Monday, September 28, 2009

Review: Michelle Obama: an American Story by David Colbert

Since this past weekend featured the US playing host to the G-20 summit, which included Michelle Obama hosting the spouses of the G-20 leaders, it seems like as fitting time as any to read a biography of our newest first lady.

First thing I noticed about this book: I love the cover. I usually don't pay much attention to a cover, unless it's utterly fabulous or utterly terrible (or has some irritating detail, like the 'shopped eyebrow ring on Going Too Far). At some point I checked this book out on Amazon and was completely bored by some of the other Michelle Obama biography covers: Michelle: A Biography features the most standard, boring portrait of Obama ever. Colbert's book however has a great dynamic close up of Obama. She looks so friendly and warm and inviting, who wouldn't want to pick up this biography?!

This is an easy, accessible biography, that I found notable because it doesn't shy away from the less-than-pleasant parts of Obama's history like you might expect a biography for younger readers would. Colbert traces Obama's roots back to the rice plantations of South Carolina, and mentions that, on her mother's side at least, there's a belief that she has at least one slave holder as an ancestor. Colbert's biography brings up the difficult question: "Would the slave have chosen this relationship? Was the slave too frightened to refuse?" Considering that to this day some people try to characterize Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings as having a true love affair, it's pretty bold to imply in a children's biography that slaves and their masters probably didn't have consensual relationships. So good job, Colbert!

Later on in the book, Colbert also touches on some of the problems the Obamas had in their marriage as Barack sought various public offices - Michelle didn't like always being the parent at home while her husband first worked 3 hours from Chicago, and then all the way in Washington D.C. Colbert also mentions the many things Michelle considered before she agreed that Barack should run for president, and among them was the fact that because of his race Barack was going to face more threats than the average presidential candidate. So there's some serious stuff in here that is presented plainly, but is never dwelt upon to an unnecessary extent.

I'm super excited to recommend this biography to anyone looking to learn more about Michelle Obama - or even Barack Obama, as naturally he features prominently in the latter part of the book!

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