‘The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times’ is Michelle Obama’s follow-up to her best-selling 2018 book ‘Becoming’. As the White House’s First Lady during Barack Obama’s two terms as President of the United States from 2008 to 2016, and as someone who actively threw herself into public life, Michelle Obama is well-placed to act as a commentator on current events and the direction in which the Western world is travelling.
Rather than being a continuation of her memoirs, ‘The Light We Carry’ is instead part-reflection upon the tumultuous political period since her husband left office, and part-motivational self-help book designed to encourage her readers to keep their progressive dreams alive. This takes the author into some refreshingly candid and personal territory. We learn of her feelings of anxiety when her husband asked her if he should run for President, and how they supported one another as a couple throughout his campaign and then time in office. We hear about her childhood, and how her father never allowed his health problems to become a burden for others. She also divulges what she learnt about good parenting from her mother, and how she adapted lessons from her upbringing when it became her turn to parent.
These insights find ‘The Light We Carry’ at its strongest and most compelling. Michelle Obama is adept at storytelling and is masterful at communication. She also has that rare gift in ensuring that every reader believes that she is reaching out and speaking to them directly and personally. If anything, her writings reveal what strengths she would bring to the Presidency should she ever successfully run for office herself.
However, the book does reveal some weaknesses. In truth, it is patently written for a partisan readership who already agrees with the author’s worldview. Even within this context, Obama finds no room for self-reflection. Conservatives are painted as self-evidently bad, and are always acting from malign motives. There is no attempt to understand why the American electorate held their noses to narrowly place a man with as many obvious character flaws as Donald Trump in the White House when the Obamas vacated it. Rather, the author sails close to blaming the electorate for choosing the wrong candidate. There is throughout the book an unwillingness to address hard questions or facts that are in conflict with the author’s worldview, which tends to adopt all of the progressive causes but also the more obviously counter-productive victimhood narratives that come along with it. Perhaps the best illustration of this is when she entreats her readers to “Stay outraged” in her otherwise rhetorically exhilarating closing statements. One can imagine what she might say if a conservative commentator encouraged his or her readers to do the same.
It is worth anybody’s time to read or listen to ‘The Light We Carry’ if for no other reason than it is a well-written and valuable insight into the prevailing thought of mainstream left-wing policymakers. The self-help sections will undoubtedly prove invaluable to many readers who are looking for that kernel of nurturing guidance to improve their lives and strive to reach their potential, often in the face of significant hurdles. As a motivator, Obama is clear-eyed and thought-provoking. At the same time, it’s hard to shake off the nagging feeling that the lady protests too much when it comes to protecting her family’s legacy when it comes to their record in office. As such, the political commentary is too often shallow or riddled with assumptions. In one sentence, Brexit is lumped in with Trump’s presidency as if it’s all the same thing and as if it all occurred in the same country. There is a familiar absence of any desire on the part of the author to explain the competing arguments behind it, or even what the European Union is and which country left it. For effective analysis of the last seven years from a left-wing perspective, there are stronger volumes.
‘The Light We Carry’ is available as an audiobook from Penguin and is read by the author. It is a sensible approach to have Obama articulate her own words. As an experienced public speaker and masterful communicator she is well-placed to do so. Without the adrenaline-buzz of a live audience, it is sometimes obvious that she is reading off the page, which means some moments vary between extremes of sounding mechanical or overly-emphasised. But as a non-actor, Obama does a creditable job of sustaining the listener’s interest at book-length. As an accompaniment to any daily task or leisure time, Michelle Obama’s ‘The Light We Carry’ is an enjoyable, forthright, confident and upbeat book.
Publisher: Penguin Random House UK audio Narrator: Michelle Obama Publication date: 15th November 2022 Buy ‘The Light We Carry’