"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.
reader: the author
format: 19:03 audible audiobook (normally ~529 pages equivalent, but 426 pages in hardcover. I guess she reads slow.)
listened: Dec 7 – Jan 15
It's a little difficult for me to see under the impact this book had on me and into the book itself. Listening to Michelle Obama during my commutes to and from work everyday around the holidays put a spell on my mental state. The moving stories of her life and her husband's, and the sincerity and, so valuable today, the reasonableness, left a kind of force field of hope and optimism for the world hovering around me. The government shutdown and its self-destructive minions faded into a temporary crime that should pass, because out there there are many people like this, dedicated, genuinely good and motivated to make the world a better place. They just need their window and our support. It was a nice drug, and I'm giving her five stars for it. This book is cathartic.
Underneath that spell is the story of child brought up by dedicated working-class Chicago parents, who learned to always try to be good, to earn her gold star of approval, through Princeton and Harvard Law and corporate law, and, unknown to me, to walking out of corporate law to work through a variety of jobs that were more fulfilling to her and more rewarding to her community. The truth is I knew very little about the first lady other than that everyone seemed to like her and she seemed to only accumulate good news. I didn't know what was behind all that, and went into it. I didn't know she was so adverse to politics. Or so likable and admirable up close.
I did, of course, know about all the criticism and negative spin from Fox and that part of the population that never even tried to find something to like in what was one of the most likable first ladies ever. She mentions about Barack how black Americans had learned you have to be twice as good to get half as far. It's something that stood out to me here, seeing up close how Barack was really ten times as principled as any other president since at least the Civil War, and yet has generated a population a devout haters. We are living an American tragedy where the victim is the accuser. As I've learned James Baldwin said, it's white America that has a racism problem and in the response to this couple it's painfully evident.
I didn't mean to end on such a sour note. And I've thought about deleting that last paragraph. But, it is our reality.
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.
- 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.
It does read like a love letter to her husband, which was sweet.
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.
I loved reading about her early childhood and seeing a more in depth look at her life before Obama. I have always thought she was smart and poised, and it appears shes a great writer too. She told her story much in the same way she has lived her public life; beautifully. She did not shy away from being honest when needed, and did not try and downplay her successes and talents.
The only thing that kept from giving the memoir 5 stars was the lack of depth that were written about her more current years and the presidency. For the most part it felt more biography then memoir. This happened, then this happened, and this is how I felt about it.
She didn't really let down the walls or write anything that might make her appear vulnerable. There were no, oh my God I never would have known, moments. For that, the narrative dragged at times. I was hoping for a little more. More of her! I wanted to know more about how she truly felt about people, and would have loved the book to focus more on her thoughts, emotions and insight instead of her day to day this is what I did telling.
Overall, however, i think the book only reinforces how amazing a woman she is and how lucky we were to have such a dignified and wonderful first lady.
It feels even more sad now, with the current climate after finishing this knowing that the Obama's are no longer there, working towards something good.
I hope there is so much more of Michelle to come. I hope she and her husband continue to do their part in progressing the country. I've always been a huge fan of hers and always admired her. Her memoir only helps reinforce that!
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.
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.”
The courtship of their endearing relationship and dedication to maintaining it, along with the parenting of their daughters is inspiring to the utmost level. The unending desire to help, to remedy, to fight for a broader good, from them both, is so incredible in a me-me-me society. The divulging of intimate events in their lives is more than expected and welcome in times of dishonest secrecy.
I was amazed at all that went on in the White House and how restrictive their roles were. I was also shocked that things like their food, clothing, even toilet paper were bought with their own money. Making humor out of constant attention from everyone and the ever-present secret service must have been daunting. How the couldn't even enjoy a single dinner out without disrupting an entire city.
There is just so much to this book that gives us a broader respect and admiration for this bigger than life couple. Oh how I miss them representing our country.
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.
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.
The position of FLOTUS is a difficult one to fulfill as there is no job description that comes with this title, no salary, no official guidelines. A president's wife is expected NOT to meddle in policy making and in fact to stay out of politics altogether. But Michelle had no intention of simply being a smiling presence on a stage behind her husband. Educated at Princeton and Harvard, having worked as a corporate lawyer and then moving on to high level positions in government and non profit organizations, specifically to enable mentoring and helping young people from less advantaged background to fulfill their potential, she wanted to continue helping young people and children from the White House too. She talks about her programs to help combat the obesity crisis, which involved reaching out to major corporations so they would reduce fat, salt and sugar contents, to deliver healthier school lunch options, to get major food outlet Walmart to lower produce prices and about creating a vegetable garden at the White House itself, which other than being a great source for photo ops for the media and showing Michelle in casual wear surrounded by children, also produced vast amounts of produce they could donate to a homeless shelter.
She also used her visibility and the constant demand for her to be a speaker to go to schools in underprivileged neighbourhoods to tell her own story and encourage children to give their all, because she said, as a child she had been given so much encouragement from her own mother and family and teachers, which made all the difference in her own success in her studies, because growing up the Southside of Chicago might have led her down a very different path but for all the positive feedback she was given. She knew children of all colours in multicultural neighbourhoods would feel special being given a pep talk (and often a big hug) by someone they admired such as herself, being the first black First Lady, who had started from humble origins just like they did. The recurring theme in the book was that of family, of their family, and of the importance of children and of giving them hope and tools for the future, and it was clear that these were things that were close to Michelle's heart and of deepest importance to her. Fun anecdotes abounded, a couple about meeting Queen Elizabeth, about intimate moments with Barack, many about interactions with their security detail and the difficult and sometimes nearly impossible task of trying to have a "normal" life while being the First Family living in the White House. She spoke candidly about how she felt about campaigning for her husband and of politics in general, one thing that emerged was that she loved interacting with people but was deeply hurt by the negative bias the Republicans and the media deliberately put forward to the public. Her message may be "When they go low, we go high" which doesn't prevent her from having feelings, just like anybody else and she got more than her fair share of abuse and unfair criticism.
I found this to be a bittersweet book. Michelle shares how she feels about the results of the 2016 elections, and reading it now in 2019, while that great hateful misogynistic autocratic racist divisive selfish childish reality show host abuses power on a daily basis and is intent on further diminishing the quality of life for the masses to build a monument to his boundless ego has a surreal effect—that the Obamas, people with such impeccable personal ethics and high moral standards and dedication for public service could be followed by such a shameful and cruel act is...
I want to keep believing in humanity too, though have been finding this difficult in the last few years. It pains me daily to think how some of the same people who voted for Obama were then able to turn around and vote for that poor excuse for a human being who makes bullying a raison d’être. Simply put, America went from a soulfull to a souless leader. That Michelle is still able to deliver a message of hope and persistence despite this cruel setback which affects the world on a global scale gives us all something to hold on to. Michelle gives credence to the saying that behind every great man is a great woman, and hearing her story reinforced my belief in this family as truly decent human beings. It makes me feel we are all blessed to have the Obamas, whether they be in the White House or not. They remind us there is decency in this world, that there will always be soulful people working towards the greater good.
People who enjoy autobiographies that don’t feel overly edited or ghost written.
In a nutshell:
Former (sob) First Lady Michelle Obama tells her story, from early childhood through her departure from the White House.
“This may be the fundamental problem with caring a lot about what others think: It can put you on the established path — the my-isn’t-that-impressive path — and keep you there for a long time.”
“…because having been brought up in a family where everyone always showed up, I could be extra let down when someone didn’t show.”
“As the only African American First Lady to set foot in the White House I was ‘other’ almost by default. If there was a presumed grace assigned to my white predecessors, I knew it wasn’t likely to be the same for me.”
Why I chose it:
I mean, duh. It’s Michelle Obama. How could I not?
I love the fact that Obama doesn’t become First Lady of the U.S. until page 282 in a 426 page book. She was only First Lady for eight years, but I can see a lesser publishing house or editor wanting to really focus on those eight years. In fact, given what was kept in and what was left out, I can see that this could EASILY have been a two-book volume. Instead, it is a true auto-biography that gives us real insight into who Michelle Robinson is, and how her life became entwined with our 44th President.
Obama is a great writer. I found her stories evocative, and interesting. I could picture the apartment she grew up in, her law office, her family. And while fairly early on her future husband enters the picture, the focus is still on her and how she experienced all these adventures. He’s almost a minor character; I feel like I get more of a sense of her children than her husband. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing — he tells his story, and has told his story, many times. This is about HER and how she felt about the things she has experienced as a Black woman filling a role that no Black woman has filled before.
It was hard to read again about some of the political things — reading asshole Mitch McConnell’s offensive and frankly anti-American comments, and being reminded of how aggressively Republicans fought to harm so many people in the US by blocking any sort of progress, just pissed me off even more than my regularly daily pissed-offedness thanks to the current President. But it was fascinating to learn a bit more about how the White House works, and how their family adjusted to that life.
I found myself relating to her in some ways - she is a planner, and super organized, and had a good home life growing up. I related hard to the quote I included up top, about staying on a path because one is worried about what other’s might think. I spent most of my youth through the end of college thinking I was going to be a lawyer, and it wasn’t until the summer before I was supposed to enroll at UCLA Law that I got the courage to tell my folks I didn’t want to do that. I had to figure everything out from scratch, and it terrified me. And I did another form of that again a year ago, when I moved overseas and left my career behind. For some of us its hard to not care what other people think, and it was refreshing to see someone be so honest about that.
There were definitely quite a few things that were either edited out or just never written. There is virtually nothing in there about her time in law school, which I found odd. But there is a lot about her time in college, so perhaps the two experiences weren’t different enough to be considered compelling reading? There is also not a ton in the White House, nor a lot about the second Presidential campaign. It’s a good read, but some of it does feel a bit ‘wait, you’re not even going to mention that?’, which is what kept me from giving it the full five stars.
I started this book in January and found myself only reading it in spurts, primarily because I tend to read on the go, and this book is HUGE. It was just too heavy to cart back and forth. But I sucked it up and read the back half in two days. So it’s not a slow read, or a dense read, but it’s not a book you can stick in a small purse and bring with you on the bus.
Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it: Keep it AND Pass to a Friend
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.