Los Angeles | In-Person

How Did Barack Obama Create Himself?

Warren Olney with David J. Garrow

Barack Obama in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in 2013. Photo by Pete Souza/Wikimedia Commons.

A Zócalo/KCRW “Critical Thinking with Warren Olney” Event

Barack Obama was president of the United States for eight years, and the broad outlines of his story—his Hawaiian birth, his fatherless childhood, his education at elite institutions, his work as a community organizer and politician in Chicago—are now familiar elements of American history. But even today, Obama retains a remarkable mystique, and can seem unknowable. All leaders must create narratives around themselves, but Obama’s is especially dense and complicated. Who is Barack Obama? How did he construct his own identity—and what did that construction mean for the way he governed America? And in the end, did Obama miss opportunities to build a more durable legacy—particularly around race as well as politics—because of the limits of the narrative he created for himself? David J. Garrow, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama, sits down with Warren Olney at Zócalo to unpack the peculiar origin story of the American president.

National Center for the Preservation of Democracy
111 N. Central Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Paid parking is available at the Little Tokyo Mall Public Parking Lot (318 E. First St.) Enter from San Pedro Street. Additional paid parking is available at the Japanese Village Plaza Parking Lot (356 E First St.) and the Office Depot Plaza Parking Lot (401 Alameda St).

The Takeaway

Barack Obama Had an ‘Iron Will’ to Succeed—but What Was at His Core?

Biographer David J. Garrow Explains How the 44th President Compartmentalized and Rewrote His Life

Historian David J. Garrow acknowledges that he’s “cynical” about Barack Obama, a conclusion that he reached while conducting 1,000 interviews and spending nine years researching the formation and political rise …