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Becoming by Michelle Obama

Updated: Mar 21, 2021

Penguin Random House, 2018



I just finished Obama’s book and was surprised to find it was one of those books which make you feel sad it’s ended. And that in spite of the fact that there were a couple times during the reading I was hoping it would end soon. Sometimes at the beginning I wondered if we needed so much detail on her youth, and then towards the end during the listing of accomplishments in the White House, it felt a bit like self-patting-on-the-back. This is typical in any writing to do with politics, however. (See post on book by French ex-presidential candidate Ségolène Royale, Ce que je peux enfin vous dire.) I remember buying Hillary Clinton’s 2014 Memoir, Hard Choices, and settling down for a nice read, then stopping short after 1 or 2 pages as it was immediately obvious the entire book would include this type of self-promotion and therefore couldn’t really be trusted, even if I still wish she had won in 2016.

But to get back to Obama, the first thing I did was to look at the pictures in the middle of the book. And there I found what I thought would be the most important idea in the book, and after reading it, I feel the same. It’s from a caption next to a picture of Obama and Nelson Mandela : « …real change happens slowly, not just over months and years but over decades and lifetimes. »


Throughout the book, Obama offers us a look into her life, which confirmed for me what she sacrificed and what she did for our country.


The book took on its full life once Barack arrived in her life, including a nice ice creamy first kiss. Full steam ahead with the difficulties in the White House and political life.


Some memorable scenes:

The White House Garden, albeit with no mention of efforts by lobbies to stop or water down her message from "no sugar" to "more exercise";

Her extreme sadness over the Sandy Hook school and other needless killings such as in her beloved South Side Chicago neighborhood;

Sneaking out of the white house in her shorts and flip flops with Malia to see the White House lit up with rainbow colors for the gay pride celebration.


At the end she comes on really strong, letting her truth fly high. Mostly we find a sincere warrior taking advantage of a moment in history to further the cause of equality.


I’d like to go see Obama’s portrait next to her husband’s in the National Portrait Gallery, and to thank Michelle Obama for her service.


Post-its or bent page corners :


On succeeding in spite of criticism:

« …the successful people I know have figured out how to live with it, to lean on the people who believe in them, and to push onward with their goals. »


On learning to live with someone different than you: « There are simply other ways of being »;

On nevertheless still being angered if other ways of being include different ways of defining language, as in when « I’m almost home » actually means « I’ll be leaving in an hour, » while you’re keeping the kids up to say goodnight:

« I didn’t want (the girls) to ever believe that life began when the man of the house arrived home. We didn’t wait for Dad. It was his job now to catch up with us. » (I wish I’d figured this out sooner!);


On the voice of her father, who had MS:

« It bore no trace of pain or self-pity, carrying only good humor and softness and just the tiniest hint of jazz. »


On cheerful changes to the White House décor:

« In the Oval Office, Barack swapped out a bust of Winston Churchill and replaced it with a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. »


On comments from 5th graders helping Michelle plant her White House fruit and vegetable garden :

« Where’s the president ? How come he’s not helping ? »


Referring to the presidential Thanksgiving duty :

« …the most ridiculous ritual of the office – pardoning a live turkey just ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. » (I couldn’t agree more, and am relieved to know I’m not the only one !)


On Barack’s philosophy which Michelle has come to make her own :

« You may live in the world as it is, but you can still work to create the world as it should be. »

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