Michelle Obama's insightful autobiography
An articulate, eloquent, thoughtful autobiography. Michelle Obama shares her story starting with her childhood through the time the Obamas leave the White House. She shares insights into what drives her, her dislike of politics, and the things that matter most to her.
Becoming, Michelle Obama
Published 2018, 421 pages
This is the hardest review I've written - trying to corral my thoughts and put them in a reasonably cogent order is proving difficult. The reason I don't read many biographies or autobiographies is I generally don't like the format of a rigidly structured "when I was 4 this happened, then when I was 7 we lived here, I went to college and met XXX". That becomes tiresome and predictable. While there was certainly a linear path through her life, I found the places where she talked about how she felt - how and why she is compelled to succeed and to reach ever higher/better - to be the best parts of the book.
This is the story of the evolution of a strong woman - surrounded and supported in all ways by her family that helped set her on a path of excellence. Exposing her "faults" of over-achieving, striving for perfection, and an almost compulsive need for order, made her more human in a way. The other part of her life that carried through the book is her devotion to her family - Barack and the girls but also her extended family and team. Truly a woman with a big heart (which we saw over and over during the presidency).
"My goals mostly involved maintaining normalcy and stability, but those would never be Barack's. We'd grown better about recognizing this and letting it be. One yin, one yang. I craved routine and order, and he did not. He could live in the ocean; I needed the boat."
She certainly painted Barack as an exceptionally wonderful, brilliant person. While the book isn't really about him, it's obvious she loves and admires him. For every tiny fault she mentions, she compensates by singing his praises. She describes him many times as a strong, independent thinker, and a driven, compassionate, intelligent person. She clearly is impressed by his thoughtful intelligence as she returns to that characteristic again and again.
"His voice climbed in intensity as he got to the end of his pitch. He wasn't a preacher, but he was definitely preaching something - a vision. He was making a bid for our investment. The choice, as he saw it, was this: you give up or you work for change. 'What's better for us?' Barack called. 'Do we settle for the world as it is, or do we work for the world as it should be?"
She also often contrasted the differences between her and Barack's upbringing, style, and even goals. The compromises she made to help him achieve his dream, the belief she had in him, the way she was able to adapt and put some of her dreams on hold showed just how much she believed in him and what he wanted to accomplish. Their successful blending of their differences and learning to accommodate each other's passions is a testament to a willingness to compromise and put them and their family at the top of their priorities.
"Like any newish couple, we were learning how to fight. We didn't fight often, and when we did, it was typically over petty things . . . And for better or worse, I tend to yell when I'm angry. When something sets me off, the feeling can be intensely physical . . . Barack, meanwhile, tends to remain cool and rational, his words coming in an eloquent (and therefore irritating) cascade. It's taken us time - years - to understand that this is just how each of us is built."
Michelle addresses race all through the book and how she is perceived in relationship to being a smart, strong black woman. As she gets to the part about campaigning for the presidency, she discusses this and how she felt the pressure to be more and better than any other FLOTUS (First Lady of the United States).
"In general, I felt as if I couldn't win, that no amount of faith or hard work would push me past my detractors and their attempts to invalidate me. I was female, black, and strong, which to certain people, maintaining a certain mind-set, translated only to "angry." It was another damaging cliche, one that's been forever used to sweep minority women to the perimeter of every room, an unconscious signal not to listen to what we've got to say."
I imagine the main audience for this book is fans of the Obamas - and rightly so - but politics aside, this is the story of an inspiring woman developing her strengths and striving to find her purpose and be her best self. There's a lot of wisdom and inspiration within these pages!
photo via wikipedia