The Obamas: A Literate First Family


by Fran Withrow

Dear friends, you are getting a “two-for-one” this month! Here’s the story: I finally began reading Barack Obama’s intriguing book, “The Audacity of Hope,” published in 2006 when he was a U.S. senator from Illinois. Obama casts a wide net by discussing a variety of topics of national importance while also sharing more personal stories about his life.

I eagerly read Obama’s views on education, foreign policy, and the role of faith in his life. His description of the struggles facing members of Congress is eye-opening. Equally compelling are his observations of how gender roles in the traditional nuclear family as well as current economic parameters have altered the ability of parents to support their families. His insights about ongoing racism in American society are penetrating and astute. His book is strong, intelligent, and thoughtful, and I appreciated the underlying tone of humility he maintains throughout.

I was hooked.

When I was halfway through Barack’s book, a friend said, “Fran, you have to read Michelle Obama’s book, ‘Becoming?’” She handed me her copy, and because giving me a book is like giving an alcoholic a glass of wine, I took it home and dove in. I typically read more than one book at a time, so I found myself dipping back and forth between Michelle’s book and her husband’s. I highly recommend this: it was fascinating to read Barack’s thoughtful insights about Senate politics and juxtapose them with Michelle’s view of Barack as president.

“Becoming” is a charming memoir, beginning with Michelle Obama’s childhood as a beloved daughter growing up on the south side of Chicago, tracing her rise through Princeton and Harvard and an impressive career before setting that aside to campaign for her husband. Michelle is reluctant to partake of political life but she knows Barack has a passion for politics and wants to be an agent for change.

Her glimpses into White House life are compelling, and she is honest about both its joys and frustrations. She finds a way to make meaning for herself during her eight-year tenure by supporting children’s nutrition and fighting childhood obesity. She makes it work.

But everything must end at some point. Tears welled in my eyes as Michelle describes the dismay she feels at Trump’s presidential win. She sees his attitude as that of a bully. “I can hurt you and get away with it.” This certainly appears to be true as Trump stalks Hillary onstage, derides the disabled, disrespects women, and is still elected. Michelle puts into words the feelings that have smoldered in my heart ever since Trump took office.

But all is not gloom. Michelle reminds her weeping staff, “Everything is not lost,” and her optimistic tone gives me hope as well.

Ah, me. I miss having the Obamas in Washington, but I am grateful for their continuing presence through their articulate, heart-felt books. More, please!



by Michelle Obama


Crown Publishing

448 pages


“The Audacity of Hope: Reclaiming the American Dream”

by Barack Obama

Penguin Random House

384 pages





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