In Maraniss’ telling, the teenage Obama yearned for the stable identity being a member of the black community could have offered him, but in fact was a product of a mélange of cultures, white and Asian, Polynesian and American, Kenyan and Kansan. Barack Obama, Sr., a Kenyan foreign exchange student, sired the president during a brief affair with seventeen-year-old University of Hawaii freshman, Stanley Ann Dunham, and then promptly left for graduate school at Harvard a few months after his son’s birth. He only reappeared in young Barack’s life once, when he visited Hawaii for a month during his son’s fifth grade year, by which time the elder Obama was a broken man, an alcoholic who had already burned through three marriages and drank himself out of the kinds of leadership positions his intelligence and education entitled him to. Without a father, Obama lived a lonely and peripatetic childhood, bouncing between Jakarta, where his mother moved to live with her second husband, Lolo Soetoro, and Honolulu, where he lived with his grandparents after that marriage broke up and his mother remained in Indonesia. In Hawaii, where Obama attended the academically rigorous Punahou School along with the island’s mostly white elite, he joined the self-styled Choom Gang (“Choom is a verb,” Maraniss explains, “meaning ‘to smoke marijuana.’”) and spent his teen years getting high and trying to make the school’s varsity basketball team.

more from Michael Bourne at The Millions here.