Obama on nudity, drag racing, and how to write: 20 details from Maraniss' ‘Barack Obama: The Story'

Friends in his class at Occidental "returned from the library late one night and found Obama lounging on the Barf Couch, smoking."


"'Did you finish your project?'" they asked.

"'I've written it,' Obama responded. 'I just haven't written it down.' A while later Barry 'wandered off to the library' and pulled an all-nighter writing a paper that eventually got an A+."

14. Obama was known to show compassion to those who seemed lonely or different.

Friend Kofi Manu said, "Obama was especially friendly to people who seemed lonely or felt a sense of otherness ...'If you are alone he will come up next to you and engage you in conversation," Manu recalled. 'People would say he was engaging, but I would say it differently. He comes to you. He is drawn to people.'"

15. Five writing tips from a future president.

A friend sent Obama a manuscript for editing, Obama wrote back with five tips:

1)  "Careful about too many adverbs, particularly describing how people speak (Paul asked disbelievingly, etc.) It can be cumbersome and a bit intrusive on the reader"

2) "Resist the temptation of easy satire...Good satire has to be a little muted. Should spill out from under a seemingly somber situation."

3)  "Try to get the basic stats on the characters out of the way early {Paul was 24} so that you can spend the rest of the story revealing character."

4) "Think about the key moment(s) in the story, and build tension leading to those key moments."

5) "[W]rite outside your own experience...I find that this works the fictive imagination harder."

16. Obama slept outside in an alley on his first night in New York.

"Obama arrived in New York a week before [his roommate], but when he reached 109th Street he did not have a key to the apartment and could not find anyone to give him one. he spent his first night in the big city outside, curled up in a nearby alleyway, and woke up with a white hen pecking at his face."

17. Obama says he wasn't very interested in running for office during his college days.

"I don't think I could see a clear path [to the presidency]," Obama told Maraniss in an interview for the book. "At that age I was much more interested in being a leader outside of politics. If you had asked me during that time what kind of career I'd love to have, more likely I would have said something like a Bob Moses [the civil rights leader], maybe with a slightly higher profile than that. ... I would not have precluded politics, but during that period I was pretty skeptical of it. There weren't a lot of political figures at that time that I particularly admired."

18. When it came to social life, Obama was friendly, but he was no Bill Clinton.

Amelia Rugland, a student at Columbia recalls:

"When you'd see him walking in the hall he always looked like he was thinking of something ... He was interesting. He didn't talk to everybody and know everybody's names. He was not gregarious. It was more that he was obviously very aware of other people and their surroundings ... He just seemed really engaged in what he was working on."

19. Obama the doodler.

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