The Formative Years

  • Alka Gurha
  • India
  • Jul 27, 2012





 Obama’s memoir, ‘Dreams From My Father’, published when he was 34, did not reveal much about his years at Occidental College, Columbia University, and two years of work in New York – prior to his becoming a community organiser in Chicago. ‘Barack Obama: The Making of the Man’ fills that gap, as it helps us understand how destiny unfolded for the young man, while he was still in college. 

Some would be intimidated by the thickness of this volume. The 641 page opus, with eighteen long chapters, is an exhaustive study of how Barry from Honolulu became President Barack Obama. David Maraniss, the author, is a Washington Post veteran, and also the author of a celebrated biography of Bill Clinton. Much like  his defining study of Bill Clinton, ‘First in His Class’, this biography illustrates the past of the current American President.

The book unfurls in the small towns of Kansas, and the remote villages of western Kenya – narrating the personal struggles of Obama’s white and black ancestors.  The book begins much before Obama was born, and tracks the history of his maternal and paternal grand-parents. The author tracks down relatives, friends, and family acquaintances – from Hawaii to Indonesia, to his college in California, and his father’s homeland, Kenya. According to the author, Obama’s charismatic grandfather, Hussein Onyango, was a convert to Islam, and had five wives. Interestingly, Maraniss interviews people who worked in the maternity ward when Obama’s mother gave birth to him in Honolulu in 1961.

Obama’s first roommate at Columbia compares him to the protagonist of the novel, ‘The Moviegoer’ – who was more introspective than ambitious. To Mark Parsons, Obama’s classmate, who came to know him mostly because they both smoked and huddled outside the student union, Obama seemed "almost Zen like, in walking through all the chaos in our dorm". Several letters from friends and girlfriends also reveal that Obama preferred to deliberate on issues, before choosing a direction in life. 

The book is interspersed with interesting anecdotes; like the one where Obama arrived in New York’s 109th Street and slept on the alleyway, as he did not have the keys to his apartment. He woke up with a white hen pecking his face. Nearly six hundred pages later, the biography ends with Obama at age twenty-seven (1988), driving a used yellow Datsun to Harvard Law School. 

The biography excavates Obama’s past, but culminates just before Obama’s tryst with politics, and his meeting with Michelle.

This tome is a comprehensive historical account which will help in our understanding of Obama the man.


Barack Obama: The Making of the Man

Author: David Maraniss

Publisher: Atlantic Books/Penguin India

Price: Rs. 899

Genre: Biography


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