BOOK REVIEW: 'What Happened' by Hillary Clinton

30 Mar 2018 at 17:15

There are some books you finish reading and think to yourself: “Why in God’s name was this book written?” In the case of Hillary Clinton, I suppose it was cheaper than paying for hours of therapy.

Half way through this book I wanted to give up. Indeed, I had that thought after the first chapter, to be honest. Up to 75% of the way through I intended to start this review with the words: “This is one of the worst political books I have ever read.” The reason? Because every page was a vain search for the answer to the question: why did I lose? And that’s what makes this a bad book, because she never really comes up with the answer. It’s a very human thing to examine the reasons why you lost. I’ve been through it myself. The difference is, I came up with the answers and she didn’t. Much of the book is devoted to a plethora of reasons for her defeat, which Hillary herself had nothing to do with. A presidential election gives the voter a binary choice. And when the choice is Trump or Clinton and Clinton loses, it’s natural to do a bit of self examination. The closes she gets is on page 399 when shw writes:

“I have come to terms with the fact that a lot of people – millions and millions of people – decided they just didn’t like me. Imagine what it feels like. It hurts. And it’s a hard thing to accept. But there’s no getting around it.”

She scratches the surface of trying to understand why so many voters took against her. But she curiously takes comfort from the fact that although she lost the election, she won the popular vote. She shouldn’t. She won votes in the wrong places. Her campaign was a disaster in planning, execution and targetting. And she didn’t have the political dexterity or political acumen to turn political threats into opportunities.

There are 18 chapters in this book. Only three of them are worth reading. The chapter on the email scandal is worth it – her ire against James Comey is real – but the best chapter in the book is titled “Trolls, Bots, Fake News and Real Russians”. In these pages Clinton looks at Russian involvement in the election of the Russian state and Vladimir Putin in particular, she analyses his motives and methods and very concerning it is too. She’s obviously researched the issue incredibly well and anyone reading this chapter will find it utterly compelling and convincing. Given recent events it is clear that a pattern is emerging. Her analysis of Trump’s motivations for being so positive about Putin may be written off as the rantings of a political opponent, but that would be to misjudge what Clinton writes.

I do wonder how much of this book Hillary Clinton wrote herself. The folksy style is just not her – or at least not the ‘her’ we all know. Given that in normal circumstances I’d be a Republican supporter, you may think I write this with right of centre motivations in mind. Not at all. Given that the Republican Party is now more of a religious sect than a mianstream political party, I’m someone who would have voted Democrat for the last three presidential elections. I would have voted for Hillary. Unfortunately this book demonstrates all the reasons so many other people didn’t.

I did not enjoy this book, but I suppose I am glad I read it. It confirmed a lot of what I had thought about Clinton and it confirmed my view that she still doesn’t really understand why she lost, and her part in it. But most important of all it issues a stark warning for the future about dealing with the cyber threat from Russia. And that’s why this book does us all a service. So skip the other chapters. Just read that one.