Barack Obama: Harvard Law and Finding His Path

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "A Promised Land" by Barack Obama. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Did Barack Obama go to Harvard Law School? What inspired him to attend and what were his goals?

By the time Barack Obama got to Harvard, he had transformed from an aimless teen into an ambitious young man. Obama wanted to understand how to use the law to help the poor and vulnerable in the country.

Read more about Barack Obama, Harvard Law School, and what he learned.

Barack Obama at a Crossroads After Harvard Law

In 1988, Barack entered Harvard Law School. He was now fiercely ambitious, although this hardly distinguished him from his Ivy league classmates. He relished the experience of studying and debating the law, while grappling with the same ideas that had fascinated him since his teenage years. What was the individual’s relationship to society? How much of a role should the government play in regulating the free enterprise system? And what are the mechanisms that drive social change?

He learned that the power of the law had often been wielded on behalf of the wealthy and powerful—but that it could also be used to give voice to the voiceless and empower the powerless. Barack excelled at Harvard Law, and in 1990 was named the first Black editor of the Harvard Law Review. He also inked a publishing deal to write the book that would become his first memoir: Dreams From My Father.

Barack was at a crossroads. With his achievements and trailblazing status at Harvard, the door to a prominent (and lucrative) law career was wide open. He could have a prestigious clerkship with a federal judge, possibly even a Supreme Court justice, and then land a coveted partnership at any high-powered law firm he chose.

But he wasn’t sure that this was the path he wanted to take. It would have given him a comfortable and privileged life—but would it satisfy his hunger to effect sweeping change?

Entering Public Life

While he was weighing his options for his future, Barack met a young woman who would change the course of his life. In 1989, he was working a summer internship at a Chicago law firm when he met a young associate named Michelle Robinson.

Barack was immediately drawn to Michelle—her beauty, her quiet self-confidence, and her fierce intelligence. Michelle soon became not just Barack’s lover, but the closest friend he’d ever known—the closest friend he ever would know. Although Michelle was no less driven than Barack, her path to success was different. As a Black woman from the South Side of Chicago, she knew that that path was beset by potential pitfalls and roadblocks. Because of her race and her gender, she understood that she would always have to prove to others that she belonged in the r

Barack Obama: Harvard Law and Finding His Path

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Barack Obama's "A Promised Land" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full A Promised Land summary:

  • How Barack Obama went from relative obscurity to the first Black president
  • What principles guided his political leadership style
  • Why Obama retained an unshakable faith in the potential and promise of America

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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