We’re all struggling with the negative political news these days, and I really wanted to read Alyssa Mastromonaco’s Who Though This Was A Good Idea? as a political palate cleanser. I wanted it to transport me back to the wonderful years of the Obama White House, when things happened in an organized fashion (largely thanks to Mastromonaco herself), and the POTUS was a steadfast and comforting figure.
I loved learning more about Mastromonaco’s role both during Obama’s campaign and in the White House. As some one who is obsessed with organizing, it was pretty dreamy to hear about the work of someone who was responsible for figuring out the logistics of a jam-packed schedule like that of the President. Mastromonaco is also truly an inspiring figure for women thanks to her incredibly significant accomplishments in a male-dominated field at a very early age.
I struggled with the memoir’s structure and tone, however. It left me wishing that Mastromonaco had either employed a more experienced ghostwriter in helping her craft it, or that she had stuck to the political memoir aspect of it and dropped the self help portions. I recently found out that the book has been optioned by Mindy Kaling’s production company to be turned into a film, and I can see how Mastromonaco’s life would translate into a very compelling feature. While we wait for the screen adaptation, read my review of Mastromonaco’s memoir below.
Who Thought This Was A Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastromonaco
With Lauren Oyler
Publication Date: March 30th 2017
Plot Teaser (from Goodreads)
Alyssa Mastromonaco worked for Barack Obama for almost a decade, and long before his run for president. From the then-senator’s early days in Congress to his years in the Oval Office, she made Hope and Change happen through blood, sweat, tears, and lots of briefing binders.
But for every historic occasion-meeting the queen at Buckingham Palace, bursting in on secret climate talks, or nailing a campaign speech in a hailstorm-there were dozens of less-than-perfect moments when it was up to Alyssa to save the day. Like the time she learned the hard way that there aren’t nearly enough bathrooms at the Vatican.
Full of hilarious, never-before-told stories, WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA? is an intimate portrait of a president, a book about how to get stuff done, and the story of how one woman challenged, again and again, what a “White House official” is supposed to look like.
What I Liked
Learning about the inner workings of the author’s life in the White House. This really was the primary reason I picked up this book – I wanted to learn more about what it was like for Mastromonaco to work both in Obama’s campaign and within his White House. Her story is beyond inspiring – she was the youngest woman ever to hold the White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations position at barely over 30 years old. Through her anecdotes about her work during the campaign and at the White House I learned so much about how Obama operated and how stressful a life of political service like Mastromonaco’s can be. From organizing one huge campaign event after another, to overseeing the logistics of every one of POTUS’ trips abroad, to being responsible for allotting every minute of the President’s time, Mastromonaco’s job sounds like an OCD person’s dream or nightmare, depending on which page you’re reading. Hearing about Mastromonaco’s contributions to the recovery operation during Hurricane Sandy was particularly inspiring.
The humor and personal anecdotes. In addition to sharing work stories throughout the memoir, Mastromonaco also shares some personal anecdotes, with typically absolutely hilarious results. From having to scrounge around for a tampon in a male-dominated White House, to being so tired from the campaign that she went to bed early on Election night, to nearly having an IBS-related debacle when she met the Pope at the Vatican, Mastromonaco opens up and allows the reader to feel that in the end, she’s a regular person to whom unfortunate incidents happen just like us. There were also more emotional personal anecdotes – like discussing her experience with seeing people struggle with food stamps when she was a bagger at a neighborhood grocery story in her high school days, or sharing the time when her beloved cat fell sick and passed away (complete with a call from POTUS straight from Air Force One to convey his condolences). I really felt that Mastromonaco didn’t hold back in sharing all aspects of her life throughout the memoir, and this enriched it past a simple political chronicle to something more relatable and revealing.
What I Didn’t Like
The tone. At the same time that I really appreciated how personal Mastromonaco allowed herself to get in this memoir, I think that where the book really failed for me was in the self-deprecating tone that Mastromonaco chose to discuss her many incredibly impressive accomplishments. Mastromonaco meant the book in part to serve as a source of advice for high schoolers and college-age women who were interested in entering politics. I think that the last thing these women need to hear is a female role model like Mastromonaco, who has achieved so much in her life, at times belittling her own accomplishments and acting almost as if she stumbled into each one of her important positions. I think it’s possible Mastromonaco thought this tone would be more accessible to young women reading her book – as if just like them, she also has insecurities and weaknesses she struggles with. I can understand this, but as a career woman in her 30s, I had to cringe at the way in which Mastromonaco sometimes didn’t stand up for her own success.
It felt rushed and disjointed. Mastromonaco admits several times throughout the book that she struggled to get started with writing this memoir. Eventually, during her post-White House job at VICE, she was able to find a ghostwriter to help her complete the book. Unfortunately the memoir still ends up feeling rushed, somewhat lacking in coherence and feeling like the work of a first-time writer, despite the additional help Mastromonaco obtained from Lauren Oyler. It was a super quick read, and by the end of it I was left thinking – where’s the rest? I think the jumbled nature of the book ultimately derived from Mastromonaco’s intention to write a book that was a hybrid between a political memoir and a self help book for women just starting out in their careers. The self help portions of the narrative felt haphazard and tacked-on, with most of the advice unfortunately feeling pretty common sense and basic. I wondered by the end whether sticking to a singular focus on composing the book as just a political autobiography would have helped with the solidity of the book overall.
Inspiring and humorous memoir from an incredibly successful female political figure, which unfortunately falls somewhat short of its potential due to a lack of cohesiveness in execution.
About The Author
Alyssa Mende Mastromonaco is the Chief Operating Officer of Vice Media. She is also a contributing editor at Marie Claire magazine. She previously served as White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations in the administration of President Barack Obama from 2011 to 2014. She was the youngest woman to hold that position. Mastromonaco had worked for Obama since 2005 when he was on the United States Senate as his Director of Scheduling.
Have you read Who Thought This Was A Good Idea? What did you think? Let me know in the comments.
You can also read my other recent Just Read reviews, including for the audiobook of historical fiction novel Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, historical crime mystery Death Of A Nationalist by Rebecca Pawel, financial advice book Worth It By Amanda Steinberg, nonfiction pick Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History by Bill Schutt, and historical fiction novel Before The Rains by Dinah Jefferies.
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Thank you to the author and publisher for having allowed me to access a copy of this book on Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.