By Jueseppi B.
HEY Donald ChumpTrunp……this research, facts & truth based book kinda puts your birther bull shit to shame huh?
(Donald is an idiot)
About the Author
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.
Republicans often criticize Barack Obama for his lack of experience in the business world. As Mitt Romney puts it: “The president’s a nice guy, but he’s never had a job in the private sector.” That’s not quite true. After all, Mr. Obama met the future first lady while working in the Sidley Austin law firm in Chicago. And right after graduating from Columbia University, he put his bachelor’s degree to work at a place called Business International Corp. in midtown Manhattan.
The job at Business International wasn’t exactly like running Bain Capital—Mr. Obama was paid an $18,000 salary to help to write and edit newsletters for American companies doing business overseas—but it was a private-sector job. And the young Barack Obama hated it. As he wrote in his memoir, “Dreams From My Father” (1995): “Sometimes, coming out of an interview with Japanese financiers or German bond traders, I would catch my reflection in the elevator doors—see myself in a suit and tie, a briefcase in my hand—and for a split second I would imagine myself as a captain of industry, barking out orders, closing the deal, before I remembered who it was that I wanted to be and felt pangs of guilt for my lack of resolve.”
Barack Obama: The Story
By David Maraniss
Simon & Schuster, 641 pages, $32.50
Mr. Obama lasted only a year, fulfilling his initial commitment and not a day more. When he went in to the company’s vice president, Lou Celi, to tell him he would be leaving and didn’t know what he would be doing next, Mr. Obama got a lecture on career planning. “He just seemed not exactly clear of what he wanted to do,” Mr. Celi recounted, decades later, in an interview for David Maraniss’s “Barack Obama: The Story.” “I told him he might be making a mistake, leaving a job when he did not have any plans except a vague notion that he maybe would do some public sector work.” Mr. Ceci had no way of knowing that the person ignoring his career advice was a future president of the United States.
Mr. Maraniss’s 641-page opus is an exhaustively reported journey through Mr. Obama’s early past—a past that, until now, has been little explored despite David Remnick’s 2010 biography of Mr. Obama and Janny Scott’s 2011 biography of his mother. “Barack Obama: The Story,” the first volume in what will supposedly be a multivolume biography, begins long before he is born—and, yes, just to be certain, Mr. Maraniss interviews people who worked on the maternity ward when Mr. Obama’s mother gave birth to him in Honolulu in 1961—and ends when he is accepted into Harvard Law School in 1988.
Mr. Maraniss tracks down Mr. Obama’s family history—his mother’s side of the family in Kansas, his father’s in Kenya—and interviews relatives, friends and acquaintances. He traces Mr. Obama’s footsteps from Hawaii to Indonesia to college in California and New York and his first visit to his father’s Kenyan homeland. The author finds the words “Obama” etched in a cement sidewalk at his old high school in Hawaii, the work of a schoolmate who was trying to make trouble for Barry, as he was then known. Mr. Maraniss unearths Mr. Obama’s long letters to one girlfriend and the diaries of another. “Barack Obama: The Story” is a careful, thorough account in which the author treats his subject with sympathy but not reverence. The result is an admiring portrait, to be sure, but some of the details that Mr. Maraniss discovers raise questions about the carefully crafted story that Mr. Obama has told about himself.
As we know, Mr. Obama has a family background entirely unlike that of any other U.S. president. Mr. Maraniss describes Mr. Obama’s charismatic great-grandfather, Obama Opiyo, who had five wives, two of whom were sisters, and his grandfather, Hussein Onyango, who was a convert to Islam and who also had five wives. If Mr. Obama’s charisma came from this side of his family, his calm, cool demeanor did not. Mr. Obama’s grandfather, Mr. Maraniss writes, “had a reputation for pummeling enemies with his fists, smacking children who did not show proper manners at the dinner table, and beating women who failed to meet his standards, including his five wives.”
When Mr. Obama’s father—Barack Hussein Obama Sr.—came from Kenya to study at the University of Hawaii in 1959 (with the help of Christian missionaries), he left behind a young daughter and a pregnant wife. The elder Obama immediately became a striking figure on campus who excelled academically, making Phi Beta Kappa and eventually earning a fellowship to Harvard. Mr. Maraniss says that Obama Sr. “had a captivating voice, a mesmerizing presence, and a certainty that he was correct, and a love of argument.” But when he married a pregnant 18-year-old named Stanley Ann Dunham (her unusual first name inspired by a Bette Davis movie about two sisters named Stanley and Roy), the Immigration and Naturalization Service demanded to know how he could get married when he had said on his visa application that he already had a wife back in Kenya.
The elder Barack Obama got out of that mess by claiming that he had divorced his Kenyan wife, but Mr. Maraniss says that he never bothered to divorce his first wife and probably never told her about his new marriage. And he was ill-prepared to be a father to the younger Barack Obama, born six months later. Just a month after he was born, Mr. Obama’s mother left his father because, Mr. Maraniss speculates, he had become abusive. He moved on to Harvard, where he married another woman—and abused her, once holding a knife to her throat.
For Mr. Obama’s early years, much of what the world knows up to this point comes from his “Dreams From My Father,” published years before he ran for political office. Mr. Maraniss finds the book to be an unreliable guide to what actually happened in Mr. Obama’s early life. The book, he says, “falls into the realm of literature and memoir, not history and autobiography.” This is not a complete surprise: In the book’s introduction, the author acknowledges taking liberties—changing names and chronology and compressing multiple people into single characters for the sake of narrative flow and dramatic effect.
Consider Mr. Obama’s own description of his time working at Business International and those meetings with “Japanese financiers” and “German bond traders” and that reflection in the elevator mirrors of himself wearing a suit and tie. In reality, Mr. Maraniss finds out, Mr. Obama worked out of a tiny office barely large enough to fit a desk, dressed casually and didn’t have meetings with financiers or bond traders. “The part about seeing his reflection in the elevator doors?” recalled one supervisor. “There were not reflections there. . . . He was not in this high, talk-to-Swiss-bankers kind of role. He was in the back rooms checking things on the phone.”
In the memoir, Mr. Obama’s experience at Business International, mentioned only briefly, is used as a device to portray a great temptation—he is almost seduced by the allure of a business career that would have forced him to sell his soul. The reality discovered by Mr. Maraniss is less dramatic but reveals Mr. Obama’s state of mind. He was an efficient worker and an aloof colleague. Unlike many of his young co-workers, he never arrived at work late—and never stayed late. He did what the job required, “no more and no less.” When one co-worker, knowing that Mr. Obama was a runner, suggested that they jog together after work, Mr. Obama declined, saying: “I don’t jog, I run.” It appears that he was simply biding time in a world he did not like. In a letter found by Mr. Maraniss, Mr. Obama’s mother wrote a friend: “He calls it working for the enemy because some of the reports are written for commercial firms that want to invest in [Third World] countries.”
Elsewhere, Mr. Maraniss finds that Mr. Obama’s memoir “accentuates characters drawn from black acquaintances who played lesser roles in his real life but could be used to advance a line of thought, while leaving out or distorting the actions of friends who happened to be white.” And so Mr. Obama wrote of commiserating with a fellow African-American in high school over the fact that white girls would not date either of them when, in reality, neither had a problem dating white girls and the friend was half-Japanese and had a black grandfather. And Mr. Obama wrote in the memoir of being denied a starting role on his Hawaiian high-school basketball team—which went on to win the state championship—because of his “black” style of play. Mr. Maraniss discovered the real reason: “He was one of the few players on the team who could not jump high enough to dunk the ball.”
Mr. Obama’s memoir recounts lots of pot smoking in his high-school days, and Mr. Maraniss gets the details—again, exhaustively. Barry Obama and his buddies formed what they called “the Choom Gang.” In this case, “choom” is a verb meaning to smoke pot. And they seemed to smoke it everywhere—especially when driving around Hawaii in a VW microbus they called the Choomwagon.
One night they tried a little drag racing, pitting the Choomwagon against a friend’s Toyota on a road snaking up Honolulu’s Mount Tantalus. Mr. Obama was in the Toyota. The Choomwagon made it to the top first. When the other car didn’t show up, the kids in the Choomwagon went looking for the Toyota. “On the way down,” Mr. Maraniss writes, “they saw a figure who appeared to be staggering up the road. It was Barry Obama. What was going on? As they drew closer, they noticed that he was laughing so hard he could barely stand up.” His friend driving the Toyota, it turned out, had rolled the car. Fortunately, nobody was hurt. Everyone avoided trouble by leaving the driver alone to deal with the police. It was, for Mr. Obama, a near miss, the kind of incident that might have ended badly, with injury or legal trouble or both.
In his high-school yearbook, in a section where students were supposed to record their gratitude to those who had helped along the way, Mr. Obama wrote: “Thanks Tut,”—his grandmother—”Gramps, Choom Gang, and Ray for all the good times.” Mr. Maraniss notes: “Ray was the older guy who hung around the Choom Gang, selling them pot. A hippie drug dealer made his acknowledgments; his mother did not.”
As Mr. Obama heads off to college, first at Occidental in Los Angeles and then at Columbia in New York, there is more studying, less pot and a lot of writing—journals and letters to a girlfriend filled with adjective-laden descriptions of what he sees in New York that read as if he is practicing to write a novel. He gives his first political speech at Occidental—two minutes deploring apartheid in South Africa—but spends more time on personal introspection than political activism.
The years at Columbia in particular are something of an enigma in the Obama story, barely mentioned in “Dreams From My Father” and sometimes called his dark years. Mr. Obama’s first roommate at Columbia compared him to the main character in Walker Percy’s novel “The Moviegoer,” “where you’re not participating in life but you’re kind of observing, one step behind.” He was a member of the school’s Black Student Organization, but the other members contacted by Mr. Maraniss have little or no memory of him; neither, it seems, did he make much of an impression on his professors.
But in the diary of one girlfriend and the letters he wrote to another, a portrait emerges of someone struggling with his own identity and not sure where he fits in among his old Choom Gang buddies, who were “moving to the mainstream,” and among college friends heading toward the business world. His letters are long and self-absorbed but strike the themes that would fill his memoir 10 years later.
In one letter to his girlfriend in 1983, he writes: “Caught without a class, a structure, or tradition to support me, in a sense the choice to take a different path is made for me. . . . The only way to assuage my feelings of isolation are to absorb all the traditions [and all the] classes; make them mine, me theirs.” That’s heady stuff for a love letter but also a first glimpse of the “post-partisan” Obama who would take the stage at the 2004 Democratic convention.
The recurring theme that runs throughout “Obama: The Story” is just how unlikely is was that someone with Mr. Obama’s exotic and tangled family history—whatever his race—would end up in the Oval Office. But perhaps the most striking thing about this story is how much it differs from the story told in “First in His Class” (1995), Mr. Maraniss’s acclaimed biography of Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton was the kid who knew he was going to be president when he was 9 years old and acted that way. In Mr. Obama’s early years, there are precious few hints of the kind of ambition that would lead him to the White House. For that, we’ll have to wait for volume two.
I’m serious Donald….you have been punk’d.
I have been a fan of David Maraniss’s work since I read his book about Vince Lombardi. No one digs deeper for the facts and background.
With BARACK OBAMA: THE STORY he has gone after his most provocative subject, Obama, for which he should receive the literary version of the Super Bowl trophy and comes out a big winner. One hundred pages into this, his most recent, and I can’t stop reading. Maraniss, as usual, gets inside the head of his subjects in a way that makes them spring off the printed pages. To use the title of a great CBS program: YOU ARE THERE. This is an unstoppable read, especially with the Chum Gang adventures of the young Obama at Punaho.
The real gift of the great biographer is to visit the ground trod by so many before and find the story that they missed. It can only be achieved through great patience, persistence and the pursuit of the story that is hard, not the one that is easy. David Maraniss has done just that with this first installment of his biography of Barack Obama. Maraniss is often lauded as the David Halberstam of his generation–the praise has the added virtue of being true. You can be taken by Maraniss graceful writing to be sure, but the real value of his work is in the depth of his research and reporting. Like Robert Caro’s brilliant books on Lyndon Johnson, you will finish this installment and just hope you dont have to wait years for the next one.
“BARACK” The Vote.
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