95 of 119 people found the following review helpful
on June 28, 2012
Maraniss has the ability and the commitment to confront the age-old issue: how is our unique identify defined by our genes and our environment? Barack Obama is an exceptionally rich, but difficult, subject. The author is not writing a typical biography, but delivers the deepest and most revealing analysis of Obama that I've read.
However, this book is not for everyone. If you firmly believe Obama was not born in Hawaii, save yourself arguing with an author determined to discover truth. If you are an Obama loyalist who will be distressed to find that in "Dreams From My Father" he compressed chronology and assigned pseudonyms save yourself the disappointment.
If you find yourself both amazed and frustrated by Obama's abilites to function in interracial and international environments, his negotiating and compromising skills in problem-solving situations, his inspiring speeches and his aloof coolness, you will be rewarded with deeper understanding of a very complicated person.
Maraniss relies heavily on personal interviews rather than secondary sources and he finds many, many details not previously published. Traveling to Kenya, Kansas, Indonesia, Hawaii, California, New York, Chicago and Washington,DC he questions relatives, friends, and competitors, to create a thorough perspective of his very diverse subject. This book does not extend into Obama's political career, but focuses on his formative years moving through family, school, and community environments in which he is invariably -- and feels he is -- an outsider trying to find his place in the world.
I turned the final page feeling thankful for such an objective viewpoint during a time of high partisanship. It is comforting to realize our president is a human being shaped by the very institutions of the country he leads.
103 of 130 people found the following review helpful
on June 26, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This book reminds me in a way of Robert Penn Warren's masterpiece, "All the King's Men." WIth its gripping writing, color, characters and narrative, David Maraniss' "Barack Obama: The Story" feels like a great American novel.
Yet it is a meticulously researched, journalistic and true account of the forces that shaped our president's life. It begins decades before Obama was born and ends when he is still in his 20s. At a time of fleeting accounts of political figures, this book is for history.
Individual chapters could stand on their own as masterful tales of shifting politics and culture in places like Kansas, Kenya, Hawaii and Chicago in the years preceding and following Obama's birth. But they are all tied together by Obama's journey, and you find yourself moving through time and place, seeing it all through Obama's eyes -- as well as those of his family, friends, romantic partners.
This isn't an anti- or pro-Obama book. Maraniss does not praise or criticize the president. He doesn't throw bombshells. Nor does he need to. Rather, Maraniss has found every fact he can about Obama's history, pieced them together in a story that finds drama in Obama as a regular human being struggling with the question of who he is.
In short, Maraniss has pulled back every layer of artificiality about Obama's past -- promulgated by both Republicans and Democrats -- and written the truest account of the young life that shaped today's president.
23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on August 30, 2012
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
This is a very well researched story of the young Barack Obama, his father, Kenyon Barack Obama Sr. (whose brilliance was compromised by arrogance and alcohol), his mother Anne, (who gave him the genes of an explorer of life, as an escapee from Kansas ), and the before-Michelle women in his life (notably, all white). It not only digs much deeper into his early life than Obama's "Dreams from My Father", it also spends a lot of time (too much I think) correcting and explaining the 1995 autobiography, which was a work of art, but by Obama's own admission played fast and loose with timelines and characters. The theme of the book is how, through a first class education, life experiences in Hawaii, Indonesia, Kenya, California, New York, and Chicago, Barack Obama became the person he is today, with the brilliance and ambition of his father, and the compassion infused fix-the-world-spirit of his mother.
Obama's mother's Midwest roots did not come from exactly an ideal white picket fence family, and included a grandmother who committed suicide, a father who was a big talker, but could not hold a job, and a mother who worked - something unheard of in Kansas, until WW II made it more necessary and then respectable. Moving many times for father to find a new job, and gradually moving west, they all ended up in Hawaii where Obama's mother briefly married his father from Kenya and bore him, then married an Indonesian and moved with Barack to Jakarta. Barack later went back to school in Hawaii, and on from there to Occidental, Columbia, and eventually to Harvard, where his father also studied.
His Father from Kenya was recognized by everyone he knew as exceptionally brilliant, but somewhat arrogant and difficult to deal with. He did have great charisma especially with women and attracted many women, several of them white, providing Barack Obama, his only namesake, with many half brothers and sisters. Although Barack Sr. did become an important man in the government of Kenya, he never achieved his full potential because of drinking and womanizing, and eventually was killed in a single car accident.
It was made clear in the book that Barack Obama Sr. was never a Moslem, even though his father was a nominal one, and Obama's mother was essentially an atheist, while respecting all religions and committed to helping others through such activities as her job with Ford Foundation. Obama came to the Christian religion after working with Black ministers in Chicago between his graduation from Columbia and his enrolling in Harvard.
This is mostly a 5 star book. However, there were a few disappointments. The main one was the abrupt end of the book at the point where Obama, after visiting Kenya left his Chicago organizing job to enter Harvard, with only a brief mention of two very important portions of his life - his mother's untimely death, and his courtship and winning of Michelle (after having relationships with three white women during his college years). Another weak point, in my opinion was the long and detailed account of Obama's second serious girl friend during his Columbia days - this apparently due mostly to the fact that the author had access to her journal. Also it was a little disconcerting for the author to concentrate so much space on how his account of Barack's life differs from Barack's own account, which Obama admitted contained composite characters and modified timelines for the purpose of better story flow.
That said, I learned a lot about many things in reading this well researched book, and highly recommend it to all who want to know more about this unusual man, the first Black President of the United States.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on December 14, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Very well researched, objective and non-partisan, with several well-written lyrical passages. Reading the book left me with the feeling that I now "personally" know our president. Indeed, this book should be "must reading" for the electorate in general and Obama's critics in particular (I'm a Republican)..
The 5th star would be there except for the couple of parts of the book which were simply "too much information", even for a semi-scholarly work like this one, viz., Obama Sr.'s tribal lineage, history, culture, etc., and (too a lesser extent) Ann's personal history.
27 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on July 10, 2012
I found it interesting that in his published review of this book, Pulitzer Prize winner T.J. Stiles said he felt sorry for David Maraniss because he believed that many readers, on both sides of the political aisle, would dismiss this book without ever reading a page. They'd either think it was a hatchet job or a puff piece, just because that's how our political culture seems to work these days -- people are so unaccustomed to a political book without a slanted agenda. To Stiles' lament I'd add that it's a shame that many of the customer reviews on this page reflect less on the book itself than on the readers' opinions of the president. It's a shame, because this is a great biography. It's not a typical bio -- Maraniss calls it a "generational" biography, and the early chapters examine Obama's ancestors in both Kansas and Kenya, tracing the paths that led to the improbable meeting of Obama's mother and father in Hawaii. In its rich detail and terrific reporting (Maraniss traveled the globe to find friends, relatives and yes, ex-girlfriends) the rest of the book gives readers a deeper understanding of Obama's upbringing in Hawaii and Indonesia, his college years at Occidental and Columbia, and his first forays into the working world in New York and Chicago. We see how he made a very conscious decision to figure out who he was and what he wanted to do with his life. It was amazing to me to realize as I was reading this book just how little I really knew about the President of the United States, someone you'd think you know pretty well by this point. Maraniss has given us a deeper understanding of the president and the forces that shaped him, and because he avoids the politics of the moment (the book ends as Obama heads off to Harvard Law School), it's a book that will stand the test of time. Most refreshing to me, it's an even-handed book, allowing the reader to make their own judgements. Just what true history and biography should be. It's too bad so many people only seem interested in partisan agendas, not just on cable tv apparently, but in the books they read, too.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
The first seven chapters of this book detail the lives of the grandparents and parents of the future president before he was born in 1961 in Honolulu. These chapters are of overrwhelming interest, setting out an ancestry certainly unique to an American president. And the story of his time when in Indonesia and in Hawaii and at Occidentla College in California I also found of high intererst. And the account of his rather secluded time at Columbia also is compelling, when one thinks of all the people who went to Columbia or were there when he was who did not know him. His life was such a contrast to Clinton's. As the author points out, everybody who went to Georgetown when Bill Clinton did knew of him. A very different type of person but of high interest. I did not find the account of Obama's time in Chicago of as much interest. The book ends with Obama deciding to go to Harvard Law School and of his first trip to Kenya. Most of this book is of huge interest, telling of most unusual path to the presidenc. yOne cannot fail to admire one who had such obstacles and who attained such triumphs.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on September 21, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
It is difficult to add anything new to what 72 other reviewers have already written, but I will, nevertheless, add my own thoughts. I bought this biography of Barack Obama because I am a supporter of his in addition to being attracted to the author of the book, David Maraniss, who wrote books on such icons as Roberto Clemente and Vince Lombardi.
This book is a straightforward account of our President' grandparents, parents, and siblings. The birth of our President doesn't occur until Chapter 7 in the book. Barack's parents were from Kansas and I found it interesting that his maternal grandfather was named Stanley Dunham while his maternal grandmother's favorite actress was Bette Davis who played in a movie entitled "In This Your Life" with the name of her character having the name of "Stanley." She thought this was so cool that when her daughter was born (Barack's mother) she gave her the name Stanley Ann Dunham.
The family moved around spending time in both Texas and Oklahoma before moving to Mercer Island in the state of Washington. From there it was on to Hawaii where Stanley Ann Dunham met Barack Obama, the President's father, while both were there studying. Marriage took place with our present President Barack Obama being born to them on August 4, 1961. The marriage didn't last with father Barack Obama returning to Kenya where he died in an automobile accident. He was a brilliant man, but was a womanizer and had significant problems with alcohol. Stanley Ann went to study anthropology in Indonesia while child Barack remained with his maternal grandparents in Hawaii. I found it interesting that while a senior in high school Barack Obama's basketball team was one of the top ten teams in the nation. Obama wasn't a starter, but he was on the team.
Following graduation from high school Obama went to Occidental College in the Los Angeles area for two years before transferring to Columbia University in New York City where he received his degree.
The final portion of the book covers the time he spent in Chicago as a community organizer on Chicago's troubled South Side. The book concludes with his acceptance to Harvard University.
This obviously is not a complete up-to-date biography of our President, and politics is not involved. However, the book has 571 pages of text and author David Maraniss has completed a lot of research to bring an objective account of this portion of Barack Obama's life. The reader may feel he is being told more than he wants in this book, and patience is required to keep all the people straight. I did find it to be a very worthwhile read.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 12, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
This thoroughly researched
book is a biography of the
President's ancestors but is
thin on analysis of him, which
us what I was expecting
Some facts were superfluous
and seemed to be included
merely to demonstrate the depth
of the author's research. It is
informative but not enjoyable.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 7, 2014
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Obama most likely came into existence following his "father" (a sperm donor only) forcibly incurring sex on Obama's virgin mother in Obama Sr's Hawaii apt. They had met in a Russian language class. A dark, black African (26 yrs old) exerting his so-called "sexual magnetism" on a naive and virginal white girl (17 yrs old) from Kansas. No magic here. Borderline rape. Obama's parents married in Hawaii shortly before Obama's birth. By the way, Obama Sr was already married to a Kenyan woman but no matter. This is Obama's beginning. However, Obama had the good fortune of having decent and caring white grandparents who pretty much raised the boy. Obama's mother was more interested in studying primitive cultures (imagine that) than raising her only son. So in the very beginning Obama had to deal with rejection. However, he "matured" in the diversified culture of Hawaii where "mixed" blood was common. He was a "hapa." Obama's grandparents set him up in an exclusive and almost all-white private prep school in Hawaii. Obama became a member of the "Choom Gang", a group of teens who played hoops and smoked tons of weed. Obama loved to toke and I'm sure that his love of the "devil weed" continued into his college days and beyond. He also partaked in cocaine and booze. All while underage and illegal. As a senior Obama's basketball team won the Hawaii state championship. Obama was the 4th man off the bench and a "black man" who could not jump. Kind of funny. He possessed a decent, flat-footed jump shot (a lefty). One of Obama's early mentors was a black communist in Hawaii who lived like a vagrant, Frank Marshall Davis. I think that the most important person in Obama's young life was his white grandmother. She worked as a bank VP and she provided a home, stability, food on the table, tuition money, etc. In my view, w/o his white grandmother Obama would have never become president. His biological father, a bigamist and a drunk was a complete piece of crap. Quite full of himself. High IQ but immoral as an alley cat. His mother was distant and uncaring (another high IQ but not much of a mother). Obama Sr's huge ego helps one understand the younger Obama. One does not escape their past. This book will help you better understand Obama and his development. Understandably, Obama went on a quest of self discovery. White or black? Conform or no? Apparently, according to a college roommate, Obama asked himself at the time if he had the capacity to be president. I don't buy that memory. The book focuses on Obama's Kenyan and Kansas families and his development as a young man. I have never understood the attraction he holds for some Americans but such is life. Maraniss did a good job putting the story together. Highly recommend if you want some insight on Obama's development and the Kansas and Kenyan families from which he sprung.
67 of 96 people found the following review helpful
on July 3, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I was disappointed by how much the book focused on the grandparents and parents of Obama. It seemed almost like the majority of the book was about them and frankly, their stories were more interesting than Barack Obama. I was hoping for more information about the community organizer days and what led to the decisions to attend Columbia and Harvard. Was it as simple as "hey, I haven't met enough black folks, so I'll go to Columbia"? And one day Obama simply announces he is going to Harvard?
The impression I get of President Obama is of a guy who never goes all in on anything. He always stays at the periphery. He doesn't seem to develop lasting relationships with anyone and easily cuts people off. How did he get into Harvard Law with no participation in academic life in his undergrad years? This pattern of not staying with anything is evident even later, spending such a short time in Illinois senate and US senate before gaining the experience and developing relationships that would enable him to be a great leader. There are a lot more questions I have than answers from this book.
This is a very non-partison portrait of President Obama, which is appreciated. Generally he is portrayed as the hero in a Harlequin romance novel or Satan. The reason I give the book 3 stars is because I would have liked more Obama, less about the geneology.