The president’s papa was a rolling stone – this much we knew. But when I opened journalist Sally Jacobs’ biography of President Obama’s father, I found myself engrossed in the story of man I didn’t think I’d be that interested in.
It turns out the president is descended from extraordinary men. His grandfather, Onyango Obama was a young man when white settlers first arrived in Kenya. While others were suspicious and fearful, Onyango engaged the British, learned their language and customs and worked for them for years.
His son, Barack Obama Sr. came of age as Kenya was emerging from colonial rule. He got an education and made it to the U.S., where he studied at the University of Hawaii and Harvard, and fathered a son who would become president.
In her book and our interview today on Fresh Air, Sally Jacobs tells the elder Barack Obama’s remarkable story, and examines the wasted potential his life represents. He might have been a prominent leader in independent Kenya, but his arrogance, alcoholism and sexual promiscuity led to a series of personal and professional crises.
I recommend the book and the interview. You can hear Fresh Air at 3 and 7 p.m. on WHYY (91FM). If you’re listening outside the Philadelphia area, you can find a station here.
And you can always get more information, listen to the show or download podcasts at the Fresh Air website.
I’ll be hosting Fresh Air all week while Terry Gross gets a much-deserved breather. Tomorrow, my guest is Paul Farmer, who founded Partners in Health to treat poor people in many countries. He has a new book about Haiti after the earthquake.