Book Review - Working with Obama: Lessons for young women with political inclinations

September 25 2017

Title: Who Thought This Was a Good Idea; Author: Alyssa Mastromonaco; Publisher: Hachette; Price: Rs 499; Pages: 244


The unusual title of this book is inspired by a question which former US President Barack Obama frequently asked the author while she was serving as the White House Deputy Chief of Staff and the cover shows Obama sitting with the author inside Air Force One. In short, it has all that is required to attract eyeballs. But don't judge a book by its cover.


Mastromonaco worked for 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 was a constant companion.


At first glance, the book appears more like a memoir and readers may be tempted to buy a copy just the anecdotes around the former President. But this expectation is belied as the author calls it an "advice book/memoir geared towards women between the ages of about 15-25". Nonetheless, Mastromonaco has some good lessons in store for her readers.


It is a journey through some challenging phases of Obama's presidency and, through the events that unfolded at those times, the author leaves behind her lessons for the readers. Described in vivid detail and anecdotal tone are accounts ranging from the tension when Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy or the Haitian earthquake struck to the riveting details on the lead-up to Obama's inauguration.


Mastromonaco keeps her target readers in mind and makes it a point to mention every small detail that may serve as a lesson for young women -- including how she got her period at a state dinner or suffered from diarrhoea at the Vatican.


Like a child, she expresses her excitement at visiting Buckingham Palace and shares insights into little troubles that she faced while moving house. She also mentions several instances of her feeling sick on a helicopter. It is through these little experiences that she reminds her readers that even people at the height of their success are faced with common problems like common people.


"I also wanted to write this book because I didn't see anything like it out there. When I was trying, kind of desperately, to get a job in politics, and then once I got one, all my mentors were men. Most political memoirs are written by men -- because most of the people who work in politics are men," she writes.


The stories about the White House with Obama are wild and hilarious, overwhelming for the reader on many occasions. Obama is largely a well-respected man among common people in the US and abroad but Mastromonaco reminds us -- through many anecdotes and personal experiences -- that Obama is a legitimately thoughtful, caring and wonderful human being. The extraordinary amount of respect that Obama's staff had for the President, the author points out in the book, is sorely missing from Trump's White House.


The book is easy to read but does not follow a chronological order which is a bit confusing at times. Mastromonaco's main aim is to reach out to young women who have a fiery desire and passion to enter politics. If you are curious about anything in the world of politics, you will enjoy this book.


(Saket Suman can be contacted at saket.s@ians.in)


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