I’m no longer viscerally upset about the 2016 election because I’m a pragmatist – the kind of person who tries to take stock of changed circumstances as soon as possible and adjust their strategy to start again. Of course I’m saddened on a daily basis by some of the actions of the current administration (aren’t we all, or most of us at least), but I’ve let go of the frustration over Hillary’s loss. I think she’d agree that it’s a waste of time at this point. She seems like a pragmatist too and what’s done is done.
However, there’s always room to learn from past events, and I’ve been drawn to books about the election to try to dissect the mechanics of what caused Clinton’s loss. As soon as I heard her memoir on the election was coming out in September, I knew I wanted to read it right away. I didn’t know exactly what to expect having read most of her past memoirs (book list here). They are chock-full of information and expertly written but polished and restrained, very much written by a woman with an eye to a continued future in politics. I though that in What Happened she might let loose a little more, but I was so in love with how out there she is in this memoir that I can’t even fully convey it. I felt that in What Happened, I met the Hillary Clinton we all could glimpse behind the necessary political facade – or at least those of us who cared to look accurately.
What Happened by Hillary Clinton
Publication Date: September 12th 2017
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Plot Teaser (from Goodreads)
For the first time, Hillary Rodham Clinton reveals what she was thinking and feeling during one of the most controversial and unpredictable presidential elections in history. Now free from the constraints of running, Clinton takes you inside the intense personal experience of becoming the first woman nominated for president by a major party in an election marked by rage, sexism, exhilarating highs and infuriating lows, stranger-than-fiction twists, Russian interference, and an opponent who broke all the rules. This is her most personal memoir yet.
She speaks about the challenges of being a strong woman in the public eye, the criticism over her voice, age, and appearance, and the double standard confronting women in politics. The election of 2016 was unprecedented and historic. What Happened is the story of that campaign and its aftermath—both a deeply intimate account and a cautionary tale for the nation.
What I Liked
She’s not pulling any punches. Some people (mostly the usual suspects) didn’t appreciate that Clinton showed some latent anger towards individuals and circumstances that affected the result of the election. They wanted Clinton to take all the blame for herself. They weren’t satisfied by the numerous times in which she does take responsibility in the memoir. Honestly, it almost seems that because of all the outside pressure she’s experienced to take responsibility, some parts of the book read like a mea culpa. I was very satisfied though to see that Clinton was brave enough to make it clear that though she did make choices that influenced election results, there were multiple factors beyond her control that likely had an even greater effect. And how could they not. The 2016 election was a large scale historical event – the kind that is never fully swayed by just one individual, even if he or she is at the center of history. Clinton doesn’t hold back on Bernie Sanders, the media’s obsession with her email non-scandal, Comey, Trump’s abhorrence for the truth and gasp! even sexism. Hallelujah. I thought she was logical, convincing and justified in her analysis.
It’s relatable. This may seem like a weird thing to say because after all Clinton’s life has been anything but average. She was the first female Presidential Candidate nominated by a major party – not to mention First Lady, Senator and Secretary Of State of course. (She also won the popular vote in 2016, just thought I’d throw that in here *wink*). She’s a public figure, and a larger-than-life one at that. Still, Clinton gets much more personal in this memoir than she has in her preceding ones, and you really see the human being behind the political persona. She openly shares the bleak details of how she coped on and after election night. She doesn’t try to pretend that she reacted with complete stoicism but admits to crying it out and indulging in too much Chardonnay. She talks about her behind-the-scene reactions during trying parts of the election campaign that reveal she’s nothing like the ambition robot many people believe her to be. She reveals some of her favorite books and admits to keeping a quote diary (clearly she’s more organized than the rest of us). Though I’ve never lost an election for the US Presidency, I’ve suffered heartbreak and hardship, and I felt close to Clinton in this book from a human perspective.
It’s well-written. No surprise here. If you’ve read any of Clinton’s previous books, you’ll know that she loves to really get into the policy and she comes bearing data and research. I can just about here her yelling jubilantly “I have the receipts!” in this book. If you don’t think Clinton is one intelligent lady, you just have to listen to how she articulates her views on things like Bernie Sander’s unrealistic pledge to provide single-payer healthcare for all, Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 election through facebook ads and other means, the polling errors that misguided candidates and the electorate alike on Clinton’s potential win, and the effect that her email scandal had on her presidency. She brings out the facts and figures and makes detailed arguments for her policy viewpoints, as well as dissecting the strategic mistakes her team made during the elections. Clinton has a superb analytical mind and her ideas comes through in this memoir clearly and concisely (likely also thanks to help from others in writing style) I never fail to come away from reading one of her books in awe not just of her accomplishments but of her mind, and What Happened is no exception.
What I Didn’t Like
It’s sad. I think the book was everything I wanted it and needed it to be, but it was still a sad and difficult read. Before the election I thought that sexism was a reality that however was slowly on its way out, and then America decided to elect someone so profoundly unsuitable as President over someone so thoroughly competent and deserving, in part because the latter had a vagina. It was rough to read the sections of the book that covered Clinton’s struggle to try to combat the sexism she was undeniably and consistently subject to since the beginning of her career in political life. From her appearances and speeches, sometimes it seemed that Clinton would brush off the idea of sexism as though it didn’t apply to her, but in this memoir she reveals it was always at the forefront of her mind. She consulted with others about it under the guise of trying to figure out why she was so ‘unlikable’ and hard to relate to. Well, it’s pretty simple, she was so unlikable and unrelatable because she couldn’t be herself, because being herself would be viewed as soft/weak/hysterical/insert sexist adjective here. It was sad to realize that this may be impossible to fix in the short term – it’s going to take a lot of time.
A first-person, personal and surprisingly relatable account of the 2016 Election that will make you feel closer to Clinton, and help you understand her if you’ve struggled to in the past. I think it’s a worthwhile read for supporters and critics alike.
Have you read What Happened? 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 contemporary fiction title Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, biography Diana: Her True Story – In Her Own Words by Andrew Morton, political memoir Who Thought This Was A Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastromonaco, audiobook of historical fiction novel Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel and historical crime mystery Death Of A Nationalist by Rebecca Pawel.
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