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A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mother Hardcover – May 3, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


“An ambitious new biography. . . . Scott pursues a more perplexing and elusive figure than the one Obama pieced together in his own books.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Even Obama knew that he had not his extraordinary mother justice. Janny Scott . . . does. She portrays Dunham as a feminist, an utterly independent spirit, a cultural anthropologies, and an international development officer who surely helped shape the internationalist, post-Vietnam-era world view of her son. Scott’s book is tirelessly researched, and the sections covering Dunham’s life in Indonesia especially are new and valuable to the accumulating biography of Obama’s extended global family.”—The New Yorker

“Janny Scott packs two and a half years of research into her bio of Stanley Ann Dunham, the quixotic anthropologist who raised a president.”—People

“The restrained, straight-ahead focus—rather in the spirit, it turns out, of Dunham herself—pays off. By recovering Obama’s mother from obscurity, A Singular Woman adds in a meaningful way to an understanding of a singular president.”—Slate

“The key to understanding the disciplined and often impassive 44th president is his mother, as Janny Scott, a reporter for The New York Times, decisively demonstrates in her new biography A Singular Woman. . . . Scott [uses] meticulous reporting, archival research and extensive interviews with Dunham’s colleagues, friends and family, including the president and his sister. What emerges is a portrait of a woman who is both disciplined and disorganized, blunt-spoken and empathetic, driven and devoted to her children, even as she ruefully admits her failings and frets over her distance from them.”—The Washington Post

“Meticulously-researched and well-written . . . a necessary counterpart and corrective to Obama’s first book Dreams from My Father.”—Financial Times

“In her own right, Ann Dunham was a fascinating woman. . . . The story of the ‘singular woman’ at the center of this book is told, and told well, by Scott.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“What emerges in this straightforward, deeply reported account is a complicated portrait of an outspoken, independent-minded woman with a life of unconventional choices.”—USA Today

“We get a much fuller story of Ms. Dunham’s life in A Singular Woman, Janny Scott’s richly researched, unsentimental book.”—The New York Times

“If you want to understand what shaped our president, don’t look to his father’s disappearance. It was his unconventional mother who made him. . . . [An] incisive biography.”—Newsweek

“A richly nuanced, decidedly sympathetic portrait of President Obama’s remarkably accomplished, spirited mother. . . . A biography of considerable depth and understanding.”—Kirkus

“Scott gives us a vivid, affecting profile of an unsung feminist pioneer who made breaking down barriers a family tradition and whose legacy extends well beyond her presidential son.”—Publishers Weekly (starred)

About the Author

Janny Scott was a reporter for The New York Times from 1994 to 2009, when she left to write this book. She was a member of the Times reporting team that won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; 1st edition (May 3, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594487979
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594487972
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (135 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #513,342 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Janny Scott was a reporter for The New York Times from 1994 to 2009, when she left to write this book. In 2008 she contributed six long biographical articles for the Times series on the lives of the presidential candidates. Part of the team that won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting, Scott lives in New York City.

Customer Reviews

Scott was able to pull together an incredible amount of information from which to tell write this book.
Amazon Customer
The book reveals a strong but eccentric individual who everyone would have more readily accepted as within norm if she were a man.
Barack Obama Sr., an African from Kenya, and Stanley Ann Dunham, a teenager from Kansas produced our 44th. president.
V. L. Wilson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

297 of 318 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on May 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I must preface this review by admitting I am a Republican and did not vote for Obama nor do I plan on voting for him next election. Still I must commend Scott for a simply amazing book considering how little has been known on Obama's mother and her fascinating life. Scott was able to pull together an incredible amount of information from which to tell write this book. I particularly enjoyed how she was able to win the trust of relatives not normally comfortable with detailing family history and also how even handed and impartial her take on the story was. The writing style itself also really lends itself to the story it told as Scott writes in a very fluid and coherent style which is easy to pick up. There is almost a dreamy quality to the early stories of the Kansas contingent of the Obama family and how education was such an important driver even many decades ago. One small criticism is that in some instances the same people are quoted multiple times saying basically the same thing which gets a bit repetitive. Plus often times the second half of the book seems more geared towards those interested in the history of Indonesian poverty then the actually story of Ann Dunham. It can get quite dense.

As for Stanley Ann Dunham who this book chronicles I don't want to give away the many intriguing elements of her life but will say there is a certain heartbreak in her likely sadness at not being in her son's life for long periods of time. One is left to wonder what their relationship would be like today has she not passed away at 52. One last point, I really enjoyed learning about Indonesia and other exotic locations which play a big role in this really well written book.

Totally recommended no matter your politics as long as you are interested in a fascinating life that nobody can deny had a profound affect on the world and history.
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111 of 125 people found the following review helpful By Anne Colamosca on May 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
We heard about Stanley Ann Dunham during Barack Obama's run for President in 2008. We knew that she had
been on foodstamps. We knew that she had been a young single mother in Hawaii in the early 1960s with a black son that she had to support.

By emphasizing this part of his mother's history, Barack Obama assured people that, yes, he understood their economic pain. And yes, his mother had been fatally ill with cancer while fighting with her insurance company not to cut off her coverage.

What we really had little comprehension of during these last few years as her son served as President, was the sophistication and complexity of Ann Dunham's professionnal life as an anthropologist and pioneeer working from the "bottom up" for AID and the Ford Foundation, a real pioneer who played a leading role in creating the whole field of micro-lending in which poor women were lent "seed money" to start their own businesses. "Women," New York Times reporter, Janny Scott, writes, "were playing a critical role in keeping poor households afloat. But Indonesian government policies and programs would not reflect that reality until there were more data to prove it. Officials at Ford wanted to encourage more village-level studies." After looking at a list of well-qualified candidates to do this work in rural villages, they decided on Dunham. "She's a specialist in small scale industries/non-farm employment and would be superb."

Dunham worked for the Ford Foundation for four years and Scott's reporting on her sojourn with that international organization is fascinating. She loved the job but in many ways was much more qualified than the Ivy-educated men who ran Ford's Indonesian office. She was fluent in the national language. They were not.
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63 of 76 people found the following review helpful By C. E. Selby on May 8, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Janny Scott worked as a journalist for The New York Times. And just before President Obama was elected President in 2008, she wrote a piece for the Times about Stanley Ann Dunham, the about-to-be-elected President's dead mother. I have read Mr. Obama's books and have learned some about his mother. But I noted that very little seems to have been written about this woman who must have had a profound influence upon her son. And now Janny Scott has provided me with so many researched pieces.
This is what she did: she spent years interviewing people who knew the President's mother. And this book is filled with that information, presented in the chronology of Ms. Dunham's life.
However, I would want potential readers to know this: this is not written in the style of a fluid novel because it isn't a novel. Instead Ms. Scott has presented details through the mouths of those she interviewed which include a few members of Mr. Obama's family (we must remember that he has few family members who are still alive) and then dozens of people who knew this remarkable woman as friends and colleagues.
Several chapters are devoted to Ms. Dunham's professional life most of which was spent in Indonesia were she lived, for a while, with her second husband who was from that island-filled country. This is also where the President lived for a while and where his half-sister, Maya, was born and raised.
Ann Dunham (she dropped the Stanley when she moved to Hawaii--her father's name) was a rather usual mother. She was only seventeen when she found herself pregnant with the future president, newly arrived in Hawaii, a student at the University. She married the senior Barack H. Obama, but soon he was off to Harvard. She apparently was unaware that he was already married and a father, his wife back in Kenya.
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