cover image Barack Obama: The Story

Barack Obama: The Story

David Maraniss. Simon & Schuster, $32.50 (672p) ISBN 978-1-4391-6040-4

Between epic framing and prosaic content, a canny portrait of the 44th president through the age of 27 finally emerges from this sprawling biography. Journalist and bestselling author Maraniss (First In His Class: A Biography of Bill Clinton) dwells too grandly on the mythic confluence of Kenya and Kansas in Obama’s veins; he’s more cogent in analyzing the legacy of his father’s keen intellect, his mother’s self-possession, social conscience, and anthropologist’s neutrality, and Obama’s cosmopolitan childhood spent bouncing between Hawaii and Indonesia. Deploying exhaustive research, including countless interviews with friends to correct Obama’s distorted memoir of youthful racial alienation, the author depicts a well-adjusted, basketball-crazy kid whose uneventful life involves more reflecting than experiencing. Maraniss pads this less-than-gripping narrative with the meatier back-stories of forebears, many scenes of the college-age Obama brooding over his identity, and pages of relationship angst from a girlfriend’s diary. The book doesn’t gel until the final chapter on Obama’s community organizing work in Chicago, where strands of his personality—detachment, aversion to confrontation, consensus-seeking, idealism tempered by an understanding of the realities of power, a “determination to avoid life’s traps”—coalesce into his mature politics. Obama’s story here is interior and un-charismatic, but it makes for a revealing study in character-formation as destiny. The book ends as Obama prepares to enter Harvard Law. Photos. Agent: Rafe Sagalyn, Sagalyn Literary Agency. (June)