National Press Club

Garrow tells Book Rap he interviewed 1,000 people for biography

May 13, 2017 | By Joe Motheral | JoeGM35@aol.com

Pulitzer-prize winning historian David J. Garrow hefts his 1,400-page biography of former President Barack Obama while immediate-past National Press Club President Thomas Burr looks on during a Club Book Rap on May 11, 2017.

Pulitzer-prize winning historian David J. Garrow hefts his 1,400-page biography of former President Barack Obama while immediate-past National Press Club President Thomas Burr looks on during a Club Book Rap on May 11, 2017.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Historian David J. Garrow estimates he interviewed around 1,000 people to obtain the information to write his biography of former President Barack Obama.

“A tax person on Chicago’s South side had a list of people that had been provided by Barack,” Garrow told a National Press Club Book Rap on May 11.

For “historical purposes you need to find everyone you can,” Garrow said of the process he took to research the 1,400-page Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama.

“It’s almost entirely a pre-presidential book,” Garrow said, and so throughout the evening he referred to the former president as ‘Barack’.

Garrow believes in seeing those he interviews in person rather than by phone or email.

"Sometimes they can dig up papers and such,” Garrow said.

Early on Barrack, “was convinced that electoral politics was the path to power,” Garrow said.

In 1988, Obama enrolled at Harvard and subsequently was elected the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review.

During those early years he had a live-in girlfriend named Sheila Jager (part Dutch and part Japanese) who when asked about Obama said, “He’s the smartest person in the room and the most stubborn,” Garrow said.

Perhaps Obama’s closest friend was a man named Rob Fisher with whom he wrote a book that was never published. Fisher probably had the most influence on Obama as they were together at Harvard, Garrow said.

The Book Rap was moderated by immediate-past Club President Thomas Burr.

Garrow won a Pulitzer Prize in 1987 for his book about Martin Luther King, Jr. He writes frequently about the history of the Supreme Court and the civil-rights movement. He has been a regular contributor to the New York Times, the Nation, the Financial Times, and the New Republic. He has served as a professor at several universities.

Former Club President Myron Belkind attended the Book Rap and said, “I’m pleased he chose the National Press Club. It was very informative.”