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October 25, 2012

New Obama book is worth reading

David Maraniss is one of the more talented non-fiction writers in this country. His biographies of Bill Clinton and Al Gore have been widely acclaimed. His biography of pro football’s legendary coach Vince Lombardi, “When Pride Still Mattered,” is one of the best sports books I have ever read. When Maraniss takes on a project, he puts his heart and soul into it and leaves no stone unturned.

His latest effort is “Barack Obama: The Story.” Maraniss spent four years spanning the globe to research the origins and development of the man who went on to become our first African-American president.

Forget about politics, birtherism and conspiracy theories. This biography is the amazing story of how two completely diverse cultures intersected by chance and produced somebody who came to embody the American ideal that anyone can become president.

Maraniss’ story is so in-depth that President Obama doesn’t appear until the seventh chapter. The author spent a great deal of time in rural Kansas and the backcountry of Kenya conducting research and interviewing family members to learn what forces led to Obama’s parents meeting by chance one day at the University of Hawaii. It’s almost like getting a history lesson of Kansas and Kenya (how much do we really study those places in school?).

Some of the background stories on Obama are quite revealing. Other than the suicide of his great-grandmother, Obama’s mother’s family is pure Americana. One can only imagine scenes of them sipping lemonade on their front porch on a hot summer day, baking apple pies, and attending the county fair.

Obama’s mother was named Stanley Ann Dunham. Apparently the name came not from her father (also named Stanley) but from the Bette Davis character in “In This Our Life.” Obama’s grandmother absolutely adored the actress. Stanley Ann and her parents bounced around the Midwest and the West Coast as her father kept looking for his niche in life. The family eventually settled in Hawaii.

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