainland United States, especially at Punahou, an elite prep school in Hawaii. But as we see later in Obama’s life, he then had to search out this racial identity for himself and maybe this resentment boiled over into a dismissal of his mother’s sophistication. The blurred lines of Punahou did not please the writer in Obama as much as the stark racial realities of Chicago. Contrary to alarmist pictures of Obama’s “radical” upbringing, he lived the life of a typical late-70s suburban stoner in high school, apolitical but smart in the way the sociable nerds in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused are apolitical and smart. Maraniss writes of Barry’s high school basketball years as if they happen in Hollywood terms, but also lets these events filter through terms of race and self-creation, like Obama does in his memoir. Instead of radical liberalism, Obama establishes and develops a rigorous sense of intellectual inquiry at Occidental College in the early-1980s. But this is also his first extended time on the mainland away from Hawaii and Indonesia. The complexities of race become acute for him here, especially when he confronts the fact of blackness in mainstream America, where being African-American does not necessarily make you multicultural. It is the angry closed-mindedness of the African-Americans who call Obama out for being multicultural and not black that sends him on his way to figure these things out for himself. Obama’s move to Columbia University to complete his bachelor’s degree arises from a loneliness and lack of secure self-identity quite understandable for someone abandoned not only by his cold, ambitious father, but also by his warm, loving mother. In his self-referential poetic letters, his jazz hangouts and international friends, his summer trip to Pakistan, Obama shows his worldliness, but he tries to skirt this with a revision of his heritage and the discovery of a culture he never knew. He becomes, as all college students become, an insufferable bore. Obama’s endless introspection and self-centered letter-writing to a college girlfriend become a bit trying, because he does not stray too far from the course of most young intellectuals. He wants to find a truer love, a more real community, to capture the essence of his city in poetry. Compared with Mitt Romney’s life, thoroughly captured in Michael Kranish and Scott Helman’s The Real Romney, Obama’s story touches on so many familiar themes for an outsider, even, or perhaps especially, a white middle class outsider – a sense of disconnectedness, loss, alienation, resentment of family, an intellectual search, a lonely existence. These are not the messages of privilege and inheritance vital to Mitt Romney’s formation as an adolescent and young adult. Instead of roughing it in grad school on stock profits inherited from his father, a young Obama picks up and moves to Chicago to start a career as a community organizer, something right wing commentators would pick on him for to no end in his presidential campaign. His role as a community organizer, though, reveals his interest in social justice, which was inherited, from his mother. But his moderation and calm head (despite a few Two Cigarette Moments) discount the myth of him being an entrenched leftist activist. Maraniss ends his story here, and if we thought everything that came before was complicated, just think of everything left unexplored – Michelle, Jeremiah Wright, law school, a professorship, the Senate, fatherhood, the nomination, the birthers, and all the sticky stuff of the Presidency. The most important contrast, though, between Obama and Romney’s biographies, is the cast of characters. Obama’s includes all kinds, Romney’s only one – rich and white.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Allison

    This is a phenomenally well-reported book that explores the lineage and early life of Barack Obama. President Obama himself doesn't appear until Chapter 7 - it begins by alternating between one side of his family then the other, which I found really fascinating, if slower to get through. Sometimes it does feel like Maraniss is stretching in his analysis of Obama and the family members in his life, but I think he does a good job building how Obama became Obama. It was a personal accomplishment to This is a phenomenally well-reported book that explores the lineage and early life of Barack Obama. President Obama himself doesn't appear until Chapter 7 - it begins by alternating between one side of his family then the other, which I found really fascinating, if slower to get through. Sometimes it does feel like Maraniss is stretching in his analysis of Obama and the family members in his life, but I think he does a good job building how Obama became Obama. It was a personal accomplishment to read this book, as it's quite long as far as my non-fiction reads go, and I'd been intending to read it since 2012. I'm glad I finally got around to it, and recommend the book if you're looking to learn more about our former President and get into the Biography genre.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Byron Edgington

    Cool head; Main thing. This simple aphorism, almost too short to contain any wisdom, goes a long way in explaining the 44th President of the United States. If theres one salient criticism of Barack Hussein Obama, from the day he entered the Oval Office, it is and has been that hes aloof, distant, ice cold in a town where schmooze is the ultimate verb, the essential skill. BHO doesnt do schmooze. Reading Maranisss book we begin to understand, if not the why of it, at least the how and because of Cool head; Main thing. This simple aphorism, almost too short to contain any wisdom, goes a long way in explaining the 44th President of the United States. If there’s one salient criticism of Barack Hussein Obama, from the day he entered the Oval Office, it is and has been that he’s aloof, distant, ice cold in a town where schmooze is the ultimate verb, the essential skill. BHO doesn’t do schmooze. Reading Maraniss’s book we begin to understand, if not the why of it, at least the how and because of it. Barack Obama has said so before himself: he is the least likely man in politics to have won high office. It’s too easy to ascribe Mr. Obama’s detachment and almost eerie separation from others as a reaction to his childhood and placement in one school after another, one geography after another. When a paramour says, “I love you,” a young Obama responds, “Thank you.” This may be detachment; it may also be gratitude that someone has finally said those words to him. His bi-racial-ness, the fact that he grew up the son of a white Kansas-bred mother and a black, Kenya-bred father doesn’t explain it. Obama may have been most comfortable in Hawaii as a hapa, Hawaiian lingo for half white half black. In Hawaii, a world of rich, inclusive diversity, he moves easily, smoking pakalolo with pals, dropping into the ‘the chink store’ to buy cigarettes and snacks, excelling at basketball at Punahou. Obama’s lack of a father figure has its place in his search for identity, surely, but in a singular way: the younger Obama puts his detachment to work in his youth, determined to not be like Obama senior. Indeed, the book makes clear that among fortuitous events propelling Obama forward, the most beneficial may have been his alcoholic father’s death in yet another drunk driving accident when Barack was 21. The brilliant but erratic, hopelessly alcoholic Barack Obama senior was more than a biological father; he was a mythic presence, and in that capacity similar to many of the ephemeral demons Barack the younger had to contend with to sort out who he was. Indeed, one criticism of the book is that, in delineating who the man in the White House is, Maraniss fails to mention the role that being the adult child of an alcoholic parent plays in his behaviors. It’s far too easy to psychologize about such things, but ACOAs remain aloof, avoid confrontation at all costs and do their level best to smooth things over, often ignoring the elephant in any room. In Barack Obama’s case that elephant may literally be the symbol of the opposition party, his nemeses in Congress that he’s forever trying to appease, to the irritation of his supporters. Cool head; Main thing. This is perhaps the best researched book written about a powerful, world-famous, iconic figure who appears to have purposely left few clues. Much of the African narrative, for instance, came from oral recollection, and fact checking had to have been exhausting because of it. Letters and archival matter from former Obama associates reveal much of the president’s past, a fascinating insight into his maze-like journey to the Oval Office. The Story reveals an almost bizarre collection of convergences such that Obama’s rise comes to seem like destiny. His Kansas forebears’ journey that took them to Hawaii; his mother enrolling at Hawaii where she meets Barack senior; Stan Dunham’s boss in Honolulu who happens to be on the board of director’s at Punahou; people in Chicago looking for a community organizer, job description custom made for Barack Obama. The convergences themselves come to define who Obama is, by his reaction and attention to them and his at times painful avoidance of becoming enmeshed in them, remaining ‘The Moviegoer,’ always observing, never engaging. Observing the man in the White House now, and reading The Story, we begin to understand why Obama avoids the rough and tumble of politics: he finally knows who he is, even if the rest of us do not. For those still, at this late date, determined to discredit our 44th president there is little to like here. David Maraniss doesn’t do schmooze, either, and his journalistic skills shine through in this book. Based on a reading of Barack Obama, The Story, an objective reader must conclude that Mr. Obama is a Christian, American, qualified and competent to be president. He might know a lot more about the world as it is and about himself than his predecessor, and that is a very good thing. Byron Edgington, author ofThe Sky Behind Me, a Memoir of Flying and Life

  19. 5 out of 5

    Keith

    Even if his journey had not led to the Presidency this is still an intriguing story but the fact that he did, makes it a truly engrossing read. In what appears to be an amazingly short period of time, Barack Obama became the embodiment of random circumstance and possibly even the archetype for those that might believe in the importance of destiny. When looking back at America's recent history, the fact that a biracial young man from a broken home with little potential, other than his Even if his journey had not led to the Presidency this is still an intriguing story but the fact that he did, makes it a truly engrossing read. In what appears to be an amazingly short period of time, Barack Obama became the embodiment of random circumstance and possibly even the archetype for those that might believe in the importance of destiny. When looking back at America's recent history, the fact that a biracial young man from a broken home with little potential, other than his intelligence and ceaseless drive to find his place in the world, could overcome all odds to become the leader of the free world is astonishing. But this is more than Obama's story; it's also the story of American culture and the consanguinity of two merging lines of the families that came before him. The probability that the descendants of a conservative Kansas farm family and the descendants of the Luo tribe in western Kenya would ever cross paths is miraculous in itself but the impact on the modern world is truly something to ponder. Maraniss has created a document that explores Obama's origins with extremely detailed and well-substantiated research and appears to cut no slack for those that might take a more casual or sycophantic approach. It will undoubtedly prove a basis for future thoughts and commentary about his presidency. The detail of his early relationships and those that preceded him is sometimes arduous and yet necessary to provide insight into the man that proved epochal to America's ongoing story. It's a long read but well worth the time to watch history that's still in the making.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Lori

    David Maraniss is a journalist who thoroughly researches every word he prints. He in past has written about Clinton and it is not stretch to assume his loyalties lie with the Democrats. But Maraniss is fair and I've never found a lie in anything Maraniss has ever written. This book sheds light on the formative years of Obama. This book also sheds light on many "misrepresentations" that Obama has written about himself in his "Dreams from my Father" book. Maraniss gives details to make clear what David Maraniss is a journalist who thoroughly researches every word he prints. He in past has written about Clinton and it is not stretch to assume his loyalties lie with the Democrats. But Maraniss is fair and I've never found a lie in anything Maraniss has ever written. This book sheds light on the formative years of Obama. This book also sheds light on many "misrepresentations" that Obama has written about himself in his "Dreams from my Father" book. Maraniss gives details to make clear what are the facts. The first about 7 discs dwells his family history in Kenya and in US. A few myths are dispelled here: Someone did remember a mention about "Stanley" giving birth in Hawaii. Stanley was Obama's mothers middle name. Baby Obama was swept off to by his mother to US mainland when he was barely one month old and they never lived as a “family” with Barack Obama Senior again. Apparently this is not the story that has been told before. Barack senior was a violent man with another wife and 2 kids back in Kenya, so there was no reason he would have taken Stanley Ann back to Kenya to give birth. Obama grew up in Indonesia where his mother worked and did research. He always went to the finest schools that his mother & grandmother could get him into. He was sent to Hawaii in his adolescent years & attended private school there and lived with his grandparents. His grandfather sought out a Black man for Obama to associate with since there were few Blacks in Obama's childhood experience. There are many things people would be surprised to read. The extent of his pot & cigarette smoking are legion. So many things Obama did that seem calculated towards a Political goal, such as joining Jeremiah Wright's church. Obama doesn't come across as having strong religious beliefs in anything. He seemed to have joined to find the African-American experience that he was not raised in at all to give him credibility in that community. There are no instances of unpaid altruism on his part, he was paid for his community organizing and the works associated with it. Also his distain for Business come thru in his comments when he worked briefly for Business International Corp, that he was "working for the enemy" Maraniss explained that Obama's job at Business International was as a low-level researcher, not as Obama had described. Obama also criticized his mother for working from a grant funded by the Ford Foundation. This is summary, and albeit not a thorough or very good one. This book is very interesting in that most of Obama’s background was not known before; certainly not the facts that Maraniss points out. The biggest disappointment of the book is that he doesn't go into Obama's actual political career but the lead up to it. This audio Books is 20 CDs long and Maraniss narrates and is easy to listen too although his voice can put one to sleep.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Rike

    Finally! I finished all 571 pages of this dull book. But at least I cannot say I haven't been warned. On page 19 of the introduction the author mentions that Barack Obama himself will not appear until the 7th of the 18 chapters of the book. Although family history might give clues about a persons character, I doubt that the psychoanalysis of the great-grandparents will get the reader that far in getting to know the one person he is actually interested in. Talking about psychoanalysis: The author Finally! I finished all 571 pages of this dull book. But at least I cannot say I haven't been warned. On page 19 of the introduction the author mentions that Barack Obama himself will not appear until the 7th of the 18 chapters of the book. Although family history might give clues about a persons character, I doubt that the psychoanalysis of the great-grandparents will get the reader that far in getting to know the one person he is actually interested in. Talking about psychoanalysis: The author never stops to give unwarranted interpretations of Obama's inner feelings. It starts with the authoritative announcement in the introduction that Obama's story is a continuous quest to "avoid traps", and continues with statements like "What he did, he did not because of the reasons he thought, but actually because..." Even if this comes close - I do not appreciate presumptious speculation about other peoples' inner workings nor do I like some author's conclusions rubbed into my face. There is definitely not a lack of hard facts for the reader to draw conclusions from, if that is what the author had worried about. And eventually, worst of all: The bickering about facts and fiction in Obama's autobiography. Even if characters are "compressed", events mentioned out of chronological order or even entirely constructed - so what! I understand that as a historian with a different approach, facts are what matters, but the author could have spared the reader the "aha! I discovered a discrepancy!" momentum. So why two stars nevertheless? First, despite all the boredom it caused me, it is a well-researched work of biographical history. Hats off to the author who must have put a lot of work into the book! Secondly, the main character is a hell of an interesting guy. Somehow he is not quite visible himself behind all the interpretation... But after getting to know him from afar, from the outside, you really feel you want to get to know him in his own words. Oh hey - and there's actually this book you could read to do so. It's called Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance and is said to be quite the bestseller. ;)

  22. 5 out of 5

    David Fox

    Looking for Obama Maraniss believes that to fully grasp the totality of someone's character it is not only necessary to peel back that individual's psychic epidermis, but also, of utmost importance, to conduct a genealogical probe of that person's ancestors. We really do not even get to meet Barry Obama (it would be years before "Barack" replaces "Barry") until more than halfway through the book. And even then, the narrative weaves back & forth, referencing his father, paternal grandfather Looking for Obama Maraniss believes that to fully grasp the totality of someone's character it is not only necessary to peel back that individual's psychic epidermis, but also, of utmost importance, to conduct a genealogical probe of that person's ancestors. We really do not even get to meet Barry Obama (it would be years before "Barack" replaces "Barry") until more than halfway through the book. And even then, the narrative weaves back & forth, referencing his father, paternal grandfather & assorted relatives on that side of the family. Almost equal amounts of time are allocated to his mother's oddly eccentric brood. There is the family's still haunting but hushed, closeted humiliating suicide of his great-grandmother Ruth. And there are the chapters devoted to the people who more than anyone else, raised Obama - his maternal grandparents. Like mismatched bookends, Maraniss details how they infused the young Obama with personality characteristics that would become part & parcel of the persona that now occupies the global stage. Implicit in his focus on Obama's immediate & not so immediate family is the underlying assumption that this deep dive into family lore & tragedies will allow us to better understand the many nuances of his complex personality. Even more, there is the suggestion that much like inherited physical genes Obama has benefited/suffered from the personality strengths & anomalies of his parents & grandparents. And so Maraniss raises a fascinating question to ponder - how much of who we are is predicated upon the characteristics of those family members we may have never met. One might possibly take away from this introspective study, that much of who we are, in particular at least, for Obama, is the sense of so much beyond our immediate control. And yet, it's not. More than anything that is what emerges as Obama's personal struggle - a quest to define & propel himself forward, not really sure of exactly who he is or where he came from.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Lit Folio

    This is a substantive, well-researched and extensive exploration of the man who has become our current President. What made him, through the influences of both his African and American roots is fascinating reading. I thoroughly enjoyed the broad and vast exploration of the grandparents who ended up having so much to do with shaping Barack's disciplined character. And what's impressive here are the women. The grandmother, Madelyn, and mother, Stanley, were the real force behind any strengths this This is a substantive, well-researched and extensive exploration of the man who has become our current President. What made him, through the influences of both his African and American roots is fascinating reading. I thoroughly enjoyed the broad and vast exploration of the grandparents who ended up having so much to do with shaping Barack's disciplined character. And what's impressive here are the women. The grandmother, Madelyn, and mother, Stanley, were the real force behind any strengths this very hard-working middle class family had going for it. You can clearly see where President Obama has such high regard for women. His grandfather was very cavalier about work, about his role in things, and tended to be a 'know it all'. But a likeable sort, to be sure. What ends up being the most compelling sections are the ones on the elusive and brilliant, yet difficult and tragic, Barack Obama, Sr. This all makes fascinating reading. The only tick I have is that after all this exhaustive exploration of the inner workings of the two parts that created the whole of President Obama, the author refers to him, in the end, as the first African American President. I found this to be baffling, as the man is not a direct descendant of slaves (which is the definition of the term), and as Maraniss so thoroughly portrays, he was raised by the white side of the family, and of course, born of a Caucasian mother. It's obvious that the correct term is : bi-racial. To say Obama is our first African American President is simply inaccurate. To say he is the first Black president is more apt. All in all, this is a provocative and engrossing read. Highly recommend.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Julia

    This was clearly very extensively researched, and it provided some context and stories not covered by David Remnick's The Bridge, which I overall liked better. Obama's parents both have interesting stories, and I learned somethings about Kenyan politics that I hadn't known. However, I found the overall idea that Obama's existence was a highly coincidental, one-in-a-million-chance highly problematic. Plenty of people are born into short marriages, or, more to Maraniss' point, inter-cultural ones. This was clearly very extensively researched, and it provided some context and stories not covered by David Remnick's The Bridge, which I overall liked better. Obama's parents both have interesting stories, and I learned somethings about Kenyan politics that I hadn't known. However, I found the overall idea that Obama's existence was a highly coincidental, one-in-a-million-chance highly problematic. Plenty of people are born into short marriages, or, more to Maraniss' point, inter-cultural ones. The logical extension of his thesis is that some existences are somehow predictable, and others the result of some more dramatic contingencies. On some level, sure, this is probably true - Stanley Ann Dunham was probably statistically more likely to have a kid with someone she knew in Kansas than with an older Kenyan. But is this really a division among humans that we want to reinforce as significant? Obama's own experiences and choices and influences seem much more interesting and important than the idea that his life was so improbable. How probable is anyone's life? The fact-checking of Obama's memoir also struck me as a bit petty and derivative. One of the things I was most interested in was the chapter about his old girlfriend, but that was not nearly as revealing or novel as I'd hoped. However, I did enjoy the parts about his different forebears, and the last chapter about his life in Chicago.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Seth Kolloen

    I quite enjoyed this broad scope look at the forces that shaped Barack Obama's life, going all the way back to his great-grandparents. Maraniss did some amazing research for the fascinating story that stretches from Kansas to Kenya. In the course of reading this book, I found out that a good friend's father was Obama's mom's landlord! Craziness...there are so many names and dates and places it wouldn't surprise me if everyone in America would lessen their degrees of separation from Obama by I quite enjoyed this broad scope look at the forces that shaped Barack Obama's life, going all the way back to his great-grandparents. Maraniss did some amazing research for the fascinating story that stretches from Kansas to Kenya. In the course of reading this book, I found out that a good friend's father was Obama's mom's landlord! Craziness...there are so many names and dates and places it wouldn't surprise me if everyone in America would lessen their degrees of separation from Obama by reading this book. Most interesting was about Obama as a high school and college student, finding his way without being very conspicuous at all! He was part of a Black Students Organization in college, but no one who was in it really remembers him. "It is hard to imagine a young Bill Clinton participating in any organization without exchanging stories with every person in the room, flirting with every girl, and leaving a lasting impression, for better or worse. By contrast, some of the most active members of the Black Students Organization could not remember Obama at their meetings or parties. Again, he was more the observer—here admiring, there critiquing, always learning, but from a distance."

  26. 4 out of 5

    Lori

    So far I find it fascinating how often this book, written by a Washington Post reporter, proves that the book by Obama himself is exaggerated and false at times. I've laughed out loud at times with the inconsistencies. Since this reporter has done the research himself and talked to those who were close to Obama, you would hope their stories would be the same, but alas they are not. One example is when the reporter spoke to the coach and members of his high school basketball team. Obama claimed So far I find it fascinating how often this book, written by a Washington Post reporter, proves that the book by Obama himself is exaggerated and false at times. I've laughed out loud at times with the inconsistencies. Since this reporter has done the research himself and talked to those who were close to Obama, you would hope their stories would be the same, but alas they are not. One example is when the reporter spoke to the coach and members of his high school basketball team. Obama claimed that he was a benchwarmer because he played "black style" basketball. The coach and team members said that Obama couldn't dunk and so he didn't make any points and then was made to sit out the games. Too funny! The author had intended to write this as a tribute to Obama, but unintentionally proved Obama is full of tales and lies. I will never be a supporter of Obama, but I appreciated the background of his life. I think I have a better understanding of his ideology in some respects, but I still disagree with him. The author did tremendous research and wrote it well. It kept my interest and was well laid out. Now I mostly feel pity for Obama for following such misguided beliefs.

  27. 5 out of 5

    wade

    This is an exhaustive study of the family background and early life of Barack Obama. That statement tells you both the strengths and weaknesses of this book. The author has left no stone unturned in delving into the President's past dispelling many myths that his political enemies have used against him. The book also develops just why the President seems to have some of the personality traits he does including coolness and caution. The downside of the book is that the author never found a shred This is an exhaustive study of the family background and early life of Barack Obama. That statement tells you both the strengths and weaknesses of this book. The author has left no stone unturned in delving into the President's past dispelling many myths that his political enemies have used against him. The book also develops just why the President seems to have some of the personality traits he does including coolness and caution. The downside of the book is that the author never found a shred of information that he didn't think was important enough to put in the book. A little more self editing would have been nice. Part of the book I listened to on books on tape and the author did the reading. He seemed to take joy reading lists of difficult African and Indonesian names of people that had little to nothing to do with the Obama story. He seemed to think I found these names, I learned how to pronounce them so I will just throw them into the book. Too much trivia. One of many examples. But I still think is a well done book if you can get past this.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mlg

    Very readable book about the childhood and young adulthood of our current president. The genealogical information at the beginning is okay, it went on a bit too long. Obama's life was certainly not an easy one. His biological father had little relationship with his mother, never supported him and saw him only once. His mother was a good person, who had horrible taste in men and who basically abandoned her son seeking a career in Indonesia. Both Obama Sr. and her Indonesian husband were abusive. Very readable book about the childhood and young adulthood of our current president. The genealogical information at the beginning is okay, it went on a bit too long. Obama's life was certainly not an easy one. His biological father had little relationship with his mother, never supported him and saw him only once. His mother was a good person, who had horrible taste in men and who basically abandoned her son seeking a career in Indonesia. Both Obama Sr. and her Indonesian husband were abusive. Obama's grandparents who raised him were undemonstrative. His grandfather was never successful and became sour about it as he aged. His grandmother (Tut) was the steadiest one in the family, and worked her way up in a bank and supported Barack through college. Maraniss ended the book just as Obama gets his acceptance letter from Harvard, leaving me to think that there may be a sequel. I hope so.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    I don't give a top rating to many books, movies, or other things. I think that is because as I get older I am increasingly protective of my time, and I am less forgiving of low quality work that wastes that diminishing quantity of time. I hope I'm not just becoming a curmudgeon. I am giving a five-star rating (or at least a 4-1/2), however, to David Maraniss' biography of Barack Obama because it is compelling reading from start to finish, is rigorously researched, and succeeds enormously at what I don't give a top rating to many books, movies, or other things. I think that is because as I get older I am increasingly protective of my time, and I am less forgiving of low quality work that wastes that diminishing quantity of time. I hope I'm not just becoming a curmudgeon. I am giving a five-star rating (or at least a 4-1/2), however, to David Maraniss' biography of Barack Obama because it is compelling reading from start to finish, is rigorously researched, and succeeds enormously at what it sets out to do, which is to tell the story of Obama's life up until his entrance into Harvard Law School. It provides context for Obama's story and provides insights into character without over analyzing or making judgements. It is remarkably balanced. This book deserves its high rating, in short, because it is one of the best books of its type I have read.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Pete

  31. 4 out of 5

    Eric

  32. 5 out of 5

    Wcplanfi

  33. 5 out of 5

    Rebekah

  34. 5 out of 5

    Luiz Rens

  35. 4 out of 5

    Beryl (Brown) Piccolantonio

  36. 4 out of 5

    Edith

  37. 5 out of 5

    Zoe Kipping

  38. 5 out of 5

    Rowena

  39. 4 out of 5

    Pooch

    BARACK OBAMA THE STORY by David Maraniss is the product of extensive research, interviews, and deconstruction of DREAMS FROM MY FATHER by Barack Obama. The author examines the ethos of each of Obama's parents beginning the family stories with the grandparents. The social structures of Kenya and Nairobi provide a fascinating glimpse into the lives and culture of Obama's African ancestors. Beginning with a historical perspective in Africa and concluding with Obama's entrance into Harvard Law BARACK OBAMA THE STORY by David Maraniss is the product of extensive research, interviews, and deconstruction of DREAMS FROM MY FATHER by Barack Obama. The author examines the ethos of each of Obama's parents beginning the family stories with the grandparents. The social structures of Kenya and Nairobi provide a fascinating glimpse into the lives and culture of Obama's African ancestors. Beginning with a historical perspective in Africa and concluding with Obama's entrance into Harvard Law School, the author thoroughly documents and explains key events as well as the day-to-day life of the President as a young man. I wonder if Maraniss will write another book or two about Barack Obama by picking up at Law School and on through his Presidency. If you enjoy detailed, sometimes pedantic, biography this might be the book for you!

  40. 5 out of 5

    Don

    This is a biography of Barak Obama through his early 20's and his parents and grandparents. The thing that stands out to me the most is the ordinariness of his early achievements. Unlike Bill Clinton who was tagged a brilliant rising star from the beginning, most people interviewed for this book said that there was nothing special about Obama. It reinforces my opinion that Obama got where he is based on the strength of his oratory, his wonderful speaking voice, a lower standard of achievement This is a biography of Barak Obama through his early 20's and his parents and grandparents. The thing that stands out to me the most is the ordinariness of his early achievements. Unlike Bill Clinton who was tagged a brilliant rising star from the beginning, most people interviewed for this book said that there was nothing special about Obama. It reinforces my opinion that Obama got where he is based on the strength of his oratory, his wonderful speaking voice, a lower standard of achievement for a minority candidate, and the good fortune of facing subpar political opponents.

  41. 4 out of 5

    C

  42. 5 out of 5

    Maureen Flatley

  43. 4 out of 5

    Kelley Tackett

  44. 5 out of 5

    Julia

  45. 5 out of 5

    Coco Kimura

  46. 5 out of 5

    Maggie

  47. 5 out of 5

    Kristina

  48. 4 out of 5

    Asima

  49. 5 out of 5

    Mackenzie Virginia

  50. 5 out of 5

    Lynne

  51. 4 out of 5

    Silvie ﺕ

  52. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

  53. 5 out of 5

    Angela Wilson

  54. 5 out of 5

    Lesley

  55. 4 out of 5

    Julie

  56. 4 out of 5

    Pat

  57. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

  58. 5 out of 5

    Sara Barton

  59. 4 out of 5

    Craig

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