My Favorite Writers’ Favorite Books: Michelle Obama

Is there anyone classier, smarter, and more of a person I might be tempted to put a photo of on my mantel than Michelle Obama? She’s brilliant in her own right, and has that sexy husband, too.

She says, since writing her book, Becoming, “I love to see how people choose to tell their own story — the small moments that tell larger truths, the character development, the courage it takes to tell a story fully.”

Here are some of Michelle Obama’s favorite books:

Conversations With Myself by Nelson Mandela

“It’s a collection of his writings and speeches, an extension of sorts to Long Walk to Freedom. I like to flip through it from time to time because it always seems to give me an extra boost when I need it.” —Michelle Obama

Publisher’s description:

Nelson Mandela is widely considered to be one of the most inspiring and iconic figures of our age. Now, after a lifetime of taking pen to paper to record thoughts and events, hardships and victories, he has bestowed his entire extant personal papers, which offer an unprecedented insight into his remarkable life.

A singular international publishing event, Conversations with Myself draws on Mandela’s personal archive of never-before-seen materials to offer unique access to the private world of an incomparable world leader. Journals kept on the run during the anti-apartheid struggle of the early 1960s; diaries and draft letters written in Robben Island and other South African prisons during his twenty-seven years of incarceration; notebooks from the postapartheid transition; private recorded conversations;speeches and correspondence written during his presidency–a historic collection of documents archived at the Nelson Mandela Foundation is brought together into a sweeping narrative of great immediacy and stunning power. An intimate journey from Mandela’s first stirrings of political consciousness to his galvanizing role on the world stage, Conversations with Myself illuminates a heroic life forged on the front lines of the struggle for freedom and justice.

While other books have recounted Mandela’s life from the vantage of the present, Conversations with Myself allows, for the first time, unhindered insight into the human side of the icon.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

“I’d read it years ago but picked it up again recently because Malia is a big fan of Zadie and her work. I love the way the story weaves together so many complex and powerful forces that affect our lives and our relationships — family and parenting, religion and politics, and so much more. Plus, it’s just plain funny.” —Michelle Obama

Publisher’s description:

At the center of this invigorating novel are two unlikely friends, Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal. Hapless veterans of World War II, Archie and Samad and their families become agents of England’s irrevocable transformation. A second marriage to Clara Bowden, a beautiful, albeit tooth-challenged, Jamaican half his age, quite literally gives Archie a second lease on life, and produces Irie, a knowing child whose personality doesn’t quite match her name (Jamaican for “no problem”). Samad’s late-in-life arranged marriage (he had to wait for his bride to be born), produces twin sons whose separate paths confound Iqbal’s every effort to direct them, and a renewed, if selective, submission to his Islamic faith. Set against London’s racial and cultural tapestry, venturing across the former empire and into the past as it barrels toward the future, White Teeth revels in the ecstatic hodgepodge of modern life, flirting with disaster, confounding expectations, and embracing the comedy of daily existence.

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

“I’ve now read Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon three times.” —Michelle Obama

Publisher’s description:

Milkman Dead was born shortly after a neighborhood eccentric hurled himself off a rooftop in a vain attempt at flight. For the rest of his life he, too, will be trying to fly. With this brilliantly imagined novel, Toni Morrison transfigures the coming-of-age story as audaciously as Saul Bellow or Gabriel García Márquez. As she follows Milkman from his rustbelt city to the place of his family’s origins, Morrison introduces an entire cast of strivers and seeresses, liars and assassins, the inhabitants of a fully realized black world.

Educated by Tara Westover

“This one came from Barack. … It is as phenomenal as he — and everyone else — says it is. It’s an engrossing read, a fresh perspective on the power of an education, and it’s also a testament to the way grit and resilience can shape our lives.” —Michelle Obama

Publisher’s description:

Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills bag”. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father’s junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes and the will to change it.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Michelle Obama chose this book to reread with her daughters.

Publisher’s description:

The Pulitzer Prize-winning epic of the Great Depression, a book that galvanized—and sometimes outraged—millions of readers.

First published in 1939, Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning epic of the Great Depression chronicles the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s and tells the story of one Oklahoma farm family, the Joads—driven from their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. Out of their trials and their repeated collisions against the hard realities of an America divided into Haves and Have-Nots evolves a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision, elemental yet plainspoken, tragic but ultimately stirring in its human dignity. A portrait of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless, of one man’s fierce reaction to injustice, and of one woman’s stoical strength, the novel captures the horrors of the Great Depression and probes into the very nature of equality and justice in America. At once a naturalistic epic, captivity narrative, road novel, and transcendental gospel, Steinbeck’s powerful landmark novel is perhaps the most American of American Classics.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Michelle Obama also chose this book to reread with her daughters.

Publisher’s description:

Life of Pi is a fantasy adventure novel by Yann Martel published in 2001. The protagonist, Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel, a Tamil boy from Pondicherry, explores issues of spirituality and practicality from an early age. He survives 227 days after a shipwreck while stranded on a boat in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

“It’s a simple story about the adventures of a boy on a snowy day. He makes snow angels, slides down a snow pile and gets smacked by a snowball. It’s a boy who happened to be black and who happened to live in the city. He’s a kid just being a kid, and that’s enough.” —Michelle Obama

Publisher’s description:

No book has captured the magic and sense of possibility of the first snowfall better than The Snowy Day. Universal in its appeal, the story has become a favorite of millions, as it reveals a child’s wonder at a new world, and the hope of capturing and keeping that wonder forever.


Small print: I’m a writer who connects writers with books, programs, and writer toys that make the writing life easier or more fun. As it turns out, people get paid for that. So some of the links I have are affiliate links, which means that, at no cost to you, I get a commission if you click through and buy something. If I recommend something you don’t agree with, just let me know. I stand by everything I suggest as a resource that will help you be the writer you want to be. 

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