Reviewed in the United States on December 13, 2018
Just to be up front, I voted for Barack in both 2008 and 2012, I’m male, not white, a naturally born citizen who generally vote Democrat. Since this book was written by a somewhat polarizing person I thought being upfront on who I am made sense in todays world of identity politics. Also, I borrowed my friends EPUB and read it on his computer which is why it doesn’t say “verified purchaser” next to my name and the references I have below is from that EPUB. Oh, obviously I wanted to review the english version of this book but Amazon won't let me review it for some weird reason so I had to review this one.
I generally respect Michelle Obama and her accomplishments but there are a few things that bother me about her and this book.
One, I got the vibe that she has some resentment towards white people, particularly white men. Sometimes she brings up race in a context that makes sense like when she is talking about how one issue effects black people more than white people or talking about history. Other times she’ll mention someone is white for no reason at all. Here are a few examples:
- Pg.1, paragraph 7.2 of the preface “working-class black student in a fancy mostly white college”
- Pg. 17, chapter 2 “I liked my teacher, a diminutive white lady”. Why does her being white matter?
- Pg. 20, chapter 2, “My friends included a girl named Rachel, whose mother was white and had a British accent”. Why did she only describe that friend with a white mother and not the race of the rest?
- Pg.44, chapter 4, “Mr. Martinez and then Mr. Bennet, both gentle and good-humored African American men.” Ok, did it matter that were black in this context?
- Pg. 71, “mostly white students” Context? History? Why did this matter?
- Pg. 74, “one of the few nonwhite”
- Pg. 74, “my two white roommates in Pyne Hall were both perfectly nice…” Again, who cares if they were white?
- Pg. 75, “Cznery was a smart and beautiful black woman”. Why not just say beautiful? Why does black matter? It didn’t matter in her description in any historic or meaningful way.
- Pg. 120, “Now that I was at Sidley and on the other side of the recruiting experience, my goal was to bring in law students who were not just smart and hard-driving but also something other than male and white.” I get it, you want to make the place more diverse. Sure. But the way she said “other than make and white” got a lot under my skin (remember I’m not white).
- Pg. 148, “He was a black, brainy superhero. He clashed regularly and fearlessly with the mostly white old-guard members of the city council and was viewed as something of a walking legend” Ok, those white people again.
- Pg. 148, “In a move many African Americans saw as a swift and demoralizing return to the old white ways of Chicago politics, voters went on to elect Richard M. Daley, the son of a previous mayor, Richard J. Daley, who was broadly considered the godfather of Chicago’s famous cronyism.” The old white guard? You mean just corrupt politicians right?
- Pg. 205, “Our counselor—Dr.Woodchurch, let’s call him—was a soft-spoken white man who’d gone to good school and always wore khakis”. Michelle, what the hell? Who cares if your counselor was white.
- Pg. 208, “The nervousness of white people”. Sigh.
- Pg. 218, “Its whiteness and maleness”. …Sigh.
I get it. She was in the minority most of the time being black and a woman and when she puts things into historical or social context it makes sense pointing these things out as it represents systematic problems in our society when it comes to race. But other times she brings up race for no real reason. Never in her book did she directly talk about an incident where she was the direct receipt of discrimination that I read. In a lot of ways she seemed pretty lucky to not be a victim of some kind of racism in her life. If she did, she never really talked about it in her book so I’m wondering why she brings up race needlessly. Especially in a somewhat resentful way. Technically she is a baby boomer so perhaps she is a product of her time? I’m not black and I was born in the 80’s and not the 60’s so perhaps I never had to see the things she saw. Still, I don’t like her subtle resentment towards white people. I hope I’m wrong about her when it comes to this.
Two, Michelle paints Barack as a super hero. I'm not joking. Every way she describes is literally perfect from being easy going and brainy, to being a huge reader, to memorizing everything to never being angry or upset or taking things seriously. I get it. Barack is cool, smart and an overall good guy. But come on, he must have some flaw (outside him smoking). Something that he did wrong, something that he truly messed up. The only thing I remember her saying about him was that he wasn't always on time and one time he blew a book deal (or missed the deadline or something) because he was busy with something else. I'm pretty sure Michelle and her husband agreed to paint him in the most perfect light ever to protect his presidency which makes me think she is being dishonest about her experience with him. Did Barack have a hand in writing this? Was Michelle censored in a way? Here are some examples of Michelle describing Barack as nothing less than perfect:
- Pg. 96. “What struck me was how assured he seemed of his own direction in life. He was oddly free from doubt,”
- “Instead lived like a sixteenth century mountain hermit, reading lofty works of literature and philosophy” pg. 97
- “Barack was serious without being self-serious. He was breezy in his manner but powerful in his mind. It was a strange, stirring combination.” Pg. 97
- “I found myself admiring Barack for both his self-assuredness and his earnest demeanor. He was refreshing, unconventional, and weirdly elegant.” Pg. 97
- “Barack bore no resemblance to the typical eager-beaver summer associate (as I myself had been two years earlier at Sidley), networking furiously and anxiously wondering whether a golden-ticket job offer was coming. He sauntered around with calm detachment, which seemed only to increase his appeal.” Pg. 99
- “There was no arguing with the fact that even with his challenged sense of style, Barack was a catch. He was good-looking, poised, and successful. He was athletic, interesting, and kind.” Pg.99
- “He was modest and lived modestly, yet knew the richness of his own mind and the world of privilege that would open up to him as a result. He took it all seriously, I could tell. He could be lighthearted and jokey, but he never strayed far from a larger sense of obligation. He was on some sort of quest, though he didn’t yet know where it would lead.” Pg. 101
- “Barack had a smile that seemed to stretch the whole width of his face. He was a deadly combination of smooth and reasonable.” Pg. 103
- “He had an easy rapport with everyone at the firm. He addressed all the secretaries by name and got along with everyone—from the older, stuffier lawyers to the ambitious young bucks who were now playing basketball. He’s a good person, I thought to myself, watching him pass the ball to another lawyer.” Pg. 105
- “Having sat through scores of high school and college games, I recognized a good player when I saw one, and Barack quickly passed the test. He played an athletic, artful form of basketball, his lanky body moving quickly, showing power I hadn’t before noticed. He was swift and graceful, even in his Hawaiian footwear. I stood there pretending to listen to what somebody’s perfectly nice wife was saying to me, but my eyes stayed fixed on Barack. I was struck for the first time by the spectacle of him—this strange mix-of-everything man.” Pg. 105
- “Barack intrigued me. He was not like anyone I’d dated before, mainly because he seemed so secure. He was openly affectionate. He told me I was beautiful. He made me feel good. To me, he was sort of like a unicorn—unusual to the point of seeming almost unreal. He never talked about material things, like buying a house or a car or even new shoes. His money went largely toward books, which to him were like sacred objects, providing ballast for his mind. He read late into the night, often long after I’d fallen asleep, plowing through history and biographies and Toni Morrison, too. He read several newspapers daily, cover to cover. He kept tabs on the latest book reviews, the American League standings, and what the South Side aldermen were up to. He could speak with equal passion about the Polish elections and which movies Roger Ebert had panned and why”. Pg. 111
- “This, I was learning, was how Barack’s mind worked. He got himself fixated on big and abstract issues, fueled by some crazy sense that he might be able to do something about them. It was new to me, I have to say. Until now, I’d hung around with good people who cared about important enough things but who were focused primarily on building their careers and providing for their families. Barack was just different. He was dialed into the day-to-day demands of his life, but at the same time, especially at night, his thoughts seemed to roam a much wider plane.” Pg. 112
- “I was gripped all over again by a sense of how special he was.” Pg.117
- “And now in Hawaii, I could see his character reflected in other small ways. His long-lasting friendships with his high school buddies showed his consistency in relationships. In his devotion to his strong-willed mother, I saw a deep respect for women and their independence. Without needing to discuss it outright, I knew he could handle a partner who had her own passions and voice.” Pg. 123
- “All this inborn confidence was admirable, of course, but honestly, try living with it. For me, coexisting with Barack’s strong sense of purpose—sleeping in the same bed with it, sitting at the breakfast table with it—was something to which I had to adjust, not because he flaunted it, exactly, but because it was so alive. In the presence of his certainty, his notion that he could make some sort of difference in the world, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit lost by comparison. His sense of purpose seemed like an unwitting challenge to my own.” Pg.131
- For better or worse, I’d fallen in love with a man with a vision who was optimistic without being naive, undaunted by conflict, and intrigued by how complicated the world was. He was strangely unintimidated by how much work there was to be done. He was dreading the thought of leaving me and the girls for long stretches, he said, but he also kept reminding me of how secure our love was. “We can handle this, right?” he said, holding my hand one night as we sat in his upstairs study and finally began to really talk about it. “We’re strong and we’re smart, and so are our kids. We’ll be just fine. We can afford this.” Pg.224
I’ll stop quoting the book at this point. There are other examples on pages 115, 123, 152, 153, 180, 184, 192, 261, 265, and 322. There are probably others that I missed. Why does this annoy me you may ask? Because it sounds made up. Insincere. As if I was reading his resume or something his press secretary came up with. Is Barack even human or does he just possess every positive characteristic known to mankind with none of the baggage? Don’t get me wrong, I liked him from the get go since 2004 and his background is impressive (president of the Harvard Law Review specifically). But the way Michelle describes him just seems so made up and one-sided it makes me question the rest of the book.
Here are some highlights about Michelle that I learned from the book (for whoever is interested):
- She told people she wanted to become a pediatrician when she was a kid because she loved being around kids and it was a pleasing answer to adults. She describes this later as always doing the correct thing.
- Her dad had MS (Multiple Sclerosis), a progressive disease that made him disabled and eventually killed him at 55. This hurt Michelle more than anything else to see her dad disabled and defeated.
- She had a very tight family and talked about anything, including her first period at the dinner table. Her brother was smart, cool and protective of her and she looked up to him. Her mom is an overwhelmingly positive force in her life.
- She smoked some pot in high school and was friends with Jessie Jacksons daughter.
- She failed the bar exam the first time around
- She very much dislikes politics
- She had a minor amount of marriage counseling with Barack, nothing serious though from what I could tell.
- She had problems bearing children and had to use intro vivo fertilization with Malia but not Sasha.
- Her kids are her top priority in life, especially when she was in the white house
- She tries to remain hopeful and never cynical though I don’t know if she is always successful.
- She graduated from Princeton then Harvard Law and started her career as a high powered lawyer however she never felt fulfillment from her job as a lawyer despite the money.
Michelle is a hardworking lady (somewhat of an overachiever) with a tight schedule that she sticks too. I remember her mentioning she got up at 5am, worked out, took her kids to school then went to work then picked them up from school (this was before she first lady). Her academic background is very impressive as she graduated from Princeton and Harvard Law. I found her mothers reaction to her not being fulfilled by her work as lawyer despite the money and prestige hilarious. It is almost something a millennial would say, not a baby boomer. First world problems! Growing up lower-middle class, her mother was annoyed. But, you can’t really blame Michelle either. Her work did sound boring and unfulfilling. She wasn’t making the positive impact she wanted too.
Michelle is deeply committed to her children. I’d argue that Malia and Sasha are the most important things to her and is her top priority, especially while she was first lady. She talked about them often in her book. Motherhood suites her well. If I were to describes Michelle’s life in one word is would be “busy” and one word to describe Michelle herself would be “workaholic”. She is obviously a likable person and likes many people in return.
To be blunt, I'm not sure why this book is getting 91% 5 stars. I just finished the book and I can't say I was particularly blown away like the ratings suggest. Michelle simply talked about her life, meeting Barack and her perspective of life in the white house which sounded boring from the way she describes it. She met many heads of states, worked hard spreading her message about good nutrition and empowering women but again, nothing interesting or fun. Towards the end of the book I was pretty much skimming through the words since I lost interest in what she was saying. I probably went 20 pages before I realized it and had to go back and reread. I got some insight to who Michelle was but in the end of the day I just thought to myself "who cares?". Shrug, I just didn't see anything particularly special or interesting about this book that would make me really recommend it to anyone. The only reason I even finished the book was simply to say “yeah, I read that book”. I also didn't think this book was that inspirational as all the reviews keep saying. There are millions of people around the world who come from nothing or near nothing and "make it" who have tougher backgrounds than Michelle (disabled people for example). I don't see how her particular story is anything TRULY miraculous. Good, sure. Did she overcome? Sure. Did it blow my mind with inspiration? No.
That being said, it isn’t a bad book either. It was well written, easy to follow and very detailed orientated. She mentioned many people’s name that she met over her life and how they influenced her. She remembered specific places, when she went there, details about those places and her experience there. I would recommend this book to anyone who had a special fascination with Michelle or first ladies in general. The book is fine. 3 out of 5 stars.
As a final note, I felt it was important that I wrote this review for two reasons. One, I depend on reviews to be fair, objective and honest. When I see a book get 500 reviews in 2 weeks with a near 92% of reviews being 5 stars on Amazon I knew something wasn’t right. 92% of people saying your book was 5 stars would mean this book should win the Pulitzer award. That means this book is amazing, a breakthrough, something that every person must read or they’ll miss out on a life experience. What if a truly amazing book is written one day? Something that is considered a classic? Something that blows the mind of society? What reviews does that book get? 99% instead of 95%? Seems crazy to me.
Two, I wanted a review that judged more the book than the author. Michelle is a classy lady no doubt, but her book really isn’t that good. I didn’t want Amazon reviews to turn into a popularity contest where men rate this book highly, women another book, liberals another books, conservatives yet another book, democrats this book, republicans that book. Identity politics really annoys me. I hate that I had to preface this review with my “identity” but I had to otherwise I just would’ve been called an angry conservative republican white man. I think we should judge a book on the book alone and not the “identity” of the author. Of course considering the popularity of this author and the fact that this was a memoir it couldn’t be completely avoided. Hopefully my bias is at a minimum.
So anyway like I said, book was fine. Not bad, not great. C+ or perhaps a B depending on how much you are interested in Mrs. Obama. Oh by the way this book has nothing to do with Trump. She rarely mentioned him or his politics outside the whole “grab them by the p****” remark Trump made a while back. So if anyone thinks this book is some attack on Trump or Republicans I can tell you it isn’t. Any review that says it is is obviously made up.