Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?: And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House by Alyssa Mastromonaco with Lauren Oyler (Twelve, 2017).
Brilliantly narrated by the author, this political memoir come ‘help guide’ was perfect to listen to when walking to work each morning. At only five hours and 53 minutes this audiobook is shorter than most biographies I have listened to before (I tend to prefer listening to autobiographies, particularly when they are author narrated) but nevertheless it was packed with anecdotes and lessons from Mastromonaco’s life and political career. As someone who is only vaguely familiar with the US political system it also helped to answer some questions which, no matter how many times I re-watch The West Wing, still remained unanswered.
Alyssa Mastromonaco is currently the Chief Operating Officer of Vice Media, but the book focuses on her position as the former deputy chief of staff to President Barack Obama and how she came to into that role, becoming the youngest women to do so in the process. The narrative is not chronological but anecdotal, jumping from working for Obama, to her time at college and her first experience of politics interning for Bernie Sanders, and campaign scheduling for John Kerry. Nothing is off limits, but Mastromonaco’s aim is not to cement her legacy of her time in the White House (apart from the tampon machine in the ladies toilet – she’s taking credit for that) but to be the wiser and more experienced older sister of the reader, offering advice and guidance to women who want to be successful in their chosen field. This is evident in the subjects covered in the book, or rather what it doesn’t shy away from – periods, IBS are just two topics that spring to mind. The more glamorous side of politics is covered (dinner parties with high profile guests), as is the less glamorous side of a sector that is still predominantly male (bleeding through your trousers at said dinner party, because of the lack of tampon dispensers).
The anecdotes are hilarious and sometimes cringe inducing, but these asides give Mastromonaco a solid grounding as someone you should probably listen to. The relaxed narrating style makes the book easy to listen to, and adds to the big sister/best friend feel that at many times had me smiling to myself as I was listening. What comes across most often however, was just how ‘normal’ Mastromonaco appears in this book. She didn’t have a route to politics mapped out for her from birth, but threw herself into anything and everything she was required to do, learning from her mistakes along the way. The honesty and humanity included in each story and anecdote makes it stand out from any other political memoir I have read, and in my opinion is where the book really comes into its own.
As a (fairly) recent university graduate, listening to this audiobook made me feel like I can take on anything and be ready for any professional situation, political or otherwise. I’m compiling a small talk list of fail safe t.v shows and films, working towards a ‘fuck you fund’ for those times when I just have to get out or move on, and keeping in mind that forward motion is better than standing still – even if it’s not immediately obvious that I’m going in the right direction.