David Maraniss’s biography about Barack Obama’s younger days initially caused a stir for its dishy details about the president’s pot smoking and very cerebral love letters. But as more considered reviews have come in, critics have praised Maraniss for delving deeply into the man who would become the leader of the free world.
Writing in The New York Times, James Fallows calls ‘Barack Obama: The Story’ a “huge and absorbing new biography” and says, “The evidence Maraniss has collected about this pre-law-school stage in Barack Obama’s life suggests a richer view of the man we have become familiar with, without really knowing.” As David Lauter points out in the Los Angeles Times, “In relatively few cases … has biography become so central to both a president’s admirers and despisers as it has for Barack Obama.” He adds, “Maraniss seeks to transcend the myth-making of both sides and tackle two major issues: the legacy of family history and the values that shaped Obama and the internal forces which set him on his rapid, unlikely climb to the White House.”
Indeed, Maraniss’s biography has given much food for thought to Obama supporters and detractors alike. Jonathan Karl writes in The Wall Street Journal, “Some of the details that Mr. Maraniss discovers raise questions about the carefully crafted story that Mr. Obama has told about himself.” Speaking with Piers Morgan, Maraniss explains that he found several discrepancies between the facts and the self-reported details of Obama’s memoir, “Dreams from My Father.” Yet, even though Maraniss went into further detail on NPR’s “Weekend Edition” about Obama’s drug use, the seeming fabrications and scandals of Obama’s own story interest Maraniss less than “the randomness of his very being, the world that created him” and “how this person, this character–this hapa as they say in Hawaii, half-white and half-black–found his own identity.”
At 641 pages, Maraniss’s book is certainly full of detail. Kenneth J. Cooper, in The Philadelphia Inquirer, calls it a “massively researched and gracefully written account.” Not every critic has been won over by Maraniss’s thoroughness, however. Writing in The Boston Globe, Rasha Madkour calls ‘Barack Obama: The Story’ “an exhaustingly thorough book–probably too thorough for most readers. … Even those intrigued by Obama’s personal story may find it difficult to slog through the minutiae.” Whether your minutiae threshold is high or low, ‘Barack Obama: The Story’ paints an intriguing portrait of the man who would one day be president.