Barack Obama

U.S. President
Born: Aug. 4, 1961
Birthplace: Honolulu, Hawaii

Barack Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States on Nov. 4, 2008, prevailing over Arizona Senator John McCain. He took the oath of office on Jan. 20, 2009, and became the first Black U.S. president.

He had previously edged out Senator Hillary Clinton in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination in a long and often bitter primary season. Obama cast Clinton as the establishment candidate and himself as the candidate of change. The move worked, and after his election Obama sought to mend fences by making Clinton his Secretary of State.

Obama took office in the midst of a severe recession for the U.S. economy. His first major piece of legislative was the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a $787 billion spending bill, or "stimulus package," designed to create jobs and reignite the economy.

He also acted quickly to bring about the change from the policies of the Bush administration that he had promised during the campaign. Two days after his inauguration he signed an executive order to close the controversial detention facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba within the year. Soon to follow were executive orders that reversed Bush's policies on stem cell research and interrogation techniques for enemy detainees.

Wins the Nobel Peace Prize

Nine months into his presidency, Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Committee cited him for "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples" and his "vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons." The award came as somewhat as a shock to the White House and beyond, as few of Obama's proposed international policy changes have yet to be realized. Indeed, North Korea continues to taunt the world with missile tests and nuclear bravado, Iran only recently agreed to engage in talks about its nuclear program, and his Afghanistan policy is a work in progress. However, Thorbjorn Jagland, the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said, "We would hope this [the Peace Prize] will enhance what he is trying to do."

Obama was born in Hawaii in 1961 to an American mother and a Kenyan father. When he was two, his parents, who had met as students at the University of Hawaii, divorced. Obama's Harvard-educated father then returned to Kenya, where he worked in the economics ministry. Obama lived in Indonesia with his mother and stepfather for part of his childhood, returning to Hawaii to finish high school. He graduated from Columbia University, where he majored in political science and specialized in international relations. He then attended Harvard Law School, graduated magna cum laude, and served as the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. After law school, he worked as a community organizer and a civil rights lawyer in Chicago. He also taught at the University of Chicago Law School as a senior lecturer specializing in constitutional law. Obama represented the South Side of Chicago in the Illinois State Senate from 1996–2004 as a Democrat. In 2004, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, winning with 70% of the vote against the conservative Black Republican, Alan Keyes. Obama became the only African-American serving in the U.S. Senate (and the fifth in U.S. history). Obama's idealism, commitment to civil rights, and telegenic good looks generated enormous media attention for his Senate campaign. The eloquence of his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic Nation Convention in Boston, Mass., confirmed his status as one of the Democratic party's freshest and most inspirational new leaders.

A Best-Selling Author

Obama published an autobiography, Dreams From My Father, in 1995; it became a best-seller during his 2004 Senate campaign. His next autobiography, The Audacity of Hope, became a bestseller after its Oct. 2006 publication, and won both the Black Caucus of the American Library Association Literary Awards and the NAACP Image Awards in 2007. He is married to Michelle Obama, a Chicago native who also graduated from Harvard Law School. They have two daughters: Malia Ann and Sasha.