Cover image for Michelle Obama : a life
Title:
Michelle Obama : a life
Author:
Slevin, Peter, author.
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.
Physical Description:
418 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (chiefly color), portraits ; 25 cm
Summary:
A comprehensive portrait of the First Lady describes her working-class upbringing on Chicago's South Side, her education at Princeton and Harvard during the racially charged 1980s, and her marriage to the future forty-fourth president.
Language:
English
Contents:
Chicago's promise -- South Side -- Destiny not yet written -- Orange and blackness -- Progress in everything and nothing -- Finding the right thing -- Assets and deficits -- A little tension with that -- Just don't screw it up -- I'm pretty convincing -- Veil of impossibility -- Nothing would have predicted -- Between politics and sanity -- Simple gifts -- I am no different from you.
ISBN:
9780307958822

9780307949318
Format :
Book

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E909.O24 S54 2015 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
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E909.O24 S54 2015 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
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Summary

Summary

An inspiring story of a modern American icon, here is the first comprehensive account of the life and times of Michelle Obama. With disciplined reporting and a storyteller's eye for revealing detail, Peter Slevin follows Michelle to the White House from her working-class childhood on Chicago's largely segregated South Side. He illuminates her tribulations at Princeton University and Harvard Law School during the racially charged 1980s and the dilemmas she faced in Chicago while building a high-powered career, raising a family and helping a young community organizer named Barack Obama become president of the United States. From the lessons she learned in Chicago to the messages she shares as one of the most recognizable women in the world, the story of this First Lady is the story of America. Michelle Obama: A Life is a fresh and compelling view of a woman of unique achievement and purpose.


Author Notes

PETER SLEVIN spent a decade on the national staff of The Washington Post before joining Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, where he is an associate professor. He has written extensively about Barack and Michelle Obama, as well as political campaigns and policy debates from one end of the country to the other. Slevin graduated from Princeton and Oxford. He lives with his family in Evanston, Illinois.


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* A descendant of slaves, Michelle Obama has a lineage and a life history most unlikely for a First Lady. Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago in a working-class black family, she has lived her life against the backdrop of major developments in black America. When she became First Lady in 2008, she changed the trajectory of American history. Journalist Slevin explores Michelle's family history and struggle to rise above racial limitations, her marriage, and her close friendships. He details the unerringly strong, well-balanced sense of self she has taken with her from Chicago to Princeton to Harvard Law School to corporate America and eventually to the White House. In her undergraduate thesis on straddling the racial and economic divides, Michelle explored themes that continued to challenge her and her husband as they advanced in their careers and even as the nation's first family. Slevin chronicles Michelle's evolution from very reluctant candidate's wife to engaging First Lady and protective first mother. She has focused on supporting military families, encouraging better nutrition and exercise for youth, and urging urban youth, in particular, to get an education. Like all First Ladies, she has sparked affection, criticism, and controversy, often with a racial tinge aimed directly at the first African American First Lady. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Written by a well-respected veteran reporter, this comprehensive biography of the first African American First Lady is bound to attract interest well beyond the book review page.--Bush, Vanessa Copyright 2015 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

Political journalist Slevin offers an informative if not particularly personal portrait of America's first lady in this thoroughly researched biography. Slevin meticulously recounts Obama's inspiring journey, beginning with the struggle of her parents, Marian and Fraser Robinson, to eke out better lives on Chicago's South Side, and continuing through her childhood to her experiences at Princeton and Harvard Law School, a job at white-shoe law firm Chadwell Kaiser (where a charismatic law student named Barack Obama first made her acquaintance), and her residence in the White House. Providing valuable insight into the trajectory of her life and career, Slevin shows how Obama draws strength from her upbringing, which emphasized knowledge, family, and social responsibility. The rare glimpses of the personality hidden behind Obama's cool and unruffled demeanor are the most satisfying moments of the narrative, but they are few and far between, leaving her almost as enigmatic a figure at the book's close as she is at the beginning. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Library Journal Review

Perhaps no first lady since Jacqueline Kennedy sought the White House more reluctantly than Michelle Obama (b. 1964). By the time Barack Obama announced his intention to run for office, Michelle had already scaled back her career goals and settled for less-demanding responsibilities and more time to run her family's household, while her husband served in the Illinois State Senate and the U.S. Senate. Slevin's (journalism, Northwestern Univ.; national political correspondent, Washington Post) thorough coverage of the first lady's life to the midterm of Barack's presidency provides deep understanding of her climb from Southside Chicago to the universities of Princeton and Harvard, all the while searching for her place in a world that she mistrusted. Slevin wants readers to know that Michelle was driven to succeed and to be recognized for her own talents and abilities. He shows that the programs she endorses as first lady reflect the skills she brings to the White House as a former university and hospital administrator whose job it was to extend those institutions into the surrounding minority communities. Although the author cites interviews with his subject's mother and brother, his account relies mainly on news and secondary sources. VERDICT Readers should develop an appreciation for Michelle Obama, the challenges she overcame, and her well-deserved accomplishments. Those who would like to know more about the first lady, her family, and lifelong and recent friends who have helped her along the way will enjoy the author's engaging and authoritative writing. [See Prepub Alert, 11/17/14.]-Jill Ortner, SUNY Buffalo Libs. (c) Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Introduction In June 2010, when Michelle Obama cast her eyes across the class of graduating high school seniors from one of Washington's most troubled black neighborhoods, she saw not only their lives, but her own. The setting was Constitution Hall, where the Daughters of the American Revolution had prevented opera singer Marian Anderson from performing in 1939 because she was black. So much had changed in seven decades, and yet much had not. Michelle spoke to the graduates about the troubles facing African American children in Anacostia, and she spoke about racism. She pointed out that the neighborhood within sight of the U.S. Capitol once was segregated and that black people had been prohibited from owning property in parts of the community. "And even after those barriers were torn down," she said, "others emerged. Poverty. Violence. Inequality." Michelle drew a straight line from her struggles with hardship and self-doubt in working-class Chicago to the fractured world the Anacostia students inhabited thirty years later. She told them about being written off, about feeling rejected, about the resilience it takes for a black kid in a public school to become one of the first in her family to go to college. "Kids teasing me when I studied hard. Teachers telling me not to reach too high because my test scores weren't good enough. Folks making it clear with what they said or didn't say that success wasn't meant for a little girl like me from the South Side of Chicago." As she spoke of her parents--their sacrifices and the way they pushed her "to reach for a life they never knew"--her voice broke and tears came to her eyes. As the students applauded in support, Michelle went on, "And if Barack were here, he'd say the same thing was true for him. He'd tell you it was hard at times growing up without a father. He'd tell you that his family didn't have a lot of money. He'd tell you he made plenty of mistakes and wasn't always the best student." She knew that many of the Anacostia students faced disruptions and distractions that sometimes made it hard to show up, much less succeed. It might be family turmoil or money troubles or needy relatives or children of their own. Or maybe the lack of a mentor, a quiet place to study, a lucky break. "Maybe you feel like no one has your back, like you've been let down by people so many times that you've stopped believing in yourself. Maybe you feel like your destiny was written the day you were born and you ought to just rein in your hopes and scale back your dreams. But if any of you are thinking that way, I'm here to tell you: Stop it." There were no cheap lines in Michelle's speech that day, seventeen months after she arrived in the White House as the unlikeliest first lady in modern history. In a voice entirely her own, she reached deep into a lifetime of thinking about race, politics, and power to deliver a message about inequity and perseverance, challenge and uplift. These were the themes and experiences that animated her and set her apart. No one who looked like Michelle Obama had ever occupied the White House. No one who acted quite like her, either. She ran obstacle courses, she danced the Dougie, she hula-hooped on the White House lawn. She opened the executive mansion to fresh faces and voices and took her show on the road. She did sitcoms and talk shows and participated in cyber showcases and social media almost as soon as they were invented. Cameras and microphones tracked her every move. Maddening though the attention could be, she tried to make it useful. Amid a characteristic media fuss about a new hairstyle, she said of first ladies, "We take our bangs and we stand in front of important things that the world needs to see. And eventually, people stop looking at the bangs and they start looking at what we're standing in front of." Michelle's projects and messages reflected a hard-won determination to help the working class and the disadvantaged, to unstack the deck. She was more urban and more mindful of inequality than any first lady since Eleanor Roosevelt. She was also more steadily, if subtly, political. Not political in ways measured by elections or ephemeral Beltway chatter, although she made clear her convictions from many a campaign stage. Rather, political as defined by spoken beliefs about how the world should work and purposeful projects calculated to bend the curve. Her efforts unfolded in realms that had barely existed for African Americans a generation earlier, a fact that informed and complicated her work. "We live in a nation where I am not supposed to be here," she once said. Michelle's prospects as first lady delighted her supporters and helped get Barack elected, but her story and its underpinnings remained unfamiliar to many white Americans in a country where black Americans often felt relegated to a parallel universe. "As we've all said in the black community, we don't see all of who we are in the media. We see snip- pets of our community and distortions of our community," Michelle said. "So the world has this perspective that somehow Barack and Michelle Obama are different, that we're unique. And we're not. You just haven't seen us before." She belonged to a generation that came of age after the civil rights movement. It was fashionable in some circles for people to declare that they no longer saw race, but translation would be required. As her friend Verna Williams put it, "So many people have no idea about what black people are like. They feel they know us when they really don't." Lambasted early as "Mrs. Grievance" and "Barack's Bitter Half," Michelle knew the burden of making herself understood. One of her favorite descriptions of her Washington life came from a California college student who described the role of first lady as "the balance between politics and sanity." During her years in the spotlight, Michelle became a point of reference and contention. She built and nurtured her popularity and emerged as one of the most recognizable women in the world. "You do not want to underestimate her, ever," said Trooper Sanders, a White House aide. Indeed, Michelle seemed to stride through life, full of confidence and direction. Comfortable in her own skin, friends always said. Authentic. But when asked what she would say to her younger self, as an interviewer flashed her high school yearbook photo onto a giant screen, Michelle paused to consider. "I think that girl was always afraid. I was thinking 'Maybe I'm not smart enough. Maybe I'm not bright enough. Maybe there are kids that are working harder than me.' I was always worrying about disappointing someone or failing." At Constitution Hall, addressing 158 Anacostia seniors dressed in cobalt blue gowns, Michelle shared her history and her self-doubt. She offered advice and encouragement but skipped the saccharine. "You can't just sit around," she instructed. "Don't expect anybody to come and hand you anything. It doesn't work that way." She asked them to think about the obstacles faced by Frederick Douglass, their neighborhood's most illustrious former resident, born into slavery and self- educated in an era when it was illegal to teach slaves to read or write. His mother died when he was a boy and he never knew his father. But he made it, "persevering through thick and thin," and spent decades fighting for equality. She also asked them to consider the current occupants of the White House. "We see ourselves in each and every one of you. We are living proof for you, that with the right support, it doesn't matter what circumstances you were born into or how much money you have or what color your skin is. If you are committed to doing what it takes, anything is possible. It's up to you." Excerpted from Michelle Obama: A Life by Peter B. Slevin All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 3
1 Chicago's Promisep. 7
2 South Sidep. 26
3 Destiny Not Yet Writtenp. 48
4 Orange and Blacknessp. 71
5 Progress in Everything and Nothingp. 95
6 Finding the Right Thingp. 116
7 Assets and Deficitsp. 134
8 A Little Tension with Thatp. 154
9 Just Don't Screw It Upp. 174
10 I'm Pretty Convincingp. 197
11 Veil of Impossibilityp. 218
12 Nothing Would Have Predictedp. 247
13 Between Politics and Sanityp. 270
14 Simple Giftsp. 293
15 I Am No Different from Youp. 322
Epiloguep. 343
Acknowledgmentsp. 349
Notesp. 353
Bibliographyp. 397
Indexp. 401