A pioneering, full-scale biography of President Obama’s father, a promising but troubled man.
Boston Globe reporter Jacobs puts her investigative skills to work in following the elder Obama’s trail across continents and years. He was the son of a cook who worked for the British colonists of his native Kenya, from a Luo family that was early to convert to Islam; he was also at the forefront of his nation’s push for independence and, at least for a time, favored by the new socialist regime of Jomo Kenyatta. Obama Sr. was, Jacobs writes, “a man of brilliance, one whose probing intellect enabled him to soar above his peers in the scrubby tropical bush in which he was raised.” Yet he failed to live up to his early promise; sent to Harvard to study economics, he did not complete his degree, and on returning to Kenya he was unable to hold down the jobs he was offered, jobs that came with a considerable degree of influence and authority. The problem, it seems, was that Obama Sr. had a great fondness for alcohol; just so, he was a devoted pursuer of women, often married and often divorced, possibly bigamous and seemingly not much concerned with the children he fathered—including the future president who bears his name. Obama was clearly charismatic, just as clearly riddled with flaws; his political enemies put those shortcomings to good use, and Jacobs explores the conspiracy theories surrounding his death in an automobile accident. That curious end seems fitting, in a way, casting an enigmatic shadow over a man who was in life “a baffling mystery to many with whom he had lived and worked, including his disparate tribe of children.”
A thorough study of a subject who is hard to pin down—a welcome, evenhanded addition to the lively literature surrounding President Obama’s genealogy.