The Hippo


Jun 24, 2017








Who Thought This Was A Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastromonaco
(Twelve, 244 pages)


 If you love to read about what goes on behind the scenes in Washington, you’re going to adore Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? by former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Alyssa Mastromonaco. In this book Mastromonaco relays enough anecdotes to satisfy every political addict. 

Be forewarned, Mastromonaco is a little blunt in her descriptions and use of colorful language. Her story of having IBS problems at the Vatican definitely tells it like it is, as does her bordering-on-too-much-information menstrual story (which resulted in a change in the way things are done at the White House — so ultimately forgivable). Sometimes, we discover that working and traveling with politicians and presidents isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The author lays it out in the open and shows us that you’ve got to take the good with the bad when living and breathing politics. It’s the author’s voice and detail of stories that add to the authenticity of this telling. Mastromonaco has a funny, self-deprecating tone that stays consistent throughout the book. 
In Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?, we are led through an amazing story that begins in a small town and ends up in the White House. Mastromonaco had worked with Barack Obama for a full decade before he even ran for president. 
“... I really wanted to work for Obama. After the brutal Kerry defeat, I especially wanted to work for someone who was not going to run for president — I didn’t think I could take that heartbreak twice in a lifetime — but I also thought Obama was no bullshit and so, so smart. Even then it was clear he was special.” 
Mastromonaco gives us tantalizing background information on what it’s like to organize huge political events (sometimes several each day). We follow her as she transitions from senatorial support to working on a presidential campaign. The management behind all the campaign stops is mind-boggling. Every little piece has to be put into place and has to be operational so that the candidate doesn’t look bad. It’s a fast-paced, do-or-die environment (which leads to a lot of stress eating — which leads to complaining about how clothes fit — hey, we’ve all been there.) 
Mastromonaco fondly recalls one stop in Pennsylvania where Obama gave a speech in pouring sleet. When they had planned the event, the weather forecast had been good. Despite the drastic change, the campaign went ahead with the event — at Mastromonaco’s insistence. And apparently Obama (who hates the cold) will never forget it. When he got back, he good-heartedly chided Mastromonaco for being in a warm office while he was out in that horrible weather. 
Mastromonaco candidly talks about the shift from running campaigns to her first days in the White House. One of her first duties was talking to military leaders after Obama won the presidential election. She tells us that at that particular meeting she initially felt out of her league, a poser, but in true style, she put her head down, did her homework and ended up getting a vote of confidence from those very leaders at the end of the meeting. 
This book does not get bogged down in political platforms or policies. It covers a young woman’s journey in politics and the lessons she learned (some of which are painful) along the way. The timeline does jump around at times, which can cause a little confusion, but that aside, the details are worth the effort. I particularly liked a tidbit about when Obama called Mastromonaco to send condolences when her cat died — a simple gesture between two people who work together and who have deep respect for each other. 
But don’t expect any dirt on Obama. Instead you’re going to discover stories from a working relationship with a boss who turned out to be a mentor in all things political. 
What’s absolutely refreshing about this book is that not only is it a study in what Obama has done and how he has acted, but it’s also a great book filled with advice for young adults who may be trying to advance their careers in the field of politics. (There is a lot of “do as I say and not as I did.”) 
At the end of the book Mastromonaco wrote that she was targeting 15- to 25-year-olds as her audience. Clearly she speaks to them in a language that they understand. I’m not in that demographic and yet I found this book to be delightful, filled with tantalizing information, funny, and in the end, an inspiring account of a young woman, who with grit and fortitude, did a job that we all can admire her for. B 
— Wendy E.N. Thomas 

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