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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.
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