Book Review: Becoming by Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama’s memoir is a work of introspection and compelling storytelling in which she takes the reader on a journey through her life, from her growing up on the South Side of Chicago to her years as a working mother and executive at the world’s most famous address.

She tells her entire story as she experienced it, in her own words and on her own terms, and she does so with unflinching honesty and lively wit, describing her public and private triumphs and disappointments.

Becoming is the warm, wise, and illuminating personal account of a woman of soul and substance who has defied expectations time and again, and whose story inspires us to do the same.

You may be wondering if you should read the book. This book review will tell you what important lessons you can learn from this book so you can decide if it is worth your time.

At the end of this book review, I’ll also tell you the best way to get rich by reading and writing

Without further ado, let’s get started. 

Lesson 1: Michelle was determined to achieve academic success at school. 

Michelle grew up in a family of high achievers. They worked hard to improve their circumstances and provide more favorable conditions for their children than she did. Michelle’s commitment to academic success can be traced back to her elementary school days. However, it wasn’t always easy to stand out given her circumstances.

When Michelle was in second grade, she was put in a class where the kids were out of control, and the teacher was powerless to stop it. Fortunately, Michelle’s mother had a sympathetic ear when she complained about the class, and she was soon tested and moved to a third grade class with other high-achieving, enthusiastic students.

Michelle often imagines what her life would be like if her mother hadn’t intervened at a critical moment. Because she continued to perform well in school, she was accepted to Whitney M. Young High School, a progressive institution that admitted the city’s top students.

But now that she’d found the right school, she’d to figure out how to fit in. Michelle had never dealt with kids from Chicago’s wealthier North Side before, but during her trip there, she got to know some of these kids and their ski vacation passes. Young people who carried designer handbags and rented luxury apartments.

It was with another student, however, that Michelle came in contact. Michelle was welcomed into the vibrant and exciting Jackson family by Santita Jackson, daughter of the late great politician Jesse Jackson. On one particularly hot day, she joined Santita and other Jesse Jackson supporters in the Bud Billiken Day Parade.

It was here that Michelle got her first taste of the political arena. I won’t sugarcoat it, but it didn’t smell very good. There was neither calm nor stability in the Jackson household, and the staff was constantly rushing in different directions. She knew right away that wasn’t her thing, because she was a polite girl who liked to have a little control over her life.

In high school, Michelle initially felt that she belonged in the class because of her intelligence. Her determination paid off, and she eventually graduated at the top of her class. As a junior, she joined the National Honor Society, was elected class treasurer and was on track to graduate in the top 10 percent of her class. At that point, she felt strong enough to set her sights on Princeton.

Her advisor, however, had doubts about her strategy. She suggested that Michelle mightn’t be “Princeton-like.” However, Michelle had developed to the point where she was sure her advisor was wrong. We’re glad Michelle applied. She kept trying. What’s more, she was eventually accepted.

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Lesson 2: TWC gave Michelle a role model when she was hired as an assistant director.

Michelle chose Princeton in part because her older brother Craig was already studying there and had quickly become a star on the basketball team, to her father’s delight. When Michelle first arrived on the beautiful New Jersey campus, she wasn’t entirely alone. On the other hand, that’s not why the college felt like home. Quite the opposite.

As Michelle moved into her dorm room on her first day at Princeton, she looked out the window and saw other students, mostly white and male, also moving their belongings across campus. Michelle had never before had the experience of being one of a few people of color in an environment. It was true that there were fewer than nine black students in Michelle’s freshman class. She likened it to a single poppy seed in a mountain of rice.

Although she felt out of place at first, she eventually found a group of people at the Third World Center (TWC) on campus who accepted her. Michelle was given a role model when she was hired as an assistant director at TWC.

Michelle’s new supervisor, Czerny Brasuell, was a stunning young African American woman who never settled down. Czerny was energetic, tireless, and a force of nature; she was often seen sprinting from one meeting to the next with a stack of papers under her arm and a cigarette to her lips. And she managed to do all this as a single parent.

The trip to New York City was the first time I saw Czerny’s impressive skills for myself. Michelle was curious and anxious because it was her first time in New York City. The horns sounded. Someone shouted. It was all happening at a rapid pace. Czerny, however, seemed not only unfazed by the chaos around her, but actually elated. She double-parked, dodged cabs and pedestrians, sped in and out of stores, and made it all look easy.

When Czerny needed to run an errand but couldn’t find a parking spot, she let Michelle take the wheel and drive around the block twice. It took Michelle a moment to recover from her initial shock. The look on Czerny’s face prompted her to quickly take the wheel. Czerny’s face said, “Get over it and just live a little,” and she did.

Michelle majored in sociology at Princeton, and after graduation she planned to apply to Harvard Law School. The lessons she learned from Czerny, however, were invaluable. Michelle always wanted to be a working mother, and in Czerny she saw a role model for how to do so with dignity and poise.

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Lesson 3: Before she saw Barack Obama as her husband-to-be, Michelle carefully observed him.

After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1988, Michelle returned to Chicago and joined the prestigious firm of Sidley & Austin. Her duties included mentoring promising law students and laying the groundwork for them to join the firm upon graduation. It was in this context that Michelle met a young hotshot named Barack Obama.

Michelle was skeptical of the stories she had heard about this handsome young man before she met him. His Harvard teachers called him the most talented student they had ever taught. Michelle noted that white professors often doted on any moderately intelligent black man in a suit. Even worse, he had the gall to be late for her first advising interview. And to make matters worse, he was a smoker.

When Barack finally showed up, everyone could immediately tell he was one of a kind. He had taken a few years off before going to Harvard Law, so he was a few years older than she was. He exuded confidence and independence. Everyone at the firm was eager to hear his opinion on their current projects.

And yet he and Michelle were like-minded, and a good relationship quickly developed between them. He was familiar with Chicago’s South Side neighborhoods, having worked there as an organizer.

And handsome he was, too. Still, Michelle did not immediately think they were a romantic match. As time passed and their meetings went well, she finally agreed to go out with him, even though he smoked.

On the first date, she was a little reluctant. After all, she had spent most of her life following a strict plan and moving from one professional goal to the next. Only recently had Michelle begun to question whether or not she really wanted this life. Michelle, unsure of the direction her life should take, perceived Barack’s confidence and easy-going nature as a threat. Gradually, however, her defenses began to melt away.

Barack’s views differed from those of her usual circle of friends. He was not just a bookworm with an interest in urban housing policy. To make matters worse, he had no interest in material wealth. His drive to make a difference was much stronger than his desire to accumulate wealth. For the first time, Michelle thought seriously about her future profession.

Michelle felt herself matching Barack’s pace after they both attended a colleague’s barbecue and watched him play basketball. You could say Barack exuded a relaxed island vibe. After eating ice cream that day, the two finally kissed for the first time. Suddenly, she had full confidence in her future husband.

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Lesson 4: It’s not easy to carry on after the death of a loved one.

Since Barack had to finish his studies at Harvard, what should have been an exciting time of new love was more a time of frustration. After all, he was appointed the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review, the college’s prestigious journal.

Michelle received some troubling news as the new couple tried to make the best of their long-distance relationship. Her father was hospitalized.

Michelle knew he had multiple sclerosis, but the pain he was in just getting to his feet had become too much. Michelle visited the hospital for a few weeks to see how her father’s condition was deteriorating. This strong, unbreakable figure in her life was only 55 years old, but he suddenly seemed frail.

Even though he could not say anything, his eyes and the way he kissed the back of Michelle’s hand said it all. He kissed her and said goodbye.

It’s hard to move on after the death of a loved one, but things got better in 1991. Barack had returned to Chicago, and the two were finally able to enjoy the pleasures of living together. Although he had numerous job offers, Barack remained as considerate and attentive as ever. He was always more interested in helping a friend organize a workshop in the community than in taking a well-paying job at a law firm.

Meanwhile, Michelle was considering a major career change. It was now abundantly clear that she wanted to help people one-on-one rather than analyze corporate contracts. Fortunately, in 1991, she met another influential person in her life: Valerie Jarrett.

Like Michelle, Valerie was a lawyer who gave up a well-paying job to pursue her desire to help people. The two became fast friends, and Valerie helped Michelle get a job as an assistant to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley Jr. However, this was only the beginning of a lifelong friendship, with Valerie remaining a valuable friend and advisor to the family.

Speaking of family, Michelle and Barack were married in October 1992, with little time for a honeymoon. That November was a crucial election year, and Barack was included in the VOTE! project to help black communities register to vote. Barack worked tirelessly and registered 7,000 people in a single week.

After a few years at City Hall, Michelle became the executive director of a nonprofit organization called Public Allies, which sought to match promising young people with mentors in the public sector. Michelle was passionate about the organization’s goals and found the work to be very meaningful, having experienced firsthand how meeting the right person could have a life-changing impact.

About The Author

Michelle Obama is a lawyer and writer and was the First Lady of the United States from 2009 to 2017. She is the wife of the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama. As First Lady, Michelle focused her attention on social issues such as poverty, healthy living, and education.

In her 2018 memoir, Becoming, she describes the experiences that shaped her – from her childhood in Chicago to her years in the White House.

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