Obama ex-girlfriends' stories featured in new book

President Barack Obama
This undated photo shows President Barack Obama, in New York City, while a student at Columbia University. Obama received his B.A. degree in political science in 1983 from Columbia.
AP Photo/Obama Presidential Campaign

(CBS News) A new biography of President Barack Obama has some people asking if anything in a president's past is off limits.

Author David Maraniss relies heavily on the diaries, letters, and memories of Mr. Obama's old girlfriends. "Barack Obama: The Story" focuses on the president as a young man, living in New York and Chicago. It shows him in love, and in turmoil.

The young Barack Obama portrayed in David Maraniss' book struggled to feel at home in New York. It was at Columbia University where the future president felt lost, struggling with questions about who he really was - his race, his religion, and even his cultural and political beliefs. It was a deep, internal conflict that he only shared with his close friends, including his girlfriends.

One of those girlfriends was Genevieve Cook, the daughter of a prominent Australian family. They are shown in the pages of Vanity Fair, which excerpted Maraniss' biography. Cook and Obama met at Christmas Party in 1983 at an apartment in New York's East Village.

Early in their relationship, Obama confessed to Cook how he searched for the "perfect ideal woman...at the expense of hooking up with available girls." In her journal, Cook wrote: "I can't help thinking that what he would really want, be powerfully drawn to, was a woman, very strong, very upright, a fighter, a laugher, well-experienced - a black woman I keep seeing her as."

But Cook would fall in love anyway, and 22-year-old Barack Obama began having the deepest, most romantic relationship of his young life. Cook says in 1984, Mr. Obama rented a room in an apartment in this building on West 114th Street. She remembers how on Sundays Mr. Obama would drink coffee, solve crossword puzzles, and lounge around shirtless in a blue and white sarong.

Cook continued journaling through their relationship. In one entry, she wrote: "The sexual warmth is definitely there." But just one month later, she wrote, "Barack still intrigues me, but so much going on beneath the surface, out of reach. Guarded, controlled."

Once, Cook told a young Obama that she loved him. His response: "thank you." Later that year, Obama temporarily moved in with Cook. The irritation of each other's constant company eventually drove them apart. It was the beginning of the end of their year-long relationship.

Watch Terrell Brown's full report in the video above.

Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley said on "CBS This Morning" that Obama compressed the story of his life in New York in his autobiography, "Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance."

(For more with Brinkley, watch his full interview in the video in the player below.)

Maraniss' book, out on June 19, however, explores the president's relationships with these women, but Brinkley said the book isn't just about his girlfriends. "Maraniss is a fine biographer. He's written many good books, so he's credible, a long-time Washington Post reporter and he's done the best job of really giving us the factual timeline of the president's...college move to New York City and what he did in New York, not just who his girlfriends are, but how he was fighting for racial identity."

Brinkley said what compels him about the book is what the reader learns about the future president, his obsession with the Ralph Ellison book, "Invisible Man" and his affinity for African American playwrights.

"All of this adds credence to the president's own memoir," Brinkley said. "Here you see this young person -trying to, in his 20s, decide whether he's white or black or how to be an international person. So there's aspects - I think the girlfriend things are less interested than, here's a young man at Ivy League school, Columbia, what he's reading, what he's talking about. He doesn't get in a lot of trouble. His idea of fun is the New York Times crossword puzzle and debating the philosophy of Nietzsche."