Barack Obama: The Story

By David Maraniss

(Simon & Schuster, $32.50, 672 pages)

Who is this author?

David Maraniss is a journalist’s journalist. By that I mean he is a much respected, diligent researcher, graceful writer and astute interpreter of current events and past occurrences, making it clear how they have affected the lives of the famous people who have been the subjects of his acclaimed biographies.

An associate editor at The Washington Post, Maraniss has written bestsellers about Bill Clinton, coach Vince Lombardi, Vietnam and the ‘60s, baseball star Roberto Clemente and the 1960 Rome Olympics. How good is he? Well, Maraniss won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of Clinton, was part of a Post team that won the 2007 Pulitzer for coverage of the Virginia Tech tragedy and has been a Pulitzer finalist three other times. He’s based in Washington, D.C., and Madison, Wisconsin.

What is this book about?

You’d think by three years into his presidency, we’d all agree on what we know about Barack Obama. Yet, due to the egregious political divide that is plaguing our country, misinformation and mystery persists about Obama’s early years, partly because some citizens want to believe the worst about him and partly because his backstory is not well known. Maraniss does us a service in this book by presenting a meticulously researched examination of Obama’s parents and grandparents, his early life and how his experiences in Hawaii and Indonesia, at Occidental College and at Columbia University, influenced the man and the politician.

Why you’ll like it:

The election is not far off. Having enough verified information about the candidates is important for every voter, and well-informed voters are a necessity for a healthy and engaged electorate. This book offers that kind of information is a highly readable style. Whether you admire or abhor the current president, learning more about his life can help you assess whether your perceptions are accurate.

What others are saying:

“This is a highly textured and intimate look at the family stories behind Obama …A thoroughly fascinating, multigenerational biography that explores broader social and political changes even as it highlights the elements that shaped one man’s life,” says Booklist in a starred review.

“Throughout, Maraniss notes Obama’s “determination to avoid life’s traps.” His struggle to find stability in his volatile world is the book’s prominent recurring theme…. General readers…will be gripped by this absorbing, graceful account,” says Library Journal.

“An exhaustive, respectful study of the president’s “shattered genealogy…these same “misfits” in his family, especially his hardworking mother and her Kansan parents, Stanley and Madelyn, embraced the biracial grandson unconditionally, shielding him from the bigotry of the era… Maraniss’ portrayal of Barack Obama senior, from astute political mind to abusive husband and self-destructive drinker, is masterful and moving, while “Barry” the son emerges very gradually from the cocoon of his elite Honolulu boarding school to grasp his identity as an African-American young man at Occidental College and then Columbia in the 1980s. Maraniss stresses that Obama’s Muslim ancestors encompass only one facet to his complex, fascinating makeup. Another in the author’s line of authoritative biographies,“ says Kirkus Reviews.

 “…a revelatory book, which anyone interested in modern politics will want to read, and which will certainly shape our understanding of President Obama’s strengths, weaknesses and inscrutabilities. Every few pages Maraniss offers a factual nugget that changes or enlarges the prevailing lore….a richer view of the man we have become familiar with, without really knowing…. after this book we know one public figure much better,” says The New York Times Book Review.

“It’s not often that a book has the potential to change the course of political history, which is why this one is probably the most eagerly anticipated American book of the year,” says

When is it available?

The Downtown Hartford Public Library has this book now.

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