Barack Obama – The Making of the Man


Barack Obama – The Making of the Man
By David Maraniss
Atlantic Books – £16.99

Having not long been inaugurated into his second term as President of the United States, Barack Obama is already surging ahead with the introduction of numerous humane and realistic policies. Most notably that of gun control, which, in and of itself, is courageously commendable. In fact, if he’s successful in getting just this one piece of much needed legislation through Congress, I believe he would in many peoples’ eyes (and hearts), be at the very vanguard of all candidates to receive the Noble Peace Prize.

And rightly so; for here, finally, is a man, as well as (an outstanding) President, who isn’t afraid of standing firm and finally doing something about the horribly outmoded and deeply entrenched historical bollocks, that is ye second amendment regarding the right to bear arms. That’s right, here finally, is a man who isn’t afraid of shooting from the hip, and finally acting from the premise of his own conscience, rather than the myopia of the ballot box.

Which leads this writer to not only wish Obama well, but actually wonder about his background: from where cometh his conviction(s), to decline funking around the corridors of power, and actually propose getting things done? From where cometh his foresight to look into the pained and troubled eyes of what little is left of American humanity, and declare that enough (superfluous murder of innocents, including children), is indeed, enough?

That such questions are invariably endless isn’t in the least surprising; although this deeply considered and intoxicatingly well researched book, is. Reason being, it’s not in the least bit obvious.

A mere few pages into the Introduction of Barack Obama – The Making of the Man, author David Maraniss already writes: ‘’’’The past is never dead. It’s not even past,’’ William Faulkner wrote in Requiem for a Nun. They are words that Barack Obama himself has paraphrased more than once in his writings and speeches, and for a biographer and historian, their meaning seems self-evident.’’ Now depending on viewpoint, such literary, sage like words as ‘’the past is never dead,’’ may seem an unlikely way or endeavour, with which to embark upon writing a biography.

But it’s all there.
From what we already know of America’s forty-fourth President, said five words sum up Obama both presciently as well as (almost) perfectly. His current is so axiomatic of his past; that were it not for the intervening years, it would be almost impossible to tell the difference. That’s if – with the possible exception(s) of biology and academia – there is an actual difference. For one need only refer to Bob Dylan’s ‘My Back Pages,’ wherein one of the key lines informs the listener: ‘’I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.’’

Might the same apply to Obama?
Maraniss seems to think so: ‘’[…] all in all, the past might be even more essential in figuring out someone who has remade himself. People are shaped equally by action and reaction, by what they accept and what they reject from their own inheritance. Obama is best understood with that in mind, not only by how his family and environment molded him but how he reshaped himself in reaction to them.’’

It’s just such a springboard that surely entices one to want to read further. Well this writer anyway; although I’m not alone. As quoted in The New York Times, this book is ‘’a lasting contribution to our political understanding,’’ while Garry Wills of the The New York Post writes: ‘’the best biography ever written about a president in office.’’

What I personally like about Barack Obama – The Making of the Man is its all round semblance of political clout, colour, and left-of-centre approach. It reveals almost as much as it makes one think; and it is undoubtedly within the openness of individualistic thinking that enables one to draw one’s own informed conclusion(s): ‘’Some people grow and change, some never change and only become more so, and most people (Obama fits in this category) change in some ways and not in others. But the point in any case is to explore that territory in search of understanding, not retroactive condemnation. It seems obvious, but it demands explanation in the modern American political culture, where facts are so easily twisted for political purposes and where strange armies of ideological pseudo-historians roam the biographical fields in search of stray ammunition.’’

This is a book that takes the reader on a vast political journey unlike any other. The ultimate destination of which is as humbling as it is satisfying.

David Marx


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