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. Here Alyssa shares the strategies that made her successful in politics and beyond, including the importance of confidence, the value of not being a jerk, and why ultimately everything comes down to hard work (and always carrying a spare tampon).
Told in a smart, original voice and topped off with a couple of really good cat stories, WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA? is a promising debut from a savvy political star.
This was a highly entertaining memoir. It did feel a little light at times, in terms of the behind the scenes political strategising and insights into Obama, but as a Guardian review I read noted, Mastromonaco hasn’t ruled out returning to politics – so you can’t go burning all your bridges and divulging things which should rather stay hidden.
The book isn’t written chronologically, but rather organised into chapters focusing on a particular theme or lesson she learnt along the way. And this works for me, since following a format from cradle to grave can very often bore me.
Essentially, Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? is part insight into Alyssa and her career, anecdotes from her time in politics, particularly her time spent in the White House, as well as some humorous commentary and pieces of career advice for young women (Advice, which quite frankly, boils down to persevere, work hard, and stand up for yourself.) Although this did resonate with me:
Forward motion is always better than no motion – even if you don’t think it’s taking you in the direction you wanted to go.
Due to all the above elements included, I wouldn’t classify this as a hardcore political memoir, but it does seem that there is a dearth of contributions from women in this subgenre. (Probably due to a dearth of female politicians/strategists in what still seems to be an old boys club in many countries.) And like I mentioned, I really enjoyed reading this book. Mastromonaco has an approachable style, and it was incredibly interesting reading about her experiences, the people she met and the problems she had to solve.
I also like the fact that she is matter of fact about her achievements. She doesn’t boast, but she doesn’t overplay them. She worked hard to get where she did. And I think it’s something many of us struggle with – the balance between being proud without being conceited.
Finally, something that stood out for me was her openness about her struggles with IBS. As a fellow-sufferer, I was clenching my gut in sympathy reading about her digestive near-misses. Seriously, it feels like digestive issues are the final frontier of health issues we need to stop shying away from discussing in public.
By this point in my career at the White House, most of the senior staff knew about my IBS; I once had to have Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security advisor, watch the bathroom door for me at Hamid Karzai’s palace while two Afghan guards played cards and smoked on the other side of it. This kind of thing really breaks down barriers with people. When you tell someone, “Here’s the thing: I might have to shit on this helicopter,” and they don’t shun you afterward, you have a friend for life.
Free copy received from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Quotes taken from uncorrected proof and may differ from final publication.