The Story of Barack Obama's Mother

Barack Obama's greatest influence was a woman most know nothing about. How her uncommon life shaped his worldview

(Left to right): Jim Cole / AP; Maxine Boxer

Each of us lives a life of contradictory truths. We are not one thing or another. Barack Obama's mother was at least a dozen things. S. Ann Soetoro was a teen mother who later got a Ph.D. in anthropology; a white woman from the Midwest who was more comfortable in Indonesia; a natural-born mother obsessed with her work; a romantic pragmatist, if such a thing is possible.

"When I think about my mother," Obama told me recently, "I think that there was a certain combination of being very grounded in who she was, what she believed in. But...