Months before Barack Obama knew Mitt Romney would be his political opponent in 2012, the president knew the identity of his foremost literary challenger: Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Maraniss, who had been reaching out to Obamaâs old friends, classmates and lovers for the past several years. The product of his big dig, âBarack Obama: The Story,â seems to be a nuanced, even sympathetic portrayal culled from people who still admire Obama. Yet, make no mistake, this is a dangerous book for Obama, and White House staffers have been fretting about it in a low-grade way for a long, long time â in part because it could redefine the self-portrait Obama skillfully created for himself in 1995 with âDreams from My Father.â The success of âDreamsâ has given Obama nearly complete control of his own life narrative, an appealing tale that has been the foundation of his political success. But Maranissâs biography threatens that narrative by questioning it: Was Obamaâs journey entirely spiritual and intellectual? Or was it also grounded in the lower realms of ambition and calculation? In the handful of excerpts released so far, there are no new bombshells involving personal or political corruption or indiscretion beyond anything Obama has already revealed, though the book isnât out until June 19. But a little White House anxiety might be in order. Maraniss is a biographer in search of real insight, not Drudge links or Colbert appearances, a writer and researcher who canât be dismissed as a cheap hack or fortune hunter, a label Obamaâs aides hang on lesser writers with regularity. If ever anyone could find the strand that unravels the sweater, itâs Maraniss, a Washington Post associate editor who defies the news cycle. There are some signs the president himself is concerned. In fact, Obama was so intent on having his side of the story convincingly articulated, he granted the author a virtually unprecedented 90-minute Oval Office interview, twice the allotted time Maraniss thought he was getting. âThis book is about the world that created Barack Obama and how he refashioned himself,â Maraniss said in a Vanity Fair interview that accompanied excerpts of the book Wednesday. âI have done extensive research for all of his years leading up the White House and intend to write another volume, but not for many years â after more documents open up and the story of his presidency settles somewhat. I want to write for history, not for the moment.â The threat implicit in that statement is no less significant because it is subtle: Maraniss, in his laid-back way, burrows in and unearths new insights, as he did with Bill Clinton in âFirst in His Class,â a tell-all biography published in 1995 that did feature new details of Clintonâs sexual improprieties. Cultural historian Garry Wills called it âthe best biography ever written about a president in office,â and the reporting, much of which first appeared in The Washington Post, earned Maraniss his first Pulitzer Prize. âWhat emerges most forcefully from âFirst in His Classâ is just how deliberately Mr. Clinton went about fashioning his political career, just how willfully he set about fulfilling the great expectations placed on him by his mother and his early peers,â Michiko Kakutani wrote in her review of the book for The New York Times. â[A]ll of this flies in the face of the Presidentâs perpetuation of the myth, in Mr. Maranissâs words, âthat his life progressed in a series of accidents and uncalculated events.ââ Maranissâs basic approach hasnât changed over the years, but the world around him has accelerated â so it remains to be seen how his work will be received in an overheated, overhyped election year. âIn the current Internet-driven craziness in which we live, I fret that, for now, the power of the fleetingly salacious will upend all,â said James Warren, former managing editor and Washington bureau chief of the Chicago Tribune and Maraniss friend who helped edit the book. âStill, if a lot of prospective voters, who do have their doubts about him, actually read it when it comes out, theyâll find a portrait of a very ambitious but very shrewd, cautious, thoughtful and intuitive guy. In the same way Maraniss explained people as vividly diverse as Bill Clinton and Vince Lombardi, he nails Obama,â Warren added. The problem is that Obama doesnât want to be nailed down. He is a control freak when it comes to messaging his own life â he wonât utter any words he thinks he couldnât have written himself, and often lays out detailed blueprints of his speeches before letting his speech-writing staff have at it. In moments of uncertainty, Obama picks up a pen to recenter himself. He did it when he was a young man struggling to define himself. And he did it in early 2008 when he wrote a moving, personal speech on race at a time when the firestorm over his controversial pastor Jeremiah Wright threatened to engulf his campaign. âThereâs a radical difference between biography and autobiography,â said New Yorker Editor-in-Chief David Remnick, author of the first major Obama biography published during the presidentâs term. âAutobiography is the story youâre telling about yourself. Obama was a very young man, writing a story about identity, race, community, family and all the rest. Itâs pretty straight â there are some liberties that were taken, and he admits to that, he cops to that,â Remnick added. âBut he leaves things out to protect certain people. Thatâs not what a biographer does. And what makes it different is a contemporary biographer is writing into a moment â in Davidâs case, when an election is about to happen.â Political autobiography is an even different animal. Obamaâs two memoirs were intended not only to enlighten but also to create a compelling personal narrative. The Maraniss book, like Obamaâs own, is likely to play an important, if not game-changing, role in the campaign. âI canât think of a historical example of a biography like this being particularly consequential. The only example is âDreams from My Father,ââ said David Greenberg, a Rutgers University history and journalism professor who chronicled Richard Nixonâs image in the media. âThat gave many people a first impression of Obama, won over a lot people. It was the vessel of a lot of the Kool-Aid that got drunk in 2008, creating a fantasy Obama that many people wanted to believe in. â¦ I donât think there are many people who are going to radically revise their impression of Obamaâ this time, he added. During the 2008 Democratic primary, senior advisers to Hillary Clinton complained that they werenât running against Obama the guy, his record, his policies or even his rÃ©sumÃ©, which they viewed with contempt as too thin to sustain a respectable national candidacy. No, the opponent they were facing was Obamaâs narrative â a supremely powerful political marketing tool for a candidate whose mixed racial and class background served as a metaphor for American unity at one of the countryâs most precarious moments. âWeâre not running against a real person,â one of them said at the time. âWe are running against a story.â When Vanity Fair published excerpts of the book early Wednesday, the aggregation mob (including POLITICO) seized on a few potentially damaging and salacious disclosures, especially Obamaâs portrayal of a white girlfriend he lived with in New York in the early 1980s. The relationship is chronicled in intimate detail (conjure the image, if you will, of Obama taking a shower with his girlfriend or lounging around a Brooklyn walk-up wearing only a sarong), but ultimately he rejects the woman as too wealthy, too out-of-touch and incapable of coping with the complexities of his mixed-raced reality. The 1995 introduction to âDreamsâ warned readers that Obama employed composite characters to shield the innocent and compress the narrative. But Maraniss tracked down the real woman, described by only her mannerisms and appearance, and identified by Obama only as his so-called âNew York girlfriend.â Genevieve Cook, it turned out, didnât take to the role of acting as a catalyst for Obamaâs personal transformation, the memoir equivalent of being offered a seat at the State of the Union address to make a policy point. âDuring an interview in the Oval Office, Obama acknowledged that, while Cook was his New York girlfriend, the description in his memoir was a âcompressionâ of girlfriends, including one who followed Genevieve [Cook] when he lived in Chicago,â Maraniss writes. But that revelation, while hardly flattering, isnât exactly a tabloid blockbuster. Itâs the underlying point thatâs disquieting, that Obama has applied that same âcompressionâ to his personal and political narrative. Maraniss obtained Cookâs journal from those years, which included this startling description of Obama that hints at a powerful ambition and calculation familiar to many future Obama watchers. Speaking directly to Obama in the diary, she wrote on March 9, 1984, that she had âa sense of you [Barack] biding your time and drawing othersâ cards out of their hands for careful inspection â without giving too much of your own way â played with a good poker face. â¦ I feel that you carefully filter everything in your mind and heart â legitimate, admirable, really. â¦ But thereâs something also there of smoothed veneer, of guardedness â¦â âIâm still left with this feeling of â¦ a bit of a wall â the veil.â Carrie Budoff Brown contributed to this report.