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What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton
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In this “admirably candid” account of the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton reveals what it was like to be “mugged by a belligerent billionaire”, said Tony Allen-Mills in The Sunday Times. Having been supremely confident of victory, Clinton’s defeat to Donald Trump came as a “numbing” shock. For weeks afterwards, she did little other than drink Chardonnay, take “long walks in the woods” and practise “a yoga technique called alternate nostril breathing”. Yet Clinton has put her “dismay” to good use. What Happened is a “pleasingly vengeful and often darkly funny” analysis of how a sexist “crank” thwarted her dream of becoming America’s first female president. Aware that such a book could turn into a “recitation of the failings of others”, Clinton is admirably frank in her assessment of her own shortcomings: she wasn’t, she admits, a sufficiently “transformative” candidate, and she failed to offer “what a lot of the country wanted to hear”.

This is a “muddled, self-contradictory” book that “seesaws jerkily between sweet and sour, calm and fury”, said Craig Brown in The Mail on Sunday. While keen to make a show of contrition, Clinton “much prefers” blaming others. Her targets are many – Bernie Sanders, Julian Assange and “the media” all get lambasted – and even Barack Obama is criticised for not drawing more attention to Russian interference in the election. This is a “classic tale of hubris”, said Peter Conrad in The Observer. Clinton had arranged every detail of her march to the White House – from the stage, designed to look like a map of America, on which she would declare victory, to the purple suit she would wear on her first trip to Washington as president-elect. But in its “combination of number-crunching wonkery and strenuously pious uplift”, this “unreflective” memoir reveals “more than she might have intended about why she lost”.

There’s plenty of “special pleading and personal score-settling” in What Happened, said Edward Luce in the Financial Times. But it is also – rather unexpectedly – “a compelling read”. Clinton has “finally given vent to her feelings”: the guilt she feels at letting “an unqualified bully become president of the United States”; her fury at the media’s harsh scrutiny of women in the public eye. (She reveals that she spent 600 hours of the campaign – 25 days – having her hair and make-up done.) Had she revealed a bit more of the “spark and biting sarcasm” that she shows here, her “lacklustre” campaign would have been very different.

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