David Maraniss on Writing Obama’s ‘Story’

BY Cassie M. Chew and Meena Ganesan  July 9, 2012 at 3:14 PM EST


“No life could have been more the product of randomness than that of Barack Obama,” writes author David Maraniss.

In his latest biography, “Barack Obama: The Story,” Maraniss narrates a series of events in the president’s family history – spanning two generations before his birth through the first three decades of his life – that put him on the road to attaining the highest office in American politics.

The slide show above, with photos provided from Maraniss’ reporting, captures different chapters of that life story.

Washington Post associate editor Maraniss begins his close study in the early 1900s, shifting back and forth between the Midwestern U.S. and East Africa while chronicling the lives of the characters on both sides of the president’s family.

Readers are taken from sleepy Kansas towns – which produced the “woman power” to build missiles that led to the U.S. victory over Japan – to the politics of Kenyan tribal relations and growing American interest in creating allies with African countries as they emerge from colonization.

These events provide context to readers as they try to make sense of the eventual meeting of the president’s parents in a Russian class at the University of Hawaii in 1960.

First Rule of Writing: ‘Go There’

It took Maraniss four years and four hundred interviews to produce what he described as a fact-based account of the president’s family history and his formative years in Hawaii, Indonesia, Los Angeles, New York and Chicago before heading off to Harvard Law School in Boston.

“To tell the story of Barack Obama – it really is a global story in so many ways,” Maraniss told NewsHour correspondent Judy Woodruff. “And that’s what fascinated me in the beginning – the unlikeliness of this character coming from so many different places and weaving it together into someone who became president.”

In the following video excerpt of that interview, which includes personal footage shot by the author in Kenya, Maraniss talks with Woodruff about his first rule of writing: “Go there.”


Tune in to the NewsHour and visit the Politics page Monday evening for the complete interview with Maraniss.