Barack Obama: The new book

June 26, 2012

(Marlon Correa/THE WASHINGTON POST)

“Barack Obama, The Story”is your typical Maraniss book: Beautifully written, meticulously researched, a serious effort to understand a complex character.

The goofy political canards of the “Muslim Kenyan” — so much fun for the fringe for a while — melt away as Maraniss talks to a teacher at the Catholic elementary school Obama attended in Indonesia. The “birther”silliness evaporates as he talks to folks who were in Hono­lulu when Obama was born.

But the book also corrects many tales in Obama’s best-selling memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” including the story Obama heard from his mother about the circumstances of their being abandoned by Obama, Sr. (Understandable that she would want to give a certain spin to it.)

Then there’s the family lore about his stepfather’s dad being killed fighting the Dutch in Indonesia. He wasn’t, Maraniss writes. “He fell off a chair while trying to hang drapes, presumable suffering a heart attack.”

Another was that Obama’s grandfather was tortured and imprisoned by the British in Kenya. Never happened.

We heard (not from Maraniss) that during an interview, Obama said Maraniss was saying “Dreams” was fiction.

No, Maraniss responded, literature.

Obama’s dope-smoking days, the constant search for where he fit in, the aloofness, the wariness, are all explored. His years in school in Hawaii, it would appear, may be the most critical to understanding Obama’s approach to dealing with people and situations.

One curiousity: It turns out that many of Obama’s closest pals during and after his student years in New York were Pakistanis. (Makes you wonder, when Obama was contemplating ordering the SEALS into Pakistan to kill Osama, whether he recalled those friends.)

The White House hasn’t reacted to the book and it’s unclear if Obama or first lady Michelle have read it. They should. They should take it with them on a summer vacation.

It’s an excellent read.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.
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