By now you’ve heard raves about Michelle Obama’s memoir, and I can echo those. Her book was exactly what I was hoping for: well-written and insightful, it’s not just her story but Barack Obama’s as well. And for those interested in recent history, it’s an important look at where our country is today.
I appreciated that this is her story, and I felt like she was very honest about her own struggles, while also realizing that she’s led an amazing life so far. She’s the picture of strength and confidence, so it’s somewhat gratifying to know that she hasn’t always known what she wanted to do. I was surprised to find that she didn’t love law school, for example, and wasn’t sure it was the right fit for her. She describes herself as a rule-follower, someone who takes the path she’s supposed to. In this we have something in common.
I can admit now that I was driven not just by logic but by some reflexive wish for other people’s approval, too. When I was a kid, I quietly basked in the warmth that floated my way anytime I announced to a teacher, a neighbor, or one of Robbie’s church-choir friends that I wanted to be a pediatrician. My, isn’t that impressive? their expressions would say, and I reveled in it. Years later, it was really no different. Professors, relatives, random people I met, asked what was next for me, and when I mentioned I was bound for law school—Harvard Law School, as it turned out—the affirmation was overwhelming. I was applauded just for getting in, even if the truth was I’d somehow squeaked in off the wait list. But I was in.
Barack Obama’s rise to the Presidency is truly amazing and recounted in detail here. I remember seeing him speak at the Democratic convention – but I also remember that at the time he was someone who hadn’t even held national office yet. Elected to the Senate in 2006, he almost immediately begins running for President. It would seem you need more experience than that – but I remember listening to him and feeling how different he was. And I think Democrats are still looking for the next person that inspires us the way he did.
But listening to Barack, I began to understand that his version of hope reached far beyond mine: It was one thing to get yourself out of a stuck place, I realized. It was another thing entirely to try and get the place itself unstuck.
I appreciated that she explains all the things that are so unique about Barack, and that led him to take the job of President.
I saw in those early months how, just as I’d predicted, politics would be a fight, and the fight would be wearying, involving standoffs and betrayals, dirty-deal makers and compromises that sometimes felt painful. But I saw, too, that Barack’s own forecast had been correct as well. He was strangely suited to the tussle of lawmaking, calm inside the maelstrom, accustomed to being an outsider, taking defeats in his easy Hawaiian stride.
I was really fascinated by their story and Obama does a nice job explaining how it all happened – and what it meant for her. She writes quite a bit about race, both in her upbringing and career experiences, and her experience as the first black First Lady. She also writes about being a wife, and a mother. I’ve always expected that she, as a powerful woman in her own right, must have had a hard time sometimes taking a back seat to Barack.
All this inborn confidence was admirable, of course, but honestly, try living with it. For me, coexisting with Barack’s strong sense of purpose—sleeping in the same bed with it, sitting at the breakfast table with it—was something to which I had to adjust, not because he flaunted it, exactly, but because it was so alive. In the presence of his certainty, his notion that he could make some sort of difference in the world, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit lost by comparison. His sense of purpose seemed like an unwitting challenge to my own.
I’m using a lot of quotes in this review because Obama speaks far more eloquently than I can. I find it a little unfortunate that so much of the press has focused on one sentence in this book, the one about Trump, when there’s so much more here.
I was very happy, in reading this book, to see that Michelle Obama was the person I expected her to be: strong, passionate, committed to helping people, and a powerful role model. And she’s also a human being, with her own insecurities. As someone who married a visionary, she’s had to let him take the lead for a while; I can’t wait to see where she goes from here.
She leaves us with this:
I have become, by certain measures, a person of power, and yet there are moments still when I feel insecure 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.