Thursday, February 7, 2019

Book 167: Who Thought This Was A Good Idea?



"I loved being a part of an administration that I thought was making the country better, and I had an incredibly generous, kind, and helpful boss who I felt had not only my best interests at heart but also the entire nation's. Plus, when I traveled for work, I took Air Force One, which never got old, and instead of wasting time at boring conference centers I was doing things like eating goat in the courtyard of Hamid Karzai's palace. They wouldn't let me go inside because I was a woman and they didn't believe I was actually part of the senior staff that was cleared to go in, but still: not much is cooler."

Dates read: August 7-10, 2017

Rating: 7/10

I've been a woman working in politics for six years now. It's an interesting field, but it's hard. In lobbying, you have to constantly be juggling your client's expectations, your relationships with legislators and how much you can bother them before they get sick of seeing your face, and keeping coalition partners engaged and trying to figure out if they have another angle they're trying to work at the same time. When you add into that the necessity of waking up at 5:15 to make sure that I get into the office on time (it's a 40 minute commute, and committees start at 8, but we need to make sure we have time to get the day prepped) and not getting back until at least 6:00, if not later, most nights...I'm glad our state only has session every other year.

And session started this week, by pure coincidence of publishing schedule and reading order. Which means that it's the perfect time to review Alyssa Mastromonaco's Who Thought This Was A Good Idea?. Mastromonaco was the deputy chief of staff to President Obama, and the book is structured around various personal qualities she feels helped her rise in her field (leadership, preparedness, etc). As she talks about these concepts, she fills in details about her experiences in the political world, from interning with Bernie Sanders to working on the Kerry campaign, to getting her start in with Obama when he was a senator and staying with him through the presidential race and then into the White House. There are highs and there are lows, and there's even some romance (and a look at the gentler side of her husband, a former Harry Reid aide known, like his boss, for being caustic).

Mastromonaco is up front about why she wanted to write her book: while there are plenty of works out there from male political types talking about their time in public service, there are comparatively few by women. Part of that is because there haven't been as many women walking the hallways of power, but even among members of that group there's some reticence about being out there about what they've experienced. Mastromonaco wanted to write something honest about being a young person, and a young woman person specifically, living and working in a field not necessarily known for being welcoming to females. And honest she is: she talks openly about her IBS and dealing with it when traveling around the world with the President, being walked in on at the office doing sit-ups, coping with the death and illness of a pet, and the sleep/health destroying stress and pressure that come along with working in the nation's most exclusive address.

I really enjoyed reading this book! When I'd seen the press around the book before I read it, it was described as being as if you had a smart, funny older sister who happened to work closely with Barack Obama, and that's exactly what it is. Mastromonaco's voice is warm, droll, and strikes a great balance between downplaying her success and bragging about it. She owns that she worked really hard and sacrificed a lot to earn what she earned, and how frustrating it could be to deal with people who sometimes let themselves treat her like her youth and gender made her less worthy of their respect. As someone who also works in the general field (though nothing like DC, thank goodness), her words and experiences rang true to me. Politics is exciting and frustrating and there are some of best people who work in it, but also some of the worst. There's nothing quite as great as the feeling of pulling together with your team to get some really good work done and winning the day, but there are also the days when you go cry in the bathroom stall because there are just too many things happening at once and it's overwhelming.

If I was going to offer a critique, it would be that the timelines could get a little hard to keep track of, jumping back and forth from the later part of her time at the White House back to the campaign trail, then forward and then backward again. Organizing around subject areas keeps it cohesive, and by the time you get into the back half off the book it's more chronological, but there were some moments of confusion when I started to read it. Overall, though, it's a look at a side of political life that most people don't ever think about, much less get to see, and I think it would be a great read for anyone interested in what it's actually like to work in this crazy field. I would recommend it particularly highly to women, but men absolutely should read it too. It's a very solid book.

One year ago, I was reading: The Sellout (review to come)

Two years ago, I was reading: Flowertown

Three years ago, I was reading: Creative Mythology

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