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The Other Barack: The Bold and Reckless Life of President Obama's Father Hardcover – July 12, 2011

4.3 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Taylor Branch, author of Parting the Waters and The Clinton Tapes
“This is a work of genuine discovery. Sally Jacobs portrays the senior Obama with boundless humanity and unflinching candor. Through his fractured family quest, she illuminates both the pitfalls and promise of freedom in a shrinking world. Her biography will enrich our concept of a founding father.”

John Lonsdale, Emeritus Professor of Modern African History, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom
“My favorite injunction to historians—or biographers—comes from the Nigerian playwright and poet Wole Soyinka: ‘Leave the dead some room to dance.’ The other Barack certainly knew how to dance, literally, intellectually, socially and sexually. Sally Jacobs has wonderfully restored him to life in the contradictory contexts of colonial and independent Kenya, the one exploitative and repressive yet capable of social mobility, the other exciting, full of unprecedented opportunity yet also divisive and chilling in its rivalries. Barack, like Icarus, flew too high. The many women who loved him have borne the burden of his fall. Jacobs brings triumph and tragedy brilliantly together.”

Martin Meredith, author of The Fate of Africa
“Sally Jacobs has pieced together the wayward career of President Obama’s African father with skill, verve, and insight, prising out the quirks of fate that led him to the shores of the United States. From interviews with family members, friends, and colleagues, she paints a vivid portrait of a clever, charming, callous, and secretive man, a prolific drinker and philanderer, who squandered the many chances that came his way and died in Kenya in straitened circumstances, the victim of his own inner demons, hardly knowing the son who was to scale the pinnacle of power.”

The Spectator, July 7, 2011
“I had expected to dip briefly into this tale of hubris, but found myself strangely mesmerized, hooked until the end. With the meticulousness characteristic of a certain breed of American foreign correspondent, Sally Jacobs pulls off an impressive double-hander of her own, painting a detailed portrait of an emerging African nation while tracking the dogged self-destruction of a braggadocio crippled by the conviction of his own superiority.”

Kirkus, July 15, 2011
“A pioneering, full-scale biography of President Obama’s father, a promising but troubled man.  Boston Globe reporter Jacobs puts her investigative skills to work in following the elder Obama’s trail across continents and years… A thorough study of a subject who is hard to pin down—a welcome, evenhanded addition to the lively literature surrounding President Obama’s genealogy.”


The Daily, July 17, 2011
“Sally Jacobs, a reporter for the Boston Globe, reaffirms and deepens the record, drawing on interviews with the sprawling Obama family and their acquaintances, as well as on memoirs and other historical sources… It provides fascinating clues to understanding the President’s puzzle of a father.”
Tyler Cowen’s Marginal Revolution, July 19, 2011
Morozov's ‘The Net Delusion’ should be read by cockeyed optimists and pessimists alike. It's as important today as McLuhan's  books ("The Gutenberg Galaxy," "Understanding Media," "The Medium is the Massage," etc.) were in the 1950s through the 1970s.”

Mail on Sunday (UK), July 31, 2011
 “With admirable endeavour, Sally Jacobs has pieced together the hidden fragments of Obama Snr’s life, tracking down family members, friends and colleagues, sifting through official documents and prising out the quirks of fate that led him to Hawaii in the first place.”
Irish Times, July 30, 2011
“[an] intriguing story about the father of the American President…Jacobs tells a fascinating story of a likeable, reckless, talented fool whose dreams of himself far exceeded his ability to realize them.”
Scotland on Sunday, July 31, 2011
“(The) impressive research work undertaken by Boston Globe journalist Sally Jacobs (is) a worthwhile exercise, and a useful read for those seeking to understand more fully America’s first black president.”


About the Author

Sally H. Jacobs lives in Boston. She has been a reporter for over three decades, most recently with The Boston Globe. She has specialized in political reporting and profiles including the famously reclusive Joan Kennedy, Michelle Obama, and Pat Patrick, Deval Patrick's father. This is her first book.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; 1st edition (July 12, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586487930
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586487935
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #688,421 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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"The morning had been golden; the noontide was bronze; and the evening lead. But all were polished till it shone after its fashion." Winston Churchill about Lord Curzon

"Obama is considered ... to be a slippery fellow" - notation in Barack Obama Sr. US Immigration file

This book invites immediate comparison to Janny Scott's "A Singular Woman" about Ann Dunham. Both are biographies of the President's parents done by a newspaper reporter and both were based on extensive travel, interviews and original research by the authors. Both serve as both history and a personal narrative.

Sally Jacobs has done a excellent job in plumping her subject- she traveled to Kenya, and its backroads and villages, and to Hawaii. She has interviewed many primary sources. She has contemporaneous correspondence about Obama mentioned in letters of US literary workers back to relatives. She has looked into Kenya's archives, tribal memories, recollections of village neighbors and has a number of revelations from FOIA requests of the government. Jacobs even cites internal meeting minutes from Kenya's Tourist Development Trust from 1967.

Where Janny Scott's book is guilty of covering up facts to protect the reputation of her subject (and her son), Jacobs gives a well researched factual history that doesnt seem to have a spin to it. Scott's book looks all the worse in the comparison: Jacobs talked to many of the same people as Scott (such as Neil Abercromie and Dunham friend Susan Botkin Blake) and yet uncovers a wealth more information. In fact its almost impossible not to come away with the impression that Janny Scott must have learned the same things but censored the unflattering details.

Barack Obama Sr.
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Sally Jacobs did a wonderful job researching and writing this book. It is definitely a worthwhile read. What little I know about Kenya is limited to "The Flame Trees of Thika" series and a little reading about Jomo Kenyatta.

The book starts out with the extensive family history of the Obamas, members of the Luo tribe. The President's grandfather is the first person protrayed and what a character he is-abusive and arrogant and that's saying a lot in this tribal polygamous patriarchal society where men definitely rule the roost. Grandpa Obama berates and belittles his son, Barak Sr. The male children are treated the worst, with higher expectations.

I am not a psychologist and do not know the source of Barack Sr's problems, but having a father like Husein surely didn't help.

Barak Sr. is sent to the equivalent of a high school (a huge step forward for his family academically) and does well academically only to shoot himself in the foot by writing an "anonymous" (but easily identifiable) diatribe about the school, its masters, food, groundskeeping, etc. to the head of the school just when final evaluations are handed out. The head instantly determines who the author is and refuses to recommend him for a higher level of schooling in Kenya.

And so begins the first in a series of incidents in Barack Sr's life in which his intellectual brilliance is sabotaged by his own arrogance, selfishness and indifference to other peoples' opinions/feelings/rights. In addition, he was a pathological liar and an alcoholic.

Of course to Americans the most interesting aspect of Barack Sr is his interaction with Anne Dunham at the University of HI and the resulting birth of Barack Jr. Barack Sr.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Earlier this year I read Janny Scott's newly published biography of President Obama's mother, Stanley Annn Dunham, titled "A Singular Woman." So I was delighted when, on NPR recently, I heard Sally H. Jacobs talking about her recently published book about the senior Barack Hussein Obama--the President's father.
When you read this book, you know the author is a highly skilled journalist, one who has done a lot of research including several trips to Kenya and dozens and dozens of interviews with people who knew the President's charismatic--this the two share although little else--father.
I am one of those people who know so little about the history of Kenya during the years of colonization. And it is against that backdrop that the senior Barack Obama led his life, including one that was, at times, political although not at all similar to his son's. For, like our President, his father was also a very driven man.
Everyone knows that the President wrote about his father--but not his mother, an irony in my opinion since he knew her so well and knew so little about his father. Of course the President's book is not meant to be a serious biography. But this one by Ms. Jacobs definitely is. It is so well done. And includes hundreds of citations.
"Obama...paid little mind to rules or social niceties..." (page 78) may be a way to summarize this man who, in so many ways, seems to be the antithesis of his son. The father is fiery, quick to make judgments, irrational at time--although very, very bright and eager to learn which he shares with his son--and a womanizer which I believe our President--this one!--is not.
At the time of the first Barack's youth, a majority of native Kenyans were illiterate. There were very few schools.
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