26 Random Things We Learned About President Obama From His New Biography


After much anticipation, David Maraniss’s meticulously researched and excruciatingly detailed look at President Obama’s early life, Barack Obama: The Story, hit bookshelves today. You’re likely already familiar with some of its passages: Obama’s relationship with his long-anonymous New York girlfriend, for example, or his inclusion in a group of stoner friends called the Choom Gang. Other, more minor revelations have yet to receive much attention. For example, Obama liked to watch his Indonesian step-cousins as they bathed. And he broke a kid’s arm once, by accident. Those are but two of the more than two dozen random pieces of Obama trivia that we found noteworthy for one reason or another. 

  • Obama had an “unusually hard head” as a child, “so hard that it made your hand hurt when you hit him.”
  • Broke a friend’s arm once by tickling his ears while he was riding a bike.
  • Obama used to “love to peek at us when bathing,” his Indonesian step-cousin Noeke recalls.
  • As a child, believed that babies “came through the anus.”
  • Had an “occasional splotch of acne” at the age 18. 
  • Known for his “wicked impression of Mick Jagger” during his freshman year of college. 
  • He “smoked a cigarette the same way he smoked a joint.”
  • Didn’t take many notes in his college courses. 
  • Smoked Marlboros at Occidental and Djarums, an Indonesian clove cigarette, at Columbia.
  • Drove a red Fiat which “idled often,” followed by a blue Honda Civic, followed by a yellow Datsun which cost $500.
  • His daily staple” during his sophomore year at Occidental “was a bowl of Total cereal.”
  • Rooted for the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1980 NBA finals over the Los Angeles Lakers, because his favorite player was Julius Erving.
  • There were five locks on the door to his first New York apartment — “including the bar that goes in after you get inside” —  at 142 West 109th Street.
  • Also, the heat rarely worked, and “hot water was also scarce, forcing [Obama and his roommate] to take many of their showers at Columbia’s gym.”
  • Liked to cook “a simple Sindhi chicken curry recipe” and a “ginger beef dish,” both of which he picked up from his Pakistani friends. 

  • Was “fond of saying, ‘The truth usually lies somewhere in between,’” according to a former roommate. 
  • For a period of two or three months,” according to a friend, Obama “carried and at every opportunity read and reread a fraying copy of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.”
  • Put up “framed posters of Picasso’s Blue Nude and Gauguin’s Polynesian painting When Will You Marry Me?” in his apartment at 339 East 94th Street. 

Photo: Wikimages

He used to walk from that apartment to classes at Columbia —  west to Central Park, “around the reservoir, across to Broadway,  and north another twenty-two blocks” — a route that takes over an hour, according to Google Maps. 

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  • Admitted to a friend that he wrote an article for the Sundial, Columbia’s weekly news magazine, “purely for calculated reasons of beefing up” his résumé
  • His phone number in 1982 was 212-410-2857. It is no longer in service (we checked). 
  • Obama “spent one week supervising a group of temp workers who moved the files of the Fire Department of New York from one building to another.”
  • Used “Brut spray deodorant,” according to an ex-girlfriend. 
  • Liked to run “the length of Riverside Park.” When at his girlfriend’s in Brooklyn, he liked to jog in Prospect Park. 
  • Does not find it appetizing when fish is served with the eyes still in it. 

26 Random Things Biography Taught Us About Obama