The lives of Barack Obama: An interactive timeline.

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Aug. 11 2008 5:22 PM

The Lives of Barack Obama

An interactive timeline by Slate.

There are at least two versions of Barack Obama's life: There's his version—the story he tells in his speeches, op-eds, and books. Then there's the media's version—news articles, columns, and investigative pieces about him as he rose to prominence and since his presidential campaign began. We can learn a lot by comparing the two.

To that end, Slate has compiled Obama's speeches, his writings, contemporary news accounts of his life, and recent retrospective articles to show how Obama's life looks different depending on who's looking.


Everyone agrees on the basic facts of Obama's biography. But not everyone emphasizes the same points. In his speeches, Obama talks about his Chicago organizing days much more than his two years at Occidental College in Los Angeles. He mentions growing up in Hawaii more than he discusses his childhood in Indonesia. Some of that is just good storytelling. But some of it is deliberately curatorial. Obama visited his grandparents' home in Kansas during the campaign, for example, but friends from Harvard were discouraged from talking to the press. Despite his accomplishments at Harvard, Obama doesn't mention them once in the speeches archived on his Web site (although they are featured in his online biography). Likewise, the campaign rarely discusses his time working at a law firm in Chicago before entering the Illinois Senate.

The timeline below lets you examine Obama's life through various lenses. Click the tab along the top that says "Speeches" and you'll see how often he talks about each period of his life, with links to the speeches themselves. Click the "Autobiography" tab to see how much he writes about each era in his books. Click on "Recent News" to see how often newspapers and magazines dedicate to those periods. Or click "Contemporary News" to see how much coverage he got at the time. (Here's our methodology.)

We intend this to be an evolving tool. If we missed any major feature stories about Obama in Jakarta, for example, send them along. If you think there's a better way to measure the campaign's emphasis on different parts of his life, let us know. We'll update it as needed and see if the shape of Obama's life changes between now and November, and beyond.

Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.

Chris Wilson is a Slate contributor.



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