Before the historic presidential election of 2008, LIFE Books published a best-selling volume entitled The American Journey of Barack Obama. In researching that book, the editors came to be deeply impressed not only by the exotic story of the candidate himself but also by the life and personality of the woman who would, if Obama were to prevail, enter the White House at his side. Michelle Robinson, the daughter of a Chicago municipal worker-and, in fact, a woman with slavery represented in her family tree-had risen to be educated in the Ivy League and was already embarked upon a successful legal career back in theWindy City before she ever met Barack Obama.Once she did, these two bright, charismatic young people influenced each other and rose together in Chicago politics. The rest, as they say, is history.
As the nation came to know Michelle Obama, the nation fell for her-and for Malia and Sasha as well (plus now, of course, Bo). The same has happened on the world stage, where it has been observed that Michelle, with her vivacity and sense of style, has sometimes eclipsed her husband in the way that Jackie Kennedy outshone JFK back in the early 1960s.
Meantime, Michelle has been out and about in Washington, working at the food bank, tending the garden, shepherding the kids. That, too, is part of the story-and all of it is here, in words and vibrant pictures, in LIFE's Michelle Obama: A Portrait of the First Lady. This is Michelle's story, from her girlhood to her current crucial role. It is not the story of the President's wife. It is the complete, illustrated biography of one of the most intriguing and captivating women in America.