*The Other Barack*

The author is Sally H. Jacobs and the subtitle is The Bold and Reckless Life of President Obama’s Father.  But forget about “our Obama” and read this as a biography of colonialism, the 1960s, interracial relations, and most of all the East African intelligentsia.  In addition to being a life story, it’s an excellent treatment of those topics.  Here is one of the soggier excerpts:

As suddenly as it began, however, his ascent was over.  Six years after he returned from the United States, Obama had been let go from one promising job and was fired from another, his career abruptly dead-ended.  All three of his marriages had failed, and he was barely on speaking terms with any of his children.  Penniless and increasingly dependent on his beloved Johnnie Walker Black, he collapsed at night on the floor at a series of friends’ homes and lived for periods alone in a solitary hotel room.  It was a monumental fall.

…”He didn’t commit a crime.  He didn’t do anything wrong particularly.  He just didn’t finish the race.  As schoolboys, we were always taught that you must finish the race no matter what.  But he didn’t.  He just collapsed.”

Barack Obama Sr. spent two years in the Harvard economics Ph.d. program and had a very good knowledge of econometrics.  Edward Chamberlain, Robert Dorfman, Roger Noll, Sam Bowles, Lester Thurow, and John Dunlop make cameos in this part of the book.  Barack wanted to write his Ph.d. thesis on an econometric investigation on the staple theory of development, but after two years he lost his departmental funding and had to leave, eventually having to leave the U.S. as well.  Harvard was upset that he seemed to be married to two women at once and they looked to ease him out of the program; it’s an ugly story.

There are interesting bits on his time working at Shell, at the tourism bureau, his four months in traction following a major auto accident, his connection to domestic Kenyan political disputes, his role as a Kenyan urban planner, and how he would chat up women.  This book was very extensively researched.

Definitely recommended to anyone interested in East Africa.  Here is David Garrow’s review of the book.


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