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What Happened


What Happened

Like many Americans, I was curious (more like really wanted to know) about what was inside 67th U.S. Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton’s political memoir about her unsuccessful 2016 campaign.

Before I review the book, I would like to let you know that I will attempt to be objective rather than give my outright opinion, and instead will focus on some interesting topics and stories. In full disclosure, I actively supported Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary, and then easily voted for Clinton in the general election. Now that you know where I stand, I want to give you the chance to figure out where you do after reading this book I recommend. You probably already have an opinion even stronger than mine, so I will try to point out the parts of the memoir I found useful without too much elaboration.

What stood out most about WHAT HAPPENED, which is a memoir not just about politics, is how personally Clinton chose to express herself in writing. Where the campaign was meticulously managed, it is remarkable how open the language of the book is, while still remaining substantial and smart. She speaks about how she and her campaign chose to carefully control her image, understanding the significance of being the first woman to win the nomination of one of the two major parties. It was a constraint hurting her authenticity during a political season where it was said that Americans were looking for an outsider, though it must be noted that Clinton had nearly three million more votes in the end.

"There is probably one reason for every person to read WHAT HAPPENED. It certainly was an important moment in American history that we can understand more as time goes on."

From the moment she announced her candidacy, Clinton did everything she could to take the attention off her clothes, style and hair. She makes clear that she wanted to be taken seriously based on her history of helping others, experience in the White House, and how she governed during her career. There was internal struggle within the campaign, with some regrets, but Clinton shows that she did what had to be done to preserve the integrity of being the first woman to navigate the position she was in.

There is an entire chapter “On Being a Woman in Politics,” where Clinton discusses her frustrations, as well as some of her successes. She says a major theme is perception: When a powerful woman is seen fighting for the rights of others, she is commended, but when she begins fighting for herself is when some people turn away. This is evident in the way voters may dislike Clinton when she is running for office, but then approve of her when she governs. She is straightforward about the bias she encounters as a professional woman in a position of power. On the other hand, Clinton was moved by the thousands of women she met on the campaign trail, many of whom are now in the process of running for office themselves. This is not to mention the young women and girls she stated she was trying to set an example for as she made history.

Clinton’s thoughts on being the first woman are major, yet her analysis of Russian interference can be just as powerful in the chapter “Trolls, Bots, Fake News, and Real Russians.” She paints the widespread Russian meddling as a problem that must be investigated, describing it as an issue of democracy larger than the election itself. As an adversary during her tenure as Secretary of State, Clinton was aware of how Russian President Vladimir Putin was against the interests of the United States, and gets immersed in the details in a profoundly personal way. I found that the claims she lays out are strikingly similar to, and even parallel, those investigated in the popular book THE PLOT TO HACK AMERICA by 36-year U.S. intelligence veteran Malcolm Nance. There is much to the story and more that is yet to be told, and you get a long chapter on it in WHAT HAPPENED.

But there is so much more in here than just the controversial topics everyone wants to hear about. If you are a follower of Clinton, this book represents a considerable offer. It starts off on the day of the election, goes back to the kickoff of her campaign, considers her family, her time spent out crossing the country, election night and a way forward. The media spent so much time covering President Trump, many who only watch television are probably not aware of the ins and outs of the years Clinton spent campaigning. I was glad to hear about some of the individual interactions she had in places I wouldn’t expect, like West Virginia. But if you are in it for the controversy, the book includes topics like authenticity, likability, sexism in politics, coping mechanisms, and even attending the inauguration. There is probably one reason for every person to read WHAT HAPPENED. It certainly was an important moment in American history that we can understand more as time goes on.

WHAT HAPPENED is delineated in segments titled Perseverance, Competition, Sisterhood, Idealism and Realism, Frustration and Resilience. Yes, there is also a chapter on “Those Damn Emails.” She does present plenty of blame to go around, maybe rightfully so. Her loss on election night hurt her as much as it did many other Americans over time. The book concludes with the chapters “Love and Kindness” and “Onward Together.” Hillary Rodham Clinton moves on to continue her fight.

Reviewed by John Bentlyewski on October 5, 2017

What Happened
by Hillary Rodham Clinton

  • Publication Date: September 18, 2018
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction, Politics
  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 1501178407
  • ISBN-13: 9781501178405