"Barack Obama: The Story" (Simon & Schuster), by David Maraniss
If nothing else, Barack Obama's presidency has been a boon for the publishing industry.
Beyond his own best-selling books ("Dreams From My Father," ''The Audacity of Hope"), Obama's high profile has inspired books about his mother ("A Singular Woman"), his father ("The Other Barack") and his marriage ("The Obamas"), as well as self-described exposes ("The Amateur" and "Culture of Corruption"), among countless other tomes.
Now comes "Barack Obama: The Story" by David Maraniss, an associate editor at The Washington Post who spent four years traveling the globe and researching "the world that created Obama."
The result is an exhaustingly thorough book — probably too thorough for most readers — on Obama's forebears and early life. The level of detail extends to listing the names of his maternal grandfather's El Dorado High classmates, a rambling five pages about Wichita being a "military-industrial dynamo" around the time of Pearl Harbor, the address of the Nairobi-area house where his paternal grandfather worked, ruminating for a dozen pages on the dynamics of Obama's Punahou School basketball team and pointing out neighborhood landmarks on Obama's walk from his apartment to Columbia University.
Some interesting tidbits: Obama reportedly watches the TV show "Mad Men." In a high school pal's yearbook, he wrote: "Some day when I am an all-pro basketballer, and I want to sue my team for more money, I'll call on you." Obama's first serious girlfriend, predicting the kind of person he would end up with, presciently composed this diary entry after their breakup: "That lithe, bubbly, strong black lady is waiting somewhere!"
Maraniss also reveals discrepancies in "Dreams From My Father." For example, while Obama was told by his mother, Ann Dunham, that his father, Barack Obama Sr., left them to pursue his doctorate at Harvard, Maraniss found that Dunham fled Hawaii to Washington State less than a month after the younger Obama was born, a year before the older Obama left for the Northeast. Some of these discrepancies Maraniss chalks up to family myths or fudges about sensitive topics. Others are more blatant, like Obama's inflated description of his first job out of college. The author attributes these exaggerations to Obama taking literary license.
Maraniss says in his introduction that he wanted to end the book before Obama's entry into politics, but he cuts it off after Obama's time as a community organizer in Chicago, before he attends Harvard Law School. Obama's time as a law student was almost certainly more significant in shaping the person he has become than the lives of long-gone relatives he never met, and should have been included.
Overall, the book paints a picture of Obama — cautious, deliberative, low-key — that has remained largely consistent, from childhood to the present.
More than an engaging biography, "Barack Obama: The Story" reads like a long history book. Even those intrigued by Obama's personal story may find it difficult to slog through the minutiae.