Hillary Clinton has had a lot of practice being a divisive figure – from those who viewed her as too ambitious and politically involved to make a good first lady, to others who took objection at her decision to pursue a political career for herself after her husband’s presidency. There were many out there ready to believe anything negative said about her, and I’m not just talking about Trump supporters. Even on the democratic side, she was often criticized as being unable to connect emotionally to voters, as being cold and heartless, a political automaton solely motivated by personal glory.
I fall in another camp. From when I decided to pick Wellesley College as my alma mater and found out that Hillary also attended it back in the 1960s, I’ve honestly only admired her for the strength and intelligence she’s demonstrated in every single one of the many and varied phases of her life. It helps that most of the negative stories about her are fabricated or highly misleading, but I think that fundamentally I see myself in Hillary. Though on a different scale, I’ve dealt with the damned if you do and damned if you don’t double-bind that means that I have to be all things to all people at all times somehow in order to be viewed as a ‘successful woman’, whatever that means.
I didn’t feel that Hillary was a remedial candidate in this election – the one we were stuck with because of the boost to the top she was given through her marriage to a former President. I wanted her to win the candidacy over Barack Obama in 2008, even though I also liked him a lot at the time and though I remain impressed with his presidency. Their politics were very similar but I wanted her to be President because I just knew she would be amazing at it. This latest election only confirmed it for me. Each debate she was subjected to was a crescendo of presidential poise and integrity in the face of despicable treatment, as she stood up over and over again for our shared liberal ideals.
In the end, I didn’t just have to come to terms with the latest and most flagrant instance of an underqualified (and just plain terrible) man being chosen over an overqualified and impressive woman. I didn’t just have to accept that Donald Trump – bigot, hate-monger, narcissist, ignoramus and embarrassingly bad public speaker was going to be President of the United States. I also had to let go of the image I had of President Hillary Clinton, an image that had it been realized would have made up just a little bit for having to still see sexism and gender discrimination rage rampant in the U.S. and all over the world.
So in the words of this excellent Bust article by Rachel Withers, this is my goodbye to President Hillary. I’ve reviewed books by her and about her as a tribute to celebrate the amazing history of her life from young civil rights and anti-war activist, to successful lawyer, to politically savvy first lady, to being elected Senator from New York and resurrecting U.S. diplomatic relations with the world as Secretary of State, to winning the nomination as the first major-party female presidential candidate. It was an incredible accomplishment for her to be nominated, and also to obtain a majority of the popular vote, and as a woman I’m proud of the progress she’s helped us make. I’m looking forward to future publications that will help me reflect further on this latest election and her role in it. In the meantime, I hope we’ll be blessed with an equally excellent female candidate in 2020 who will make it all the way to the top.
Living History by Hillary Rodham Clinton
Published: June 9th 2003
Plot Teaser (from Amazon)
Hillary Rodham Clinton is known to hundreds of millions of people around the world. Yet few beyond her close friends and family have ever heard her account of her extraordinary journey. She writes with candor, humor and passion about her upbringing in suburban, middle-class America in the 1950s and her transformation from Goldwater Girl to student activist to controversial First Lady. Living History is her revealing memoir of life through the White House years. It is also her chronicle of living history with Bill Clinton, a thirty-year adventure in love and politics that survives personal betrayal, relentless partisan investigations and constant public scrutiny.
The books reviewed in this book list are all pretty heavy on the political details, and I think to appreciate most of them, you’d have to be a bit of a politics buff. Living History, however, is the title I would recommend to those who don’t love books about politics but want to learn more about Hillary’s origins and her life as first lady. Her writing in this autobiography is concise and accessible, filled with personal anecdotes of her childhood, her marriage to Bill Clinton, and her life at the White House. There are a couple of sections that are heavier on the political issues she was involved with while first lady, like her failed health care overhaul or the Whitewater scandal, but overall most of the book reads as a highly personal memoir. Of course, you’re not going to get the same level of salaciousness you would from a non-accredited biography of her that delves into every traumatic detail of her husband’s near-impeachment, but you’ll get Hillary’s own voice in exchange – her passion for the possibilities of democracy, her love for her family and the incredible strength she demonstrated as she navigated her husband’s betrayals and the disappointing sexism she had to come to terms with as first lady. Obviously it was ghost written, so if you’re of the opinion that Hillary lacks warmth, you can ascribe the relatable tone of the book to her ghost writers’ abilities, but let’s not forget that ultimately it was Hillary who had to provide the humorous stories and personal experiences.
Hard Choices by Hillary Rodham Clinton
Published: June 10th 2014
Plot Teaser (from Goodreads)
In the aftermath of her 2008 presidential run, Hillary Clinton expected to return to representing New York in the United States Senate. To her surprise, her former rival for the Democratic Party nomination, newly elected President Barack Obama, asked her to serve in his administration as Secretary of State. This memoir is the story of the four extraordinary and historic years that followed, and the hard choices that she and her colleagues confronted.
I read Hard Choices several years ago, back when Hillary had not yet announced she was running for the Democratic nomination for the 2016 election. This memoir is definitely not short on the details of her experience as Secretary Of State. It’s a super dense account of all the trips she took and the crises she faced in her four years in the position, from Benghazi to the raid on Bin Laden. If you don’t feel that impressed by Hillary and are open to changing your mind about that, read this book. It made me tired just hearing about all the work she did in those years on behalf of America and President Obama. Just like her previous memoir Living History, Hard Choices is replete with personal anecdotes that add warmth and insight into the inner workings of this incredible woman. I really appreciated the way in which the book was organized, by region of the world and then narrowed down into topics or countries. It helped to focus the narrative because obviously the diplomatic issues involved with one region of the world vary widely from those of another. You’ll come away with a sense that Hillary somehow understands the intricacies of hundreds of complex issues that span the globe, and that she was eminently qualified as Secretary Of State. It’s the usual of course, as a woman you have to be twice as prepared as everyone else, and she is, every time. Be warned though that even for someone like me who likes reading about international politics and diplomacy, the book came off as dry and even boring in sections. It’s highly informative but a detailed tour de force.
A Woman In Charge by Carl Bernstein
Published: June 5th 2007
Plot Teaser (from Goodreads)
Drawing from hundreds of interviews with colleagues, friends and with unique access to campaign records, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Carl Bernstein offers a complex and nuanced portrait of one of the most controversial figures of our time: Hillary Clinton.
There are a lot of biographies of Hillary out there, but I had a hard time picking one that I felt wasn’t just salacious tabloid fodder gossip. With titles like Guilty As Sin and Unlikeable: The Problem With Hillary Clinton, I didn’t want to waste my time reading about unverified allegations of corruption or scandal by anonymous (and biased) sources. I did want a second-hand view of Hillary though, and because Carl Bernstein is a highly accredited investigative journalist and author, I knew I could trust his account in A Woman In Charge. I’m listening to this book in audiobook format, and I have to be honest that I’m only about halfway through. So far, it’s spanning a similar time period to Hillary’s memoir Living History, through to the Lewinsky scandal, but I know that it extends further as well, into Clinton’s senate run and possibly even leading up to her first presidential candidacy. Bernstein is very heavy on the details through every phase of Clinton’s life – sometimes to overkill levels – and always includes multiple direct quotes from friends or political aides to substantiate facts and observations. At times, Bernstein falls into the trap of describing Hillary in sexist terms, even as he provides an analysis of how the media was being sexist toward Hillary while she was first lady. He dwells, for example, on Hillary’s issues at controlling her weight or on how she had more male friends than female friends, details that I think would not have been included in a male politician’s biography. Still, this is an expertly crafted, accredited and dependable look at Hillary through a large stretch of her history, and I would recommend it you’re looking for that relatively impartial viewpoint.
Thirty Ways Of Looking At Hillary Edited by Susan Morrison
Published: December 23rd 2008
Plot Teaser (from Amazon)
No one else in the political arena inspires as wide a range of passionate feelings as Hillary Rodham Clinton. Cold or competent, overachiever or pioneer, too radical or too moderate, she continues to overturn the assumptions we make about her. In Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary, New Yorker editor Susan Morrison has compiled a timely collection of original pieces by America’s most notable women writers. The result is a dazzling and revealing pointillist portrait of this complex and controversial politician.
This anthology is a compendium of essays and articles written about Hillary Clinton and her first presidential candidacy. It revealed to me that I like essay anthologies that have this structure – with one main focus that is treated or approached in different ways by each of the essays included. The contributions spanned a very wide array of viewpoints – from people who are definitely anti-Hillary, to people who fawn over her, to others who are ambivalent or more neutral. It was definitely commendable that it was women writers who were chosen to contribute, as I’m sure we’ve had enough of male journalists bungling their way around denying that Hillary makes them uncomfortable. One of the selections I found most interesting was The Tyranny Of High Expectations by The Sixth Extinction author Elizabeth Kolbert, about the double-bind faced by Hillary of being judged regardless of the direction she decides to go in with regards to appearing ambitious or in charge. I also liked Rebecca Mead’s offering called All Hail Betty Boop, which includes reflections on the times in which female President figures have been showcased in film and television. There were also more whimsical offerings like How Hungry Is Hillary by Mimi Sheraton about how Hillary’s food preferences may reveal something about her personality or character. I definitely disagreed with several of the authors, but it was very interesting to see such a wide range of opinions and fun to read one or two of the essays per night.
Big Girls Don’t Cry by Rebecca Traister
Published: September 14th 2010
Plot Teaser (from Goodread)
In Big Girls Don’t Cry, Rebecca Traister, a Salon.com columnist whose election coverage garnered much attention, makes sense of this moment in American history, in which women broke barriers and changed the country’s narrative in completely unexpected ways: How did the volatile, exhilarating events of the 2008 election fit together? What lessons can be learned from these great political upheavals about women, politics, and the media?
I recently reviewed Rebecca Traister more recent book All The Single Ladies, which was a history of the social and economic changes experienced by women in the wake of the feminist movement and into present time. In Big Girls Don’t Cry, Traister follows Hillary Clinton through her first attempt at being nominated by the Democrats in 2008, in which she lost the presidential nomination to Barack Obama. Initially, the book is focused on the rivalry between Hillary and Barack and explains in detail the nature of the sexism to which Hillary was subjected to by the media and her political foes during her first candidacy. Next, Traister delves into the unsolvable quandary over whether Barack’s race or Hillary’s gender should have seemed more important to voters bent on trying to advance either African-American or gender equality. This exploration of the effects of Barack’s race and Hillary’s gender on their competition lead Traister into a reflection on the intersectionality of feminism and race, and of the feelings of female voters (including young women, older women, and African-American women) about the two candidates. Towards the end of the book Traister moves on to discuss Sarah Palin’s role as a different kind of female politician (and purported feminist) from Hillary, finishing with some observations on the role of female journalists during the electoral race. I found every passage of the book interesting, but ultimately, like I did when reading All The Single Ladies, I didn’t feel like Traister’s analysis was either sufficiently in-depth or successfully tied together enough for the book to be as impactful as it could have been. I hope that Traister will write about the most recent election, though, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for her next book.
Other Books By Hillary Rodham Clinton
It Takes A Village by Hillary Rodham Clinton
Plot Teaser (from Goodreads)
For more than twenty-five years, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton has made children her passion and her cause. Her experience with children has strengthened her conviction that how children develop and what they need to succeed is inextricably entwined with the society in which they live and how well it sustains and supports its families and individuals. In other words, it takes a village to raise a child.
This book chronicles her quest-both deeply personal and, in the truest sense, public-to discover how we can make our society into the kind of village that enable children to grow into able, caring, resilient adults.
Stronger Together by Hillary Clinton And Tim Kaine
Plot Teaser (from Goodreads)
For more than a year, Hillary Clinton has laid out an ambitious agenda to improve the lives of the American people and make our country stronger and safer. Stronger Together presents that agenda in full, relating stories from the American people and outlining the Clinton/Kaine campaign’s plans on everything from apprenticeships to the Zika virus. Stronger Together offers specific solutions and a bold vision for building a more perfect union.
Have you read any of these books on or by Hillary Clinton? What did you think? Are there any other books about her that you would recommend? Let me know in the comments.
This post contains affiliate links from Book Depository (free delivery worldwide).