Last December, I was in a book store in my hometown in Germany when someone was pointing at Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” and asked the cashier if the book is any good. Standing right next to that woman, I confidently chimed in: “oh yeah, it’s latest rage.” My confidence was a bit of a far fetch considering that I had not read the book.
Fast forward half a year to today, I just finished listening to “Becoming.” Over 19 hours of material that I consumed this week (again, at 1.75x speed which brings it down to ~11h of content).
Overall, I thought it was a great read. The book had three larger sections, first her upbringing in Chicago, second her life with Barack, and lastly her life in the White House. For me personally, the second section was the most interesting one. It was nice to hear about her upbringing or hear her perspective on the time she spent in the White House, but learning about Barack Obama through her lens – which was the focus of the second section – I found most interesting.
In her first section, the focus was on her upbringing in the South Side of Chicago. There were valuable lessons about racism, inequality, and a number of other social justice topics. The one quote from the book that stuck with me was that “failure is a feeling long before it becomes an actual result.” She said that in context with the way how many blacks are treated and the language that is often used around them.
The second section, as mentioned, was about how she and Barack met, dated, and ended up getting married. But it also included her perspective on him, his ambitions, his way of thinking and doing, as well as his career progression along the many years they were together. As an Obama fan through and through, I have read a bunch of biographies and memoirs of people who worked with him. But getting to learn about him through his wife was a much deeper and closer point of view.
In her third section she talked about life in the White House. What it was like to move in, and to live a new life under the scrutiny of media. What it was like to raise two daughters in the eye of the public, and how they adjusted to this new life with all of its limitations, responsibilities, and opportunities that came with it. It was a very candid, always appreciative, but at times also lamenting recount of their eight years in the White House.
Throughout the entire book, Michelle Obama also talked a lot about what it’s like to be a woman next to a husband who is very driven, and successfully so – what it all meant for her. Princeton and Harvard educated herself, she often had to put her own ambitions behind Barack’s. Not just as the woman that she was, but also as a mother with all of its responsibilities, many of which Barack couldn’t shoulder given his absence and focus on politics. I think she talked about a lot of the issues women face in today’s society: pursuing one’s own career, trying to be a good mother, or getting one’s husband to be an equitable partner.
What I also appreciated a lot was to read about this all from the perspective of a black woman. She raised a lot of race-related sensitivities in the book that helped me develop my own understanding of race in the US.