Review: Becoming by Michelle Obama

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.

17 Responses to “Review: Becoming by Michelle Obama”

  1. Michael

    I’m hoping to read this sometime next month—every review I’ve encountered has been so positive. You do a great job of capturing the different facets of the memoir!

    Reply
  2. whatsnonfiction

    Beautiful review. I learned so much about her from this book and was so delighted that she shared so much, so personally. And: “I’m using a lot of quotes in this review because Obama speaks far more eloquently than I can.” <– I had to do exactly the same. She was so eloquent in her storytelling and in the gentle way she imparted the lessons she'd learned. I admired her even more deeply having gotten this glimpse into her life.

    Reply
    • curlygeek04

      Thanks! Sometimes with memoirs I feel like the writer is bragging a lot, but she’s so down to earth. “Gentle” is a great way to describe her writing.

      Reply
  3. Lola

    I would love to read this book at some point! I think she comes across as an amazing person and a great rolemodel for all women.

    Reply
    • curlygeek04

      I agree, I think she’ll be an amazing role model for so many young people! It sounds like she interacted with a ton of children while in the White House, and still does.

      Reply
  4. BookerTalk

    I’ve wanted to read this ever since I heard she was writing her memoirs. Being a first lady is a tough job for any woman, the eyes of the world are on you and constantly analysing what you are wearing, etc. For someone with her brains, to have to stay quiet on many issues must have been even harder. I have a strong feeling it is coming my way on Dec 25th via a certain person who wears a red suit…..

    Reply
    • curlygeek04

      I hope you get the book and I hope you love it! Being first lady has to be really difficult. One part of the book I found really interesting was her struggle to give campaign speeches during the first presidential race. She’s such an amazing speaker now, but she describes really having to work at it. And she had to get used to being torn apart by the right.

      Reply
      • BookerTalk

        I’d never have guessed she struggled to make speeches. the current FL could learn a thing or two from her predecessor

      • naturephotography433

        I was hoping we could all be nice and not bash anyone, including the current First Lady. What, pray tell, could Melania learn from Michelle?

      • curlygeek04

        I think we can all learn a lot from Michelle, particularly her grace while under extreme criticism, and her desire to make the most of her position as first lady.

      • BookerTalk

        I think its the ability to connect with people. Melania comes across as being a bit aloof where Michelle has the ability to make people feel easy in her company. I didnt make my comment to try and negate Melania completely. I have a feeling she is being unfairly portrayed as a clothes horse by some aspects of the media

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