A Chicago-based journalist probes the fortunate yet humble upbringing of the first lady and, in a tedious refrain, her effective blackness.
One of the themes that Slevin sounds constantly is that Michelle Obama, nee Robinson (b. 1964), the daughter of a city water-plant worker and a former schoolteacher, never betrayed her working-class black roots on the South Side of Chicago. Although she worked her way through the best schools in the country—her brother, a last-minute crammer, got recruited by Princeton’s basketball team, so superdiligent and hardworking Michelle figured she could get in as well—she and the other rare black students at Ivy League schools in the 1980s were haunted by the question, “What are you going to do for black folks when we get out of here?” Indeed, there is a pattern in her early career of genuine concern for the working-class and disenfranchised people from her community and downright discomfort with the privileged status that her Harvard Law degree conferred. Quitting her corporate lawyer job at a blue-chip Chicago firm, she plunged into public service in the mayor’s office, taking a severe pay cut. By then, she had met Barack Obama, who had been elected Harvard Law Review president; she served as his adviser as a summer associate in 1989. While the glamour and ambition of her husband often clouded her own admirable work (creating a neighborhood mentorship-internship program at Public Allies, directing the student community service program at the University of Chicago), in time, the relationship offered a good complement to her pragmatic, strategic organizational skills. She is one of his greatest assets in public office and an important foil to criticism that he is not “black enough.”
Slevin delivers a somewhat fawning portrait, but when necessary, he is willing to criticize and reveal his subject’s missteps.