A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mother

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A major publishing event: an unprecedented look into the life of the woman who most singularly shaped Barack Obama-his mother.

Barack Obama has written extensively about his father, but little is known about Stanley Ann Dunham, the fiercely independent woman who raised him, the person he credits for "what is best in me." Here is the missing piece of the story.

Award-winning reporter Janny Scott has interviewed nearly two hundred of Ann's ...

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A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mother

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Overview

A major publishing event: an unprecedented look into the life of the woman who most singularly shaped Barack Obama-his mother.

Barack Obama has written extensively about his father, but little is known about Stanley Ann Dunham, the fiercely independent woman who raised him, the person he credits for "what is best in me." Here is the missing piece of the story.

Award-winning reporter Janny Scott has interviewed nearly two hundred of Ann's friends, colleagues, and relatives (including both her children), and combed through boxes of personal and professional papers, letters to friends, and photo albums, to uncover the full breadth of Ann's inspiring and untraditional life, and to show the remarkable extent to which she shaped the man Obama is today.

Ann's story moves from Kansas and Washington State to Hawaii and Indonesia. It begins in a time when interracial marriage was still a felony in much of the United States and culminates in the present moment, with her son as our president-something she never got to see. It is a poignant look at how character is passed from parent to child, and insight into how Obama's destiny was created early, by his mother's extraordinary faith in his gifts, and by her unconventional mothering. Finally, it is a heartbreaking story of a woman who died at age fifty-two, before her son had gone on to his greatest accomplishments and reflections of what she had taught him.

2012 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography Runner-up

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  • A Singular Woman
    A Singular Woman  

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Few of us recognize the name of Stanley Ann Durham (1942-1995), but this bright, short-lived, much-traveled Midwesterner was the mother of Barack Obama, who described her as "the dominant figure in my formative years." To discover this posthumously influential woman, biographer Janny Scott interviewed nearly two hundred friends, colleagues, and relatives of Dunham, including the president himself. A Singular Woman is worth reading both as a heartwarming personal story and as testimony to the profound influence she has had on her son.

Publishers Weekly
The mother of a path-breaking politician was a quiet revolutionary in her own right, according to this vibrant biography. Former New York Times reporter Scott paints Stanley Ann Dunham (1942–1995) as a study in unconventionality: a white woman who entered an inter-racial marriage at a time when they were illegal in many states; bore a son at 18; became an expatriate who thrived in the alien culture of Indonesia after her divorce from Obama's father. In Indonesia, she remarried and bore a daughter but ultimately became a single mother who forged a significant career as an anthropologist and economic-development expert. Drawing on Dunham's personal and professional writings and reminiscences by friends, colleagues, and the president and his half-sister, the author sensitively portrays a woman of both the warm sociability and charisma and a sharp, strong-willed and sometimes prickly intellect. Scott links Dunham to her son's commitment to community organizing and public service and to her own mother's pioneering success as a banker. But what is most striking in this account is how much Dunham was her own woman, determined to follow a wandering star despite personal setbacks and social disapproval. Scott gives us a vivid, affecting profile of an unsung feminist pioneer who made breaking down barriers a family tradition and whose legacy extends well beyond her presidential son. Photos. (May 3)
Kirkus Reviews

A richly nuanced, decidedly sympathetic portrait of President Obama's remarkably accomplished, spirited mother.

Actually, the story of Stanley Ann Dunham Obama Soetoro, who died of cancer in 1995, has been told at length, especially during the 2008 presidential campaign. But former New York Times reporter Scott does not believe that the treatment Obama's mother garnered in the press was fair or complete. The author conducted exhaustive interviews with family and friends to try to flesh out the biography, especially regarding her years working in Indonesia, trying to finish her doctorate degree and deciding to send back her young son, then 10, to Hawaii. There he attended a prep school in the care of her parents, a decision for which she was roundly criticized by the press. Kansas-born Stanley Ann—named after her father, though her mother was enamored by the Bette Davis character named Stanley in the 1942 filmIn This Our Life—early on set herself apart by her intellectual curiosity, wit and openness to new adventures. When her parents relocated to the new state of Hawaii upon her graduation in 1960, she became simply Ann, and immersed herself in the nascent East-West Center, where she would fall in love with the Kenyan student Barack Hussein Obama. He was 24 and married to a woman back in Kenya; she was 17 and soon pregnant; though they married quietly, they separated soon after. Ann's resilience and dogged spirit emerge continuously throughout her story. She struggled to gain her degrees while raising first "Barry," then her daughter, Maya, by her second husband, the Javanese surveyor Lolo Soetoro, all the while moving frequently to do fieldwork on Indonesian cottage industries. Her work in far-flung community outreach and microfinance gained her jobs at the Ford Foundation and the Women's World Banking, in New York City, and greatly inspired her son in his own political activism.

A biography of considerable depth and understanding.

Ann Gerhart
…the key to understanding the disciplined and often impassive 44th president is his mother, as Janny Scott…decisively demonstrates in her new biography…Scott pointedly notes: "The president's mother has served as any of a number of useful oversimplifications"…[then] smashes through all of that, using meticulous reporting, archival research and extensive interviews with Dunham's colleagues, friends and family, including the president and his sister. What emerges is a portrait of a woman who is both disciplined and disorganized, blunt-spoken and empathetic, driven and devoted to her children, even as she ruefully admits her failings and frets over her distance from them.
—The Washington Post
Catherine Lutz
Pieces of the story of Ann Dunham, the mother of Barack Obama, we know already…We get a much fuller story of [her] life in A Singular Woman, Janny Scott's richly researched, unsentimental book. In it, we meet a very nonordinary woman, born Stanley Ann Dunham, "singular" from her naming onward.
—The New York Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594487972
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/3/2011
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.18 (h) x 1.35 (d)

Meet the Author

Janny Scott
Janny Scott was a reporter for The New York Times from 1994 to 2009, when she left to write this book. In 2008 she contributed six long, biographical articles for the Times series on the lives of the presidential candidates. She was part of the reporting team that won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting. She lives in New York City.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 54 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(26)

4 Star

(5)

3 Star

(11)

2 Star

(8)

1 Star

(4)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 54 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 13, 2011

    so excellent,highly recommend

    if you are are not an admirer of the president you will get nothing from this book. but if you are it is a must read. she was an amazing woman and i am glad for the insight on her compassionate socially conscious life. what an exceptional role model for her children.

    22 out of 30 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 23, 2011

    Reviews one star-Book receives five stars

    I do not understand why, but I am suprised at the number of reviews that profess hate for Ms Dunham because they dislike her son. On another site, one person stated that Republicans should have endorsed abortion in her case. We are not required to agree with the President, but these remarks about his mother are beneath comtempt. I doubt that they have the decency to be ashamed of their actions that prove that racism is alive in America.

    12 out of 19 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 30, 2011

    Highly Recommend

    An interesting look into Barack Obama's Mother and some insight into his up bringing.

    6 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 16, 2011

    Awesome

    Awesome awesome!

    6 out of 17 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 4, 2011

    I AM ON PAGE 22 AND BORED TO TEARS....

    ......thought I was buying a biography of a woman, not a geological survey of Iowa, complete with soil analysis!

    5 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 22, 2011

    Very Insightful

    STanley Ann Dunhanm was a woman before her time. Her influence on her son and daughter was immense. But not only is she an interesting woman but the extended family of her parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts are interesting. She was an admirable woman and should be admired by women of today. This book is a must for people who like the president and admire him. Even if you don't like him, this book will enlighten you as to the impact she had on Mr. Obama's intellect and his approach to the world. When I read at the end of the book of how she died, I actually had tears. Her son and daughter lost a great mother. The academia lost a great intellect and the poor lost an advocate. It is sad to think that her grandchildren would not know her.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 30, 2011

    Dumb

    Obama still looks like the baby in the picture. Propaganda to reach out to whites, should just be a president not trying to convince me he is american, i know he isn't.

    3 out of 22 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2012

    Anonymous

    I have mixed reviews about this book. Didn't take full responsibility for raising her son, she became a mother of two children, yet she continued to live her life as she wanted to live it. In spite of all this her children turned out to be intellegent, highly educated, caring individuals. Look at her son. One of the greatest presidents of all time. I am glad the grandmother lived to see her grandson run for president, she must have been so proud.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 9, 2011

    3 stars is a big compromise

    Ms. Dunham led a life ahead of her time, and she did it with integrity and humor and love. Unfortunately, Janny Scott has written in such a dry, old, uninteresting style that I felt I was reading her a collection of the author's expanded notes, not yet formed into a book that reflected the life it was reporting. Interesting subject. Poor writing. Poor editing. Let's hope someone else comes along and does a better job.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 30, 2011

    Insightful and inspiring

    Really an interesting read. I had trouble putting this book down. It was really a glimpse into another time and several other cultures.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 25, 2011

    Worth your time

    I liked this, but somewhere in the middle, Ann the person was lost in the discussion of international development and microfinance, which was itself informative & new to me. I was intrigued by the ways in which the lives of Ann's parents were recapitulated in her own experience. The photographs were especially good. I'll also be permanently envious of a woman who never had to wear pantyhose until she was past 50!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 17, 2012

    A Selfish Woman

    The can be boring at times, but that has more to do with the subject than the author, who was a very self-centered parent with her som. She raised her daughter, but not her son whom she handed off to her parents so she could pursue her "career" far away. It is a wonder that he did not become a drug dealer.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2012

    No politics required: the biography stands on its own

    Regardess of ones political affiliation or opinion of our current President, this well-researched book illuminates a person who was much more than "the white woman from Kansas". In many ways the tale of her family and life reflect the archetypal American story. Her willingness to reach beyond boundaries is shown as evolving -- not in opposition to, but in continuation of, the values, beliefs and dreams of her forbearers.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2011

    Great Read!

    As someone raised in Indonesia, I found this book very interesting and evoked many good memories of life in the Spice Islands. Janny Scott did a great job of interviewing family, friends and colleagues of Ann Duhnam.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2011

    interesting

    interesting

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2012

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 54 Customer Reviews

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