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Barack Obama's Young Life, Relationships Revealed In Biography

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This photo released by Obama for America shows a Barack Obama teaching at the University of Chicago Law School.
This photo released by Obama for America shows a Barack Obama teaching at the University of Chicago Law School.

Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father reveals his younger life, grappling with his racial identity and past. Some of the details in the book, though, aren't quite accurate, particularly a discussion of his "New York girlfriend" who is actually several women melded into one, according to an upcoming biography of the president by David Maraniss.

Vanity Fair adapted parts of the biography for a profile of the young Obama published on Wednesday, based partially on interviews with two of his former girlfriends and their journal entries and letters from the time.

One of the women, Genevieve Cook, was his most serious girlfriend while living in New York. Most of the "New York girlfriend" referenced in his book is based on Cook, but Cook told Maraniss some of the anecdotes were things she never experienced. The president confirmed to Maraniss in an interview that the girlfriend discussed in the book is an amalgamation of a few women, although the description of her appearance is similar to Cook's.

In the memoir, Obama acknowledges that autobiographical work is at times imprecise. "Although much of this book is based on contemporaneous journals or the oral histories of my family, the dialogue is necessarily an approximation of what was actually said or relayed to me," he writes. "For the sake of compression, some of the characters that appear are composites of people I've known."

Cook told Maraniss that one anecdote loosely tied to her in Dreams from My Father may have instead been an experience with a later Obama girlfriend, meant to show some of the racial issues he was considering at the time. Obama wrote in his memoirs that he fought with his "New York girlfriend," described as white, after seeing a play by a black playwright. He writes that she "started talking about why black people were so angry all the time" and they argued in front of the theater. She said she never saw the play.

Here are more interesting tidbits from the biography, from both those letters and Maraniss' interviews with Obama. Read the full Vanity Fair piece here, and see a Q&A with the author here.

He Couldn't Say The L-Word

Cook told Vanity Fair that she told Obama she loved him, but he did not respond in kind. From the piece:

When she told him that she loved him, his response was not "I love you, too" but "thank you" -- as though he appreciated that someone loved him.

He Hung Out At The Seinfeld Restaurant

When Obama was in college, he and his roommates lived in an apartment so cold in the winter that they slept in sleeping bags, according to Vanity Fair. To escape the cold, they often ate at Tom's Restaurant, which was the basis of "Monk's" on Seinfeld.

He Was Passionate About Running -- And Writing About It

Obama wrote a letter to McNear about one of his runs at Columbia. Check out his writing style:

I run every other day at the small indoor track [at Columbia] which slants slightly upward like a plate; I stretch long and slow, twist and shake, the fatigue, the inertia finding home in different parts of the body. I check the time and growl -- aargh! -- and tumble onto the wheel.

Another Obama's ex, Genevieve Cook, wrote in her journal that he felt "a bit unsettled" all weekend after she challenged him to a race and then won.

Barack kept putting [the race] off. "His response was merry disbelief," Genevieve recalled. "By merry I don't mean he laughed at me, though he was amused. He had this way ... where he inhabits a mocking space -- it's sort of a loving mocking—as if to imply 'Ah, the frailties and tendencies we all have to be delusional, self-deceiving, preposterous even, but you are cute, and I like you better for it.'"

Obama later was challenged to a race, via Runner's World magazine, by Sarah Palin in 2009.

He Liked To Eat Tuna

From the piece:

Barack loved to make a ginger beef dish that he had picked up from his friend Sohale Siddiqi. He was also big on tuna-fish sandwiches made the way his grandfather had taught him, with finely chopped dill pickles.

Obama seems to still like the food: He also made tuna salad in 2008 during a visit from 60 Minutes.

His Ex Pictured His 'Ideal Woman' As A 'Strong Black Lady'

He told Cook that he sought an "ideal woman." Cook wrote in her journal that she thought he would be drawn to "a woman, very strong, very upright, a fighter, a laugher, well-­experienced -- a black woman I keep seeing her as."

Later, after they have broken up, she questions in her journal whether his emotional distance had to do with his age or his upbringing.

Hard to say, as obviously I was not the person that brought infatuation. (That lithe, bubbly, strong black lady is waiting somewhere!)

Obama would go on to meet his wife, First Lady Michelle Obama, a few years later.

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