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A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack…

A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mother (2011)

by Janny Scott

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A great book about an unsung great mother, anthropologist, and American, dedicated to service to others. ( )
  DonaldPowell | Feb 5, 2019 |
I was watching President Obama give a speech on television and it dawned on me that I didn't really know anything about his parents and that he was young enough that they should still be around. A quick internet searched revealed that his parents had passed away. I was intrigued by a picture of Obama's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, simply because she looked so much like many intelligent and independent women that I have met. I decided to learn more about her if I could and decided to read Scott's biography.

Singular Woman is a very thorough examination of a life lived. There is actually only an appropriate amount of detail regarding Barack and really nothing about his political ascendancy since that mostly occurred after his mother had passed. This is a book about a woman who followed her passions and made a meaningful life for herself and her family. She managed to raise two interracial children, essentially as single parent - albeit with substantial support from her own parents. She also pursued her own intellectual passions from the United States to India.

It is a triumphant story of a modern woman and it would have been interesting to have a conversation with her, but we are fortunate to have this Biography to help appreciate a life well lived. ( )
  Tod_Christianson | Jul 30, 2016 |
Scott was so careful not to make any statements about her subject. Consequently most of the text is either impersonal facts about towns, organizations, etc. or "X said...", "according to Y...", and "in my interview of Z...". There were just as many descriptions of the informants as there were of Ann Dunham Sutoro.
Despite that, somewhat of an impression is left of a woman doing the best she can to live life to the fullest.
"Her life...was an improvisation, marked by stumbles and leaps." (p 5)
I really like this part about Adi Sasono (which also illustrates how much of the book wasn't about Ann at all) "the dysfunctions of the 'modern' development sector and why it so inexorably increases the marginalization of the majority of the population...It was assumed [by most planners/governments] that rapid industrialization and the exploitation of natural resources were the best route to economic development and high employment. But ...the benefits of growth were not trickling down." (p. 236) Precisely. ( )
1 vote juniperSun | Jan 11, 2014 |
The life of Stanley Ann Dunham would never have been described in print had she not been the mother of Barack Obama. Does her story have any larger significance, apart from being the life that formed Obama?

Janny Scott's reporting on Barack Obama's mother a few years ago in the New York Times was fascinating and enlightening about his past, and led to this book. The book is the story of a middle class woman with a wandering spirit, who spent much of her life in Indonesia, and clearly loved that place and its culture. She was no mere visitor there. She married into the place, she learned the language, and she sunk into it. She was always tied to the U.S., economically, culturally and through her parents in Hawaii, but truly she was never of the U.S. She set sail in her teens, and never really looked back.

Ann Dunham worked for the Ford Foundation among other organizations. After 20 years of work in Indonesia she completed a well-regarded Ph.D. dissertation on small scale craft manufacture and village economics. She was a woman who could operate comfortably in Indonesia and, later in life, was a respected voice in international economic development.

She was a fierce believer in her son, and worked tirelessly to assure his education. There are hints that she actually believed when he was only a teen that he might be President some day (but then, how many mothers have had that thought?), and late in her life she was aware of his political ambitions as he prepared to run for office.

Her story reminds us that Obama is the first "post-boomer" President. It was his mother, born in 1942, who was the boomer in spirit (if a little early by actual birth date), and he's already of the generation that the boomers raised, as they built their lives in the world created by and inherited from the generation of the second World War.

I wouldn't say that you need this book to understand Obama, but it provides some fascinating background about the people and world that shaped him. The book suffers from a surfeit of under-organized recollections from people that it is hard to identify (as a reader.) The early history is built from interviews and recollections and sometimes you just need to skip a page or two. But the book consistently rewards to the end, conveying a life that, like all lives, comes to take on a significance independent of the lives that she engendered. Ann Dunham is no hero, no genius, no world transforming figure. She was just an ordinary, unique, involved, thoughtful professional and political human being, and the mother of a future President. She is extraordinary in an ordinary sense. She's interesting to read about, and the hearing of her story enables us to imagine the 1950s through the 1990s of America and America abroad in East Asia from the perspective of an idealistic development worker, always with the strange foreshadowing that although neither she nor anyone in the story could really know it at the time, all this ordinary living was leading to the later public life of Barack Hussein Obama.
( )
1 vote hereandthere | Apr 8, 2013 |
A richly detailed biography of a fascinating woman. Ann Dunham had flaws and made her share of mistakes as we all do, but she managed to live a full, rich, meaningful life despite her premature deimse from cancer at age 52. She was a great intellectual, fearless adventurer, deeply compassionate, and generous to a fault. Her son's best qualities are clearly her legacy. ( )
1 vote Sullywriter | Apr 3, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
In an ambitious new biography, “A Singular Woman,” Janny Scott travels from Kansas to Hawaii to Indonesia in an effort to account for the disparate forces that forged Dunham and, by extension, her son. Scott sets out to complicate the familiar image of Obama’s mother as simply “a white woman from Kansas.” Through interviews with Dunham’s relatives, friends and colleagues; at least one possible lover; and her two children, Maya Soetoro-Ng and Barack Obama, Scott pursues a more perplexing and elusive figure than the one Obama pieced together in his own books.
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I think sometimes that Had I known she would not survive her illness, I might have written a different book--less a meditation on the absent parent,more a celebration of the one who was the single constant in my life.
--Barack Obama, "Dreams from My Father" preface to 2004 edition
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The photograph showed the son, but my eye gravitated toward the mother.
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Award-winning reporter Scott uncovers the full breadth of Stanley Ann Dunham's inspiring and untraditional life.

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