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Barack Obama: The Story [Hardcover]

David Maraniss
1.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

June 19 2012
From one of our preeminent journalists and modern historians comes the epic story of Barack Obama and the world that created him.

In Barack Obama: The Story, David Maraniss has written a deeply reported generational biography teeming with fresh insights and revealing information, a masterly narrative drawn from hundreds of interviews, including with President Obama in the Oval Office, and a trove of letters, journals, diaries, and other documents.

The book unfolds in the small towns of Kansas and the remote villages of western Kenya, following the personal struggles of Obama’s white and black ancestors through the swirl of the twentieth century. It is a roots story on a global scale, a saga of constant movement, frustration and accomplishment, strong women and weak men, hopes lost and deferred, people leaving and being left. Disparate family threads converge in the climactic chapters as Obama reaches adulthood and travels from Honolulu to Los Angeles to New York to Chicago, trying to make sense of his past, establish his own identity, and prepare for his political future.

Barack Obama: The Story chronicles as never before the forces that shaped the first black president of the United States and explains why he thinks and acts as he does. Much like the author’s classic study of Bill Clinton, First in His Class, this promises to become a seminal book that will redefine a president.

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Customers buy this book with American Tapestry: The Story Of The Black, White, And Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama CDN$ 20.15

Barack Obama: The Story + American Tapestry: The Story Of The Black, White, And Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama
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Review

“…this is 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.” The New York Times Book Review

“Maraniss delivers….The power of Maraniss’s reporting becomes apparent in his treatment of the future President’s ‘dark years’…. Maraniss captures Obama’s search for purpose and the kindling of his ambition with an intimacy unlike that of other biographers—including Obama….[The book] offers the rawest account of his early life and a deeper understanding of his origins. Three and a half years and countless publications after Obama’s Inauguration, that is a remarkable feat.” —TIME

“Book is full of riveting stories, shrewd observations, and fascinating details. It’s like reading Michener….There is something quite searching and wonderful about seeing much of history as a chaos of chance.” The New Yorker

“‘Barack Obama’ is a biography at its best. A prodigiously researched and exquisitely written multigenerational account….Almost without exception, Maraniss' assessments are judicious and persuasive….With subtlety and sophistication, Maraniss captures and conveys Obama's sensibilities and sensitivities.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“This biography possesses a richness and scope that cannot be captured in short-form journalism, magazine excerpts or a mere review. Maraniss has written a global, multigenerational saga that culminates in the emergence of a young man who is knowable, recognizable and real....Maraniss approaches the task with deep research, crisp, clean writing and judicious reflection that never seems intrusive. He not only succeeds, he makes it look easy.” —The Washington Post

"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." —NPR.org

“By showing us the young Barack Obama—breathing, moving across the world, traversing the bloodknot of race in America alongside family, relationships, and the hurly-burly of Chicago—David Maraniss has shown us a human soul growing almost inch by inch. This is a work of literature, and it possesses the kind of brilliance and verve that would have made James Baldwin himself proud.”
Wil Haygood, author of King of the Cats: The Life and Times of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.

“The books of David Maraniss are like majestic rivers rolling to the sea, gathering in all the other confluences as they go, gaining their incredible subsurface force. But here, in a multigenerational portrait of a young man owning the most improbable history, Maraniss has outdone himself. Finally, you can understand the man who became the 44th president.”
Paul Hendrickson, author of Hemingway’s Boat: Everything He Loved, and Lost, 1934-1961


“Maraniss offers not just a beautifully written book, but a real insight into what goes on behind the veil.”
The Hill

“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.”—Booklist, starred review

“Another in the author’s line of authoritative biographies…Maraniss’ portrayal…is masterful and moving.”—Kirkus Reviews

About the Author

David Maraniss, an associate editor at The Washington Post, is the author of critically acclaimed bestselling books on Bill Clinton, Vince Lombardi, Vietnam and the sixties, Roberto Clemente, and the 1960 Rome Olympics. He 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, including in the nonfiction history category for They Marched Into Sunlight: War and Peace, Vietnam and America, October 1967. He lives in Washington, D.C., and Madison, Wisconsin.

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Most helpful customer reviews
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not recommended Aug. 6 2012
Format:Hardcover
I liked Maraniss' book on Clinton; thought it the best of the many written on him.

But I was disappointed in "Obama, The Story". Way too much about Africa and Indonesia,
and not nearly enough about how Obama came to be. Convoluted and difficult to read -
I almost put it down many times, but kept thinking, "There must be more here"...
there wasn't.

I noted that of the 50 reviews on Kindle, most of the positive ones gave few specifics
of why they loved it. Yet those more critical (like me) had plenty of examples of why
this is book was poor. I think that tells you something.

Obama may have been difficult to research, but that doesn't excuse Maraniss.

Nick Frost, Kelowna, Canada
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.6 out of 5 stars  133 reviews
97 of 124 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The truest account of the forces that shaped Obama June 26 2012
By Z - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified 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.
89 of 114 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Strengths and weaknesses defined by nature and nurture June 28 2012
By jem - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
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.
20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Early Life of an Unusual Man Aug. 30 2012
By Joseph Palen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified 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.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Maraniss' Obama Dec 14 2012
By John C. Garrett - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified 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.
26 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deeply Researched, Fair, Compelling Bio July 10 2012
By The Book Guy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
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.
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