Life gets busy. Has Becoming been gathering dust on your bookshelf? Instead, pick up the key ideas now.
Here are the key insights and the book review of Becoming:
About Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama is an American lawyer and author. Raised in Chicago, Michelle is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School. After working for multiple law firms and non-profits, Michelle’s most influential role was as the US’s First Lady from 2009 to 2017. During her time in the White House, she served as an advocate for poverty awareness, education, nutrition, physical activity, and healthy eating.
Becoming is the memoir of Michelle Obama, former US First Lady. The book was published in 2018. It delves deep into her upbringing and its impact on her future life. The book explains how Michelle found her voice. Becoming gives its readers an insight into The White House and what it was like running a highly impactful public health campaign while being a mother. Covering a diversity of Michelle Obama’s experiences, Michelle described authoring this book as a “deeply personal experience.”
A highly influential book, Becoming sold more copies than any other book in the US in 2018. More remarkably, Becoming was only released 15 days before the end of 2018. It sold more books in that short space of time than any other 2018 book had in the entirety of that year. The book is broken down into 24 chapters but is ultimately separated into three sections. The first section is titled Becoming Me and focuses on Michelle’s early life. Becoming Us delves into her education, meeting Barack Obama, and the beginning of Barack’s political career. Finally, Becoming More concludes with thoughts on Barack’s presidency, Michelle’s Let’s Move campaign, and her role as “head mom in chief.” So, this book summary will also be broken down into these three sections. Each section will be filled with the most impactful experiences, thoughts, and conclusions formed by Michelle Obama.
StoryShot #1: Michelle’s Early Years in Chicago
Michelle Robinson was born in 1968 in Chicago’s South Side. She was brought up in a brick bungalow belonging to her mother’s aunt. Michelle recalls the national riots in response to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. She barely understood what was going on in her neighborhood at the time. She was so young.
Her family was hugely important to Michelle Obama when she was growing up in Chicago. Her mother taught her how to read from a very young age. She would accompany Michelle to the public library while her father worked as a city laborer. Her father made sure that she and her brother were exposed to art and jazz. This exposure to music encouraged Michelle to learn the piano at the age of four.
Music ran in the family for Michelle, so she had always found it easy to play the piano. Her great aunt, Robbie, taught her. This period was one of the earliest examples of Michelle’s strong-minded nature. Her and Robbie often clashed during lessons. She even thought about becoming a musician one day, but eventually decided to pursue lawyerly opportunities. In the book, Michelle describes a memory of how accustomed she had grown to her great aunt’s piano. She had perfectly practiced a song she was set to perform at Roosevelt University. But her great aunt’s piano’s unique aspect is its middle C having a chip in it. When on stage, a young Michelle froze as she could not find middle C on this new piano. Her great aunt then came on stage and pointed it out. Michelle then performed her song as she had initially hoped. This is just one snapshot of how close Michelle was with her family.
StoryShot #2: Chicago’s Racial Transition
One of the remarkable features of Michelle’s upbringing is her area was 96% white in 1950 and then 96% black by 1981. She grew up in the middle of this transition. So, she was surrounded by a mixture of black and white families. But more and more families decided to move away to the suburbs. This movement meant less funding, and the area was deemed a “ghetto.” Michelle and her family still regarded this area as their home.
StoryShot #3: Michelle’s Schooling
Michelle’s mother was a highly influential woman in the local community. She was also highly influential in Michelle’s education as she grew up. In the second grade, Michelle told her mother that she hated her class as it was full of chaotic children. The teachers could not get the class under control, and Michelle was missing opportunities to learn. Michelle’s mother also made sure the school tested her abilities. Michelle was moved up to a class with other high-performing children who wanted to learn. This decision is potentially the most crucial in how her life turned out. She had been put on the right track to excel in school.
Her top performances in school led her to attend Whitney M. Young High School in Chicago. A Magnet School, the teachers were progressive, and her fellow students were all high performing children. Michelle showed a significant commitment to attend this school. It took her two buses and 90 minutes to get to school each day. Some of her fellow students lived in high-rise apartments right by the school and would wear designer purses. Michelle explains in the book how everything appeared so effortless to them. Despite doubting whether she fitted in, she put her head down and received excellent grades.
StoryShot #4: Princeton University and Finding a Great Mentor
During her time at school, Michelle excelled academically but also involved herself in the school’s societies. She was the elected class treasurer. Michelle was also in the National Honor Society, and she was on track to finish in the top 10% of her class. Despite this, her college counselor told her that she might not be “Princeton material.” Beforehand, she had been excited by the prospect of Princeton. Her brother, Craig, had attended Princeton, and she thought she might join him there. This counselor could have crushed her confidence. Instead, they irritated her and made her want to apply for Princeton even more. She did, and she got in.
Upon arriving at Princeton, Michelle recalls the experience of being one of the few non-white people. This was uncomfortable. For example, less than 9% of students in her freshman class were black. Despite this, she enjoyed her time at Princeton. She found a welcoming community and a fantastic mentor.
While at Princeton, Michelle’s mentor was one of the Third World Centre leaders. This center has since been renamed the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding. Her name was Czerny Brasuell, an energetic New Yorker who was a strong black woman and a working mom. During her time at Princeton, Michelle became both Czerny’s assistant and her protégé. Czerny even encouraged Michelle to start running an after school program for the children of black faculty and staff members. Her future was influenced by Czerny, who inspired her to become a working mom in the future.
After majoring in sociology, Michelle started to consider Harvard Law School.
StoryShot #5: Getting Into Harvard Law School and Meeting Barack Obama
Michelle did decide to pursue Harvard Law School and subsequently took her LSAT test. She admits she never stopped and thought about what she would like to be doing. Michelle went straight from Princeton to Harvard Law School. She enjoyed her time at Harvard Law School, but it is the period after this that shaped her life.
After graduating from Harvard in 1988, Michelle moved back to Chicago to work for a law firm called Sidley & Austin. Here she met a young law student named Barack Obama. He immediately exuded confidence and self-reliance. Unlike Michelle, he had taken a couple of years between Columbia and Harvard Law School to decide what he wanted to be.
Michelle had heard of Barack before having even met him. He made a fantastic impression on everybody he talked to. Also, the professors at Harvard had been calling him the most gifted student they had ever seen. At the time, Michelle remained skeptical about this man, Barack. From her experience, professors seemed to “go bonkers” over any half-smart black man in a nice suit.
Michelle finally met Barack. Her role at Sidley & Austin was to meet promising law students and encourage them to join the firm when they graduated. When meeting Barack, she realized she didn’t have much advice to give him. Having taken time out, Barack was more experienced and mature than students Michelle usually advised. She recalls people at the firm asking Barack for advice on matters.
Her friends were hugely impressed when they met him. They encouraged her to overlook Barack’s smoking and go on a date with him. After their first kiss, any doubts about her future husband vanished.
StoryShot #6: Michelle and Barack’s Marriage and the Development of Their Careers
Michelle and Barack’s relationship developed rapidly. Michelle’s brother was highly complimentary of Barack, especially as Barack was a decent basketball player. Michelle’s brother was a college basketball player and subsequently a basketball coach. Craig, Michelle’s brother, was a massive influence on her. His affirmation helped the relationship continue to flourish.
Barack became the first black editor for the Harvard Law Review, which meant they had to live apart for a while. Barack was then able to move to Chicago to live with Michelle. Throughout their early years in Chicago, Barack was offered many jobs. But he remained thoughtful and considerate, instead choosing community workshops over high-paid law firms. During this time, Michelle was thinking about moving away from her work at Sidley & Austin towards something that was face-to-face. She didn’t want to work on behalf of corporations anymore; she wanted to help people.
In 1991, Michelle met Valerie Jarrett, somebody who helped her transition her career. Valerie would ultimately become a lifelong friend of Michelle. Valerie had also been an unsatisfied lawyer and wanted to work with and help people. She had been working for the mayor’s office. Valerie used this opportunity to help Michelle get a job as assistant to the then-current mayor, Richard Daley, Jr.
In October 1992, Michelle and Barack were married. The following year, Michelle worked on an initiative called Public Allies and used this experience to obtain a role working at City Hall. Then, a few years later, the job of Executive Director for a non-profit organization emerged. This organization connected promising young people with mentors who worked in the public sector. This was a fitting job for Michelle, as she felt civic-minded mentors had heavily influenced her.
StoryShot #7: Michelle Wasn’t Initially Keen on Barack’s Political Pursuits
Michelle understood that Barack could win people over. She recalls him speaking in a church basement to a small audience of women concerned about their community. Barack encourages them to use political engagement through voting or reaching out to local representatives. By the end, the women were shouting, “Amen!” Michelle wasn’t the only one to notice his political potential, though. The Chicago Magazine noted Barack’s fantastic work on the Project VOTE! Campaign and suggested he should run for office. Not fussed by this at the time, Barack instead wanted to write a book entitled Dreams From My Father. This book was published in 1995 to decent reviews but insignificant sales. It was based on Barack’s unusual life story of being brought up between Indonesia and Hawaii.
In 1995, Barack was teaching a class on racism and law at the University of Chicago. This year he was also approached about starting a career in politics. A new seat was about to open up in Michelle and Barack’s local area. Michelle was not excited by this prospect. She believed Barack could have more of an impact working for a non-profit than in the state Senate. Barack listened to these ideas but decided to run with it. Barack believed he could have a positive impact on politics.
StoryShot #8: With Politics Came Personal Political Attacks
As Barack’s political career developed, personal attacks were inevitable. That said, Barack and Michelle differed in their ability to deal with these attacks. Barack had a remarkable ability just to let them go. Michelle struggled. She has a self-described need to be liked and could not merely shrug off hurtful comments in the same way that Barack could.
One example of this is when Barack was running to be the candidate for a seat in the US Congress’ House of Representatives. Michelle and Barack now had a child, Malia. Malia was especially precious as the couple had struggled to conceive and had to use in vitro fertilization. The personal attacks were tied to an event when Malia got a severe ear infection while the family was on holiday. Simultaneously, the Illinois Senate announced an emergency vote on a prominent gun control bill. Barack had fought hard to pass this bill, and it was the subject of enormous debate. But Barack could not vote as he stuck by his family to help Michelle care for Malia.
The attacks followed this decision, though. A local paper called anyone who had missed this vote “gutless sheep.” The opposition democrat accused Obama of “using his child as an excuse not to go to work.” Barack lost the primary but continued to serve in the state senate. Subsequently, their second child, another girl, Sasha, was born.
StoryShot #9: Michelle Was Also Skeptical About Barack’s Senate and Presidential Bids, but Then Things Changed
Michelle was already skeptical about Barack’s political career, which meant he missed lots of family time. She was even more skeptical about the prospect of Barack running for the US Senate. Michelle only allowed him to run because she secretly doubted he was going to win it. This doubt wasn’t because she doubted his ability, but because he had recently lost a congressional primary. Michelle made Barack promise that if he lost his race for the US Senate, he must give up on politics. He should find another way to impact the world positively.
Luckily for Barack, the Republican opponent dropped out of the race. In the same year, 2004, the Democratic presidential candidate asked Barack to deliver a keynote speech. His speech was highly impactful. Beforehand, not many people had heard of him. Afterward, an NBC commentator, among others, were saying they had “just seen the first black President.”
In the next election, Barack did run for President. This era marked a change in heart for Michelle. Her previous skepticism was changed when she saw 15,000 people show up to the announcement event on a bitterly cold day in Illinois. She knew she had to show up for these people and support her husband, who, to them, was a beacon of hope.
StoryShot #10: White House Security
Michelle explains how Barack becoming president made simple tasks more complicated. This included their security. Barack Obama received a Secret Service security detail earlier than any other candidate in history. There had been serious threats made against him and the family.
As always, security levels were high in the White House. Barack and Michelle were willing to accept insufficient privacy and autonomy in their lives for the good they were doing. Despite this, they did not want the same for their children. So, they tried to make things as normal as possible for the girls. They found them a lovely school and ensured that Malia and Sasha knew that it was their home despite the White House’s monumental size. Michelle frequently told them it was okay for them to run around and play in the hallways. It was also okay for them to rummage in the pantry for snacks.
StoryShot #11: Raising Children in The White House
Michelle also wanted Sasha and Malia to develop healthy friendships. She prioritized a reliable system being set up to allow friends to visit The White House. In The White House, all visitors had to have their Social Security numbers run by the authorities before entering. This meant friends could come over, but they couldn’t do anything spontaneously. For example, they couldn’t just pop to the local ice cream shop. Sasha and Malia took to life in the White House, though. Michelle recalled how relieved she was to see the two of them borrowing a tray from the kitchen. They used this tray to slide down a snow-covered slope on the South Lawn. This is the normality she was hoping for her children.
Not to mention, family meals were now a staple of life as there was no longer a commute for Barack.
StoryShot #12: Michelle Used This Time to Continue to Make a Difference
As she had done throughout her life, Michelle utilized her circumstances to try to make a difference. Hillary Clinton had given her advice about the potential pitfalls of being too involved in the administration’s agenda. Hillary had her legal background. She found that using this experience to set policies didn’t go well when these issues aligned with the administration.
So, Michelle aimed to seek out her own endeavors. Firstly, she started a garden in the White House. This made the White House more like home. But the most important part of this garden was the healthy fruits and vegetables. Healthy food was at the heart of her most significant accomplishment while First Lady. This was her Let’s Move! Initiative. The initiative was created to tackle childhood obesity, which had tripled over the 30 years prior.
The Let’s Move! campaign involved four steps:
- Parents were given information on healthy dietary options.
- The food at school was made healthier.
- Healthy foods were brought to the many rural and urban areas that lacked fresh fruit and produce.
- The initiative aimed to get kids more active, burning calories daily.
The campaign was successful from the start. After ten weeks, 90 pounds of produce had been harvested at the White House. This produce was used in daily meals at the White House. School lunches cut down on their use of salt and sugar. At the same time, the American Beverage Association committed to creating more transparent ingredient labels. Finally, major television stations agreed to air public service announcements on the initiative during children’s programming. Michelle had made such a huge difference in such a short space of time.
StoryShot #13: A Traumatic Attack on The White House
Michelle explains in her book how Barack’s second term was much easier. The family had better adjusted to the protocols, and the White House seemed more like home. This did not mean the security threats had gone, though. Michelle recalls the winter of 2011 when a gunman opened fire on the White House with a semiautomatic rifle. This horrific event offered a reminder of the precariousness of being in the White House and the safety precautions made. In the months before repairs could be made, there was a sizable dent in the room’s bullet-proof window where Michelle often sat to read. It served as a reminder of why all the protocols and security procedures existed.
StoryShot #14: Michelle Is Proud of Her Achievements
Michelle concludes the book by stating that she is proud of what she could accomplish as First Lady. Throughout her time in the White House, she continued to ask herself whether she was good enough. She now believed she was. The Let’s Move! program brought healthier school lunches to 45 million kids. Her Joining Forces initiative also helped 1.5 million veterans and their spouses get jobs. Meanwhile, her Let Girls Learn initiative raised billions of dollars to help girls worldwide gain access to schools. This education encouraged female empowerment.
The proudest moments of her and her husband’s time in office, though, are bringing up her two daughters. Malia and Sasha have both since graduated from school. Barack and Michelle decided to stay living in Washington after leaving Office. They did so to allow their daughters to graduate with the friends they had made over the past eight years.
Final StoryShots Review and Analysis
Becoming is an exploration into the life of Michelle Obama. It starts with her childhood and ends with her legacy as First Lady. This book offers a unique insight into how Michelle Obama met Barack, but also an insight into the joy and hardship associated with being a presidential family.
We rate this book 4.5/5 and highly recommend it.
PDF, Free Audiobook, and Animation
Did you love the lessons you learned here? Comment below or share to show you care.
New to StoryShots? Get the PDF, free audio and animated versions of this analysis and summary of Becoming and hundreds of other bestselling nonfiction books in our free top-ranking app. It’s been featured by Apple, Google, The Guardian, and The UN as one of the world’s best reading and learning apps.
Related Free Book Summaries
A Promised Land by Barack Obama
Caste by Isabel Wilkerson