30 Books in 30 Days - Day 26: Biography you think everyone should read
In between creating my list for this blog series and actually writing it, I read Michelle Obama's autobiography and wanted to include it, but didn't want to remove the one I'd originally chosen, so again I'm cheating slightly and including one biography and one autobiography.
Madame de Pompadour is a figure I came across purely by chance. The lover of King Louis XV for many years, Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson was so much more than a royal mistress, but as I'd never been particularly interested in French history or the French royal family, I had never heard of her.
That was until she featured in the Doctor Who episode The Girl In The Fireplace played by the very talented Sophia Myles. Something about this episode really drew me in and I found myself wanting to know more about the figure at the centre of it. I did a quick internet search while watching the programme, but that only left me wanting more. There was something about this woman that I found fascinating. I think it's because she wasn't a stereotypical mistress. While she undoubtedly gained from her relationship with Louis XV, she was unhesitant in giving a large portion of her wealth back to him to support the army during the Seven Years War. She understand politics and political philosophy while acting as a de facto Prime Minister, she was a philanthropist, she treated the Queen, Louis' wife, kindly and with respect and seems to have genuinely loved the King. Sadly, she died at the early age of 42 and history has not always been kind to her.
Becoming is a very different story, charting the humble beginnings of the woman who eventually became the (perhaps reluctant) First Lady of the USA. Contemporary biographies are something I rarely read and I only read this one because of it being my book group's Book of the Month. However, I hadn't read much of it before I was completely hooked. Something about the way Obama writes drew me in - much of her description reads more like a novel, so beautifully is it written - but it was more than that. There was a genuine warmth in her words and the love she feels for those close to her shines through in every paragraph. She was someone I admired long before reading the book, but gaining the insight into the woman behind the image revealed something I hadn't expected. Unlike so many politicians, it is clear from their lives that both halves of the Obama partnership have a genuine desire to help people. The policies and initiatives they put in place during their time in the White House were borne out of a true desire to make life better for the people they served. They rose above racism, above the petty point-scoring of politics and remained true to themselves, not an easy task in the modern political arena. Not only was this an interesting read, but I was genuinely touched by much of it. Their achievements are incredible, but as Michelle Obama acknowledges, none of it would have been possible without the support of their friends and family and it is they who are truly at the heart of the this book. It is as much a testament to the people around them, as it is an insight into their lives and achievements. It is both humble and humbling.