Book review: What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

What Happened by Hillary Clinton
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: AmazonTBDGoodreads
Publication Date: September 12, 2017
Source: Borrowed from my library

“In the past, for reasons I try to explain, I’ve often felt I had to be careful in public, like I was up on a wire without a net. Now I’m letting my guard down.” —Hillary Rodham Clinton, from the introduction of What Happened

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, Hillary 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.

In these pages, she describes what it was like to run against Donald Trump, the mistakes she made, how she has coped with a shocking and devastating loss, and how she found the strength to pick herself back up afterward. With humor and candor, she tells readers what it took to get back on her feet—the rituals, relationships, and reading that got her through, and what the experience has taught her about life. 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.

She lays out how the 2016 election was marked by an unprecedented assault on our democracy by a foreign adversary. By analyzing the evidence and connecting the dots, Hillary shows just how dangerous the forces are that shaped the outcome, and why Americans need to understand them to protect our values and our democracy in the future.

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.

If you’ve turned on a television, scrolled through any kind of social media, or flipped on the radio in the last two years or so, you surely know about the US’s 2016 election. The divisive election pitted Hillary Clinton, an experienced politician, against Donald Trump, a reality television star. It was the ugliest election in recent memory with the most negative ads I’ve ever seen. Of course, the negative ads were primarily focused on Hillary Clinton, the first female candidate for president from a major political party. Information has now come out showing Russian interference in the election and I would not be surprised if we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. In her memoir, What Happened, Clinton tackles the headlines, the rumors, and the aftermath of her campaign and her loss.

Earlier this year, I read Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff’s tell-all story of Trump’s first year in office. While it wasn’t necessarily a good book, it was certainly enlightening. Prior to the primaries, I read Bernie Sanders’ Outsider in the White House. Bernie and I agree about a lot of things — not everything, but most major policies. I proudly voted for Hillary in the last election, so it seemed only fitting that I should read What Happened. I put a hold on it at my library shortly after it was released. At about six months, I think this is the longest that I’ve ever waited for a book.

This book humanizes Hillary so much. Sure, there’s a lot about her policies, a lot about what went wrong during her campaign (both due to her own mistakes and media bias), a lot about what she wishes she could’ve done differently… but there’s also a lot about her life as a mother, a grandmother, a daughter. Her mother’s life story is both fascinating and heartbreaking. This was my favorite part of the book. I loved getting to know her as a person.

I legitimately cried during the section on school shootings. This book was, of course, written well before the Parkland and Santa Fe shootings. Our current president doesn’t have a single care in the world. He’ll happily defend the NRA and twist the words of gun control activists. Imagine how different the response to this shooting would have been had the election gone the other way. In her book, Hillary addresses previous mass shootings in a way that made me just break down. I’m honestly about to cry again just thinking about it.

But there are also some things that I’m not a huge fan of. Although Hillary says at the beginning of the book that the loss is hers and the mistakes were hers, she sure distributes an awful lot of blame. There are also a few things that Hillary fixates on that I think she probably could have just briefly addressed. Some things that didn’t sit quite right with me:

  • She (understandably) reacts negatively to people who bring up her or Bill’s past but consistently dredges up Bernie’s past. I get that Bernie didn’t do everything right and he isn’t perfect, but it’s also not solely his fault that she lost.
  • She had a controversy about coal mining and I feel like she’s maybe overcompensating for that in this book. There’s a really long section on what she would have done about coal mining and how her comments were taken out of context. It’s just so long.
  • I’m a little sick of hearing about the emails. I never thought the emails were as big of a deal as the media tried to make them and here, in this book, the emails are front and center again. I get that a lot of people thought her emails were the worst thing ever, but it feels like approximately 80% of this book focuses on the emails and I’m just so done with it.
  • She really hates Comey. Like, a lot. I get it. He probably influenced the election quite a bit. But she spends so much time railing about what a bad person he is and how many mistakes he made that I actually wanted to jump in and defend him.
  • She’s also really mad at Wisconsin. Now, this is another thing that I understand. Wisconsin has been largely democratic for most of my life. When I was in college, Scott Walker was elected governor. There was a huge uproar on my very liberal college campus. Since his election, the state has become progressively more conservative and a progressively worse place to live. I no longer live in Wisconsin, but I still have a soft spot for my home state and I didn’t like that Hillary consistently blamed Wisconsin for her loss. Last I checked, Wisconsin was not the only state in the country.

I think that the first quarter of this book is the best. It’s certainly a worthy read if you want to know more about the US’s first female presidential candidate from a major political party. It’s worth reading if you’re interested in politics. It’s worth reading if Donald Trump infuriates you and you want to think about what might have been.

The book is a little long. Hillary rambles a bit, and, much like with Fire and Fury, I think a good editor could have cut it down to be smoother and more cohesive. That said, I feel much more informed and I’m glad that I read this.