"An intimate, powerful, and inspiring memoir by the former First Lady of the United States. When she was a little girl, Michelle Robinson's world was the South Side of Chicago, where she and her brother, Craig, shared a bedroom in their family's upstairs apartment and played catch in the park, and where her parents, Fraser and Marian Robinson, raised her to be outspoken and unafraid. But life soon took her much further afield, from the halls of Princeton, where she learned for the first time what if felt like to be the only black woman in a room, to the glassy office tower where she worked as a high-powered corporate lawyer--and where, one summer morning, a law student named Barack Obama appeared in her office and upended all her carefully made plans. Here, for the first time, Michelle Obama describes the early years of her marriage as she struggles to balance her work and family with her husband's fast-moving political career. She takes us inside their private debate over whether he should make a run for the presidency and her subsequent role as a popular but oft-criticized figure during his campaign. Narrating with grace, good humor, and uncommon candor, she provides a vivid, behind-the-scenes account of her family's history-making launch into the global limelight as well as their life inside the White House over eight momentous years--as she comes to know her country and her country comes to know her. [This book] takes us through modest Iowa kitchens and ballrooms at Buckingham Palace, through moments of heart-stopping grief and profound resilience, bringing us deep into the soul of a singular, groundbreaking figure in history as she strives to live authentically, marshaling her personal strength and voice in service of a set of higher ideals. In telling her story with honesty and boldness, she issues a challenge to the rest of us: Who are we and who do we want to become?"--Jacket.
Obviously not a book for Trump fans. But if you find yourself longing for the good old days of, say 2015, you'll enjoy this memoir.
Writing this review a couple week's later, what particularly sticks with me, was the flabbergasting revelation of the acrimony between the two American political parties, which paralyzed Congress. The political rivalry was so intense, that the good governance of the country lost out to the sentiment that "blocking the Democrat's proposals was more important than approving funding to hire more teachers and first responders in natural disasters". It is a matter of record that the Republican party goal was for Obama to be a 'one-term' president . How utterly abysmal that prioritizing some possible future ascendancy sacrificed support for the common citizenry.
I highly recommend this memoir for the insights into family life in struggling black American households and then later, for 8 years in the White House. The writing flowed beautifully and was so articulate.
- She really didn't want it - the presidency, and its impact on her family.
- She is so, so, so devoted to her daughters.
- She loves Barack.
- Barack is a great guy, and so, so, so devoted to his daughters.
Extraordinary parenting under extraordinary circumstances.
And the other major takeaway is the humility. She gets it from her mother (a great character), who always brushed aside over-glowing compliments on the accomplishments of her two kids, Craig and Michelle, with: they're not special. "The South Side is full of kids like that." Michelle repeats it - thinking of her grade school classmates, "I wasn't any better than them." She was just lucky, lucky to have an advocate in her mother, who yanked her out of a bad classroom; and lucky not to get randomly shot in a drive-by, like kids in her old neighborhood need to fear today.
Quibbles? Maybe Barack comes across as a little TOO perfect here, but, see point three. She is - they are - obviously still in love. She mentions the little "fist bump" she once gave him during some nationally televised appearance, and I remember it - such an intimate little moment.
And hey, maybe he IS perfect. Sure holding up as pretty well, as a president, in hindsight, and in comparison.
Becoming is divided into three sections:
‘Becoming Me’ – Her youth and her upbringing, her parents striving to give her and her brother the education that would propel them out of the Southside Chicago neighborhood
‘Becoming Us’ – The story of Barack and Michelle, her senior at their law firm to his junior, his eventual entry into politics including state senator, ending at his winning the presidential election. This is the biggest portion as she transitions through multiple cycles, when she finds herself “… becoming a different kind of Mrs. – a Mrs. Defined by the Mr.”
‘Becoming More’ – Her role as the First Lady, or FLoTUS, till their departure from the White House.
Throughout the book, I found effecting insights, especially in the section ‘Becoming More’. I’ve included some in the quotes section below. It’s silly to state the obvious, but I’ll say it anyway. This book won’t turn anyone into her fan, if one had been amongst the mud-slingers. It will affirm positive opinions you may have. She reinforces her stance to NOT run for office in the epilogue of the book. After reading this, everyone will understand why.
I listened to the audiobook for 3/4 of it so I can hear her voice and finished the rest via the physical book to see the photos. I’ll probably still listen to the audiobook for the last portion so I can hear her joy in the triumph of her initiatives and her angst in learning of the pussy-grabbing Cheeto video. Sigh.
It’s not easy to be outside.
“…If anyone in our family wanted to step outside onto the Truman Balcony – the lovely arcing terrace that overlooked the South Lawn, and the only semiprivate outdoor space we had at the White House – we needed to first alert the Secret Service so that they could shut down the section of E Street that was in view of the balcony, clearing out the flocks of tourists who gathered outside the gates there at all hours of the day and night. There were many times when I thought I’d go out to sit on the balcony, but then reconsidered, realizing the hassle I would cause, the vacations I’d be interrupting, all because I thought it would be nice to have a cup of tea outdoors.”
“Everything was big and everything was relevant. I read a set of news clips sent by my staff each morning and knew that Barack would be obliged to absorb and respond to every new development. He’d be blamed for things he couldn’t control, pushed to solve frightening problems in faraway nations, expected to plug a hole at the bottom of the ocean. His job, it seemed, was to take the chaos and metabolize it somehow into calm leadership – every day of the week, every week of the year.”
On then 8-year old Sasha:
“…Walking around her classroom at Sidwell’s parents’ night that fall, I’d come across a short ‘What I Did on My Summer Vacation’ essay she’d authored, hanging alongside those of her classmates on one of the walls. ‘I went to Rome and I met the Pope,’ Sasha had written. ‘He was missing part of his thumb.’
I could not tell you what Pope Benedict XVI’s thumb looks like, whether some part of it isn’t there. But we’d taken an observant, matter-of-fact eight-year-old to Rome, Moscow, and Accra, and this is what she’d brought back. Her view of history was, at that point, waist-high.”
On teenager Malia:
“In general, I understood that it was better for all of us not to acknowledge the hate or dwell on the risk, even when others felt compelled to bring it up. Malia would eventually join the high school tennis team at Sidwell, which practiced on the school courts on Wisconsin Avenue. She was there one day when a woman, the mother of another student, approached her, gesturing at the busy road running past the courts. ‘Aren’t you afraid out here?’ she asked.
My daughter, as she grew, was learning to use her voice, discovering her own ways to reinforce the boundaries she needed. ‘If you’re asking me whether I ponder my death every day,’ she said to the woman, as politely as she could, ‘the answer is no.’”
On the underlying efforts and that helping hand – I know this too well:
“There had been so many times in my life when I’d found myself the only woman of color – or even the only woman, period – sitting at a conference table or attending a board meeting or mingling at one VIP gathering or another. If I was the first at some of these things, I wanted to make sure that in the end I wasn’t the only – that others were coming up behind me… The important parts of my story, I was realizing, lay less in the surface value of my accomplishments and more in what undergirded them – the many small ways I’d been buttressed over the years, and the people who’d helped build my confidence over time. I remembered them all, every person who’d ever waved me forward, doing his or her best to inoculate me against the slights and indignities I was certain to encounter in the places I was headed – all those environments built primarily for and by people who were neither black nor female.”
On Nelson Mandela:
“Mandela had gone to jail for his principles. He’d missed seeing his kids grow up, and then he’d missed seeing many of his grandkids grow up, too. All this without bitterness. All this still believing that the better nature of his country would at some point prevail. He’d worked and waited, tolerant and undiscouraged, to see it happen.”
On Gun Violence (in Chicago) – disheartening:
“At one point, one of the social workers interjected, saying to the group, ‘Eighty degrees and sunny! Everyone in the circle began nodding, ruefully. I wasn’t sure why. ‘Tell Mrs. Obama,’ she said, ‘What goes through your mind when you wake up in the morning and hear the weather forecast is eighty and sunny?’
She clearly knew the answer, but wanted me to hear it.
A day like that, the Harper students all agreed, was no good. When the weather was nice, the gangs got more active and the shooting got worse.”
On Racial Injustice:
“…For more than six years now, Barack and I had lived with an awareness that we ourselves were a provocation. As minorities across the country were gradually beginning to take on more significant roles in politics, business, and entertainment, our family had become the most prominent example. Our presence in the White House had been celebrated by millions of Americans, but it also contributed to a reactionary sense of fear and resentment among others. The hatred was old and deep and as dangerous as ever.”
On Misogyny and the expression ‘Death by a Thousand Cuts’:
“…I’d been mocked and threatened many times now, cut down for being black, female, and vocal. I’d felt the derision directed at my body, the literal space I occupied in the world. I’d watched Donald Trump stalk Hillary Clinton during a debate, following her around as she spoke, standing too close, trying to diminish her presence with his. I can hurt you and get away with it. Women endure entire lifetimes of these indignities – in the form of catcalls, groping, assault, oppression. These things injure us. They sap our strength. Some of the cuts are so small they’re barely visible. Others are huge and gaping, leaving scars that never heal. Either way, they accumulate. We carry them everywhere, to and from school and work, at home while raising our children, at our places of worship, anytime we try to advance.”
“For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end. I became a mother, but I still have a lot to learn from and give to my children. I became a wife, but I continue to adapt to and be humbled by what it means to truly love and make a life with another person. I have become, by certain measures, a person of power, and yet there are moments still when I feel insure or unheard.
It's all a process, steps along a path. Becoming requires equal parts patience and rigor. Becoming is never giving up on the idea that there’s more growing to be done.”
My favorite thing about the book was her descriptions of Barack, and her analysis of them as a couple. The two are so different, but with mutual respect were able to pull it off. Barack being the dreamer, the ambitious one, always running late; Michelle with a more conventional outlook, very focused on achievement and organization. It seems that they rubbed off a little on each other, so that Michelle was able to leave corporate law for public service, which was a much better fit for her; and Barack, obviously, benefited from Michelle's solidness.
Obama is refreshingly candid, especially when sharing her initial feelings about her husband’s political aspirations, and the media backlash during the presidential campaign and their time in the White House. With a few notable yet extremely tactful exceptions, she refrains from negative comment on the opposing party and the current administration. She is consistently purposeful yet human; there were several times I choked up and got teary-eyed. I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of the Obamas, and am confident they will continue having a positive impact on the country, and perhaps beyond.
I liked this book because of its honesty, intelligence, and respect and love for her parents, and older brother, and her humble origins. She shares her personal feelings about many experiences good and bad. She is loyal to her friends and colleagues, optimistic and hopeful, and most importantly a loving, caring daughter, wife, and mother.
Excellent; inspiring and thoughtful.
And this is at the heart of why I enjoyed Michelle Obama's memoir as much as I did. In It she more than just a summary of her life from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as the First Lady of the United States, but an introspective assessment of what it meant to her. It helps that she writes in a clear and eloquent style with touches of inspiration scattered throughout, as it does that she has no detailed political agenda to promote or a governing legacy to defend. Yet even with these factors taken into consideration there is a real power in her writing, thanks to her candidness about the challenges she faced and how she dealt with them. She conveys a great sense of sincerity in its pages, which comes through best in her self-assessments and the love she feels for her husband and her daughters. While the selectiveness is there (she leaves out certain subjects, such as her time in law school), it's subtle enough to be missed in the flow of her narrative. More importantly, though, is that it feels sincere in a way few memoirists, even candid ones, can achieve successfully. It serves as a powerful reminder of the classiness she exhibited as the First Lady and the good fortune we all enjoyed by having her as a part of American public life.
She also talks about being a working mother, being a list-driven, step-by-step sort of person in a chaotic sort of world, and is incredibly honest. As a person who has had a career for a while but has only had a child for two years, I felt like I was getting advice I could really use.
I straight-up love this book. It's great.
It does read like a love letter to her husband, which was sweet.
The scope and pace of the book was the first thing that I noticed. Roughly the first third of the book focuses on Obama's upbringing, and we don't get around to her time at the White House until after the midway point. This gives the book an especially personal tone.
Obama grew up as a lower-middle-class Chicagoan. This being the case, her professional path was "unswerving," to use her terminology. She went to Harvard Law, and went on a partner-track path at a law firm in Chicago. She didn't allow herself to realize she didn't enjoy this work, and never had, until her late twenties, after meeting Barack while he was an intern at her firm.
Given this conservatism, it is understandable the Obama fails to rise to occasion presented by her historic positioning, as the first black First Lady. Although racism (and occasionally sexism) are a backdrop of the text, they never become anything more than that. Despite her speaking to the misogyny and racism of Trump in the end of the book, even this provocation fails to evoke a strong stance.
Having been friends with the daughter of Jesse Jackson, the 1980's black Democratic candidate for President, and having been married by Reverend Jeremiah Wright—both figures aligned with a radical black power platform—it is unfortunate that the Obama's didn't take up their chance to fight for racial equity in the US. One might counter that they didn't have the political collateral for such a move, but neither did Barack's hallmark legislative package—the Affordable Care Act. Obama continues this legacy of striving for social acceptability over justice in her memoir. She would be the first to admit her substantial concern for the opinions of others. The Obama's made the decision to establish themselves as insiders, a place they're more than happy to disdain.
Another thread in the narrative is Obama's disdain for politics, and her emphasis on mothering. At every step of the way, she resisted Barack's ascent. I'm unsure how to interpret these stances. Although I'm understanding of her disdain for the demands of political life, and the fact that she might feel mothering is her most important vocation, maybe Obama regrets her lack of success of the Obama administration, and justifies these regrets with her alibi that she never wanted such a path in the first place.
In conclusion, the book is alright. I would attribute its extreme popularity to the combination of a Trump-induced nostalgia for more neoliberal times, and to the rise of the Me Too movement. It's worth reading at our present moment in the arc of history, but likely won't endure the test of time.
Michelle Obama shares her life, from the love and support of her extensive family on the Southside of Chicago
through her meeting as advisor to Barack Obama, their marriage and the birth of their children and on into
the eight years with The President and her children in The White House.
With deep insight and honesty, she sets forward the good, the bad, the hurt, the joy, the triumphs, and the pain.
It would have been welcome if one of the dogs had been a Rescue, if