Cover Image: Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?

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Member Reviews

Usually I’m not one for memoirs or political nonfiction, but Alyssa Mastromonaco’s narrative of her years working for Barack Obama was a joy to read. 

I first became aware of Mastromonaco when she was a guest on Bad on Paper podcast. Her no-nonsense style of talking politics combined with her sense of humor and empathy make her not only a likable Nonfiction protagonist, but one who is aspirational as well. 

I could have done without all the TMI bathroom info she shared, but the rest of the White House Staffers: They’re Just Like Us! schtick played beautifully. 

This is a nice short read that provides a bit of education on how the presidential machine functions day to day, written by a woman who you’ll wish was both your boss and your best friend.
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Wow. Just wow. The openness of this book was astounding. The true grit and depth  the author takes you to is wonderful.
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I really enjoyed this book! It is rare that I read political memoirs, but this one grabbed my attention. From the first page I related to the author and was also captivated by her window into the presidency. 
I think it is a great read for anyone interested in Obama, fans of Veep, or just readers who enjoy humorous essays. This book has a lot of appeal for a wide range of readers.
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Mastromonaco feels like an old friend who just happened to work for Obama. This book is a quick read/listen full of anecdotes and pieces of professional advice. I also loved her casual mention about how IBS affected her life on the road working for POTUS, and I almost cried when, after her cat died once she left the White House, Obama called her to send his regrets. Because he’s simply the best. I’m excited to listen to Mastromonaco’s new book.
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A very interesting memoir of a young person's political education and working with President Obama. A very honest book, the author engages with not only her own mistakes but doesn't sugar-coat problems that arose during the Obama administration. Engaging, sometimes entertaining, and filled with interesting observations about life, work, politics, and the presidency. I really enjoyed it. (Also highly recommend the Crooked Media podcasts, on which Mastromonaco is a frequent guest.)
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Alyssa Mastromonaco is a hilarious woman who deserves her own talk show. I loved reading about a normal woman's journey to the white house, instead of someone with connections and money making it big. It's a nice reminder that at one time the White House wasn't full of scandal.
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I was really excited about reading this book (yes, even though it took me over a year to do so), but I have to admit that I was left disappointed.  I enjoyed Mastromonaco's dry humor and the interesting anecdotes, however the writing seemed a bit scattered and jumped around quite a bit -- a few pages would cover her time in the White House and then all of a sudden readers who thrust into her part-time job during high school.  It was disjointing and difficult to keep attention when I had to keep reminding myself of what time in her life she was talking about.  I greatly respect Mastromonaco and wish I had better things to say about this book.
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Great insight into the Obama administrative and working in the White House.  Funny, enlightening and extremely enjoyable.
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While I enjoyed this memoir, I don't think my students will.
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Interesting to get a woman's insider perspective but I didn't really like the author based on reading this.
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Loved this inside look at the working of the Obama White House. Alyssa Mastromonaco worked for Barack Obama for almost a decade and knows the ins and outs of Washington politics. From her "glamorous trip" to Buckingham Palace (she didn't know she'd be meeting the Queen and was wearing jeans) t  grinding out 16 hours days in the West Wing, the author paints a vivid picture of life in the White House.
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This book should be required reading for all young women before starting their careers.  The advice the author gives, such as how powerful your words can be, is timeless.  I enjoyed her antidotes, as well.  However, her writing about her relationship with her cat was what really got me.  I have several furbabies and could relate so much to this relationship.  Read this, you will not regret it!
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I loved this book.... but it made me miss President Obama even more. It was great to get the behind-the-scenes look at his life as a Senator and his presidential campaign. It is written with more humor than insight, but it also includes a memorable story about access to tampons in the White House.
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I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 
From the publisher - 
If your funny older sister were the former deputy chief of staff to President Barack Obama, her behind-the-scenes political memoir would look something like this... 
Alyssa Mastromonaco worked for Barack 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 made Hope and Change happen through blood, sweat, tears, and lots of briefing binders.
But for every historic occasion-meeting the queen at Buckingham Palace, bursting in on secret climate talks, or nailing a campaign speech in a hailstorm-there were dozens of less-than-perfect moments when it was up to Alyssa to save the day. Like the time she learned the hard way that there aren't nearly enough bathrooms at the Vatican.. Here Alyssa shares the strategies that made her successful in politics and beyond, including the importance of confidence, the value of not being a jerk, and why ultimately everything comes down to hard work (and always carrying a spare tampon)

Young people these days tend to not have the concept of what working at and for a CAREER  really is - they should read this book. Most careers cannot revolve around taking 46 selfies which were also posted on social media over the course of three hours  (I actually counted that number of poses taken by a college student who I was working beside but not supervising one afternoon ... she had no idea I was her monitor, for a good reason it seems!)

I found this book to be "easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy" to read. and laugh out loud funny at times as we follow her ups and downs of working for a senator who became president. She is self-effacing and not full of herself over the job she had at the White House and I like that in an American politician!  

Great book!
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This was a highly entertaining memoir. It did feel a little light at times, in terms of the behind the scenes political strategising and insights into Obama, but as a Guardian review I read noted, Mastromonaco hasn’t ruled out returning to politics – so you can’t go burning all your bridges and divulging things which should rather stay hidden.

The book isn’t written chronologically, but rather organised into chapters focusing on a particular theme or lesson she learnt along the way. And this works for me, since following a format from cradle to grave can very often bore me.

Essentially, Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? is part insight into Alyssa and her career, anecdotes from her time in politics, particularly her time spent in the White House, as well as some humorous commentary and pieces of career advice for young women (Advice, which quite frankly, boils down to persevere, work hard, and stand up for yourself.) Although this did resonate with me:

Forward motion is always better than no motion – even if you don’t think it’s taking you in the direction you wanted to go.

Due to all the above elements included, I wouldn’t classify this as a hardcore political memoir, but it does seem that there is a dearth of contributions from women in this subgenre. (Probably due to a dearth of female politicians/strategists in what still seems to be an old boys club in many countries.) And like I mentioned, I really enjoyed reading this book. Mastromonaco has an approachable style, and it was incredibly interesting reading about her experiences, the people she met and the problems she had to solve.

I also like the fact that she is matter of fact about her achievements. She doesn’t boast, but she doesn’t overplay them. She worked hard to get where she did. And I think it’s something many of us struggle with – the balance between being proud without being conceited.

Finally, something that stood out for me was her openness about her struggles with IBS. As a fellow-sufferer, I was clenching my gut in sympathy reading about her digestive near-misses. Seriously, it feels like digestive issues are the final frontier of health issues we need to stop shying away from discussing in public.

By this point in my career at the White House, most of the senior staff knew about my IBS; I once had to have Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security advisor, watch the bathroom door for me at Hamid Karzai’s palace while two Afghan guards played cards and smoked on the other side of it. This kind of thing really breaks down barriers with people. When you tell someone, “Here’s the thing: I might have to shit on this helicopter,” and they don’t shun you afterward, you have a friend for life.

***

Free copy received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Quotes taken from uncorrected proof and may differ from final publication.
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I wasn't too sure at first - Mastromonaco's voice took a while to win me over but after a while I was hooked and reading about a woman in such a powerful role but being human was brilliant.
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I really enjoyed Alyssa's voice and I think that she definitely had some gems from her time in the White House. But this book was alllll over the map and it brought the reading experience down considerably. I didn't necessarily object to her giving career advice but it was haphazardly placed and not any more illuminating than the many career books that have come before this. And even though she mentioned that she didn't want the book to be chronological it would have benefited from that greatly considering this is a political memoir. When you're dealing with elections and Obama is a senator, presidential hopeful, first term president and second term president all in the same book and it keeps shifting from one to the other out of order, things can get confusing. Overall we needed more anecdotes from the WH, and more about the government and politics.
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As a person working in politics (at the state level) who just recently finished legislative session, it's the perfect time to review Alyssa Mastromonaco's Who Thought This Was A Good Idea?. Mastromonaco was the deputy chief of staff to President Obama, and the book is structured around various personal qualities she feels helped her rise in her field (leadership, preparedness, etc). As she talks about these concepts, she fills in details about her experiences in the political world, from interning with Bernie Sanders to working on the Kerry campaign, to getting her start in with Obama when he was a senator and staying with him through the presidential race and then into the White House. There are highs and there are lows, and there's even some romance (and a look at the gentler side of her husband, a former Harry Reid aide known, like his boss, for being caustic). 

Mastromonaco is up front about why she wanted to write her book: while there are plenty of works out there from male political types talking about their time in public service, there are comparatively few by women. Part of that is because there haven't been as many women walking the hallways of power, but even among members of that group there's some reticence about being out there about what they've experienced. Mastromonaco wanted to write something honest about being a young person, and a young woman person specifically, living and working in a field not necessarily known for being welcoming to females. And honest she is: she talks openly about her IBS and dealing with it when traveling around the world with the President, being walked in on at the office doing sit-ups, coping with the death and illness of a pet, and the sleep/health destroying stress and pressure that come along with working in the nation's most exclusive address.  

I really enjoyed reading this book. When I'd seen the press around the book before I read it, it was described as being as if you had a smart, funny older sister who happened to work closely with Barack Obama, and that's exactly what it is. Mastromonaco's voice is warm, droll, and strikes a great balance between downplaying her success and bragging about it. She owns that she worked really hard and sacrificed a lot to earn what she earned, and how frustrating it could be to deal with people who sometimes let themselves treat her like her youth and gender made her less worthy of their respect. As someone who also works in the general field (though nothing like DC, thank goodness), her words and experiences rang true to me. Politics is exciting and frustrating and there are some of best people who work in it, but also some of the worst. There's nothing quite as great as the feeling of pulling together with your team to get some really good work done and winning the day, but there are also the days when you go cry in the bathroom stall because there are just too many things happening at once and it's overwhelming. 

If I was going to offer a critique, it would be that the timelines could get a little hard to keep track of, jumping back and forth from the later part of her time at the White House back to the campaign trail, then forward and then backward again. Organizing around subject areas keeps it cohesive, and by the time you get into the back half off the book it's more chronological, but there were some moments of confusion when I started to read it. Overall, though, it's a look at a side of political life that most people don't ever think about, much less get to see, and I think it would be a great read for anyone interested in what it's actually like to work in this crazy field. I would recommend it particularly highly to women, but men absolutely should read it too. It's a very solid book.
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https://novelsandnonfiction.com/2017/08/10/just-read-who-thought-this-was-a-good-idea-by-alyssa-mastromonaco/

We’re all struggling with the negative political news these days, and I really wanted to read Alyssa Mastromonaco’s Who Though This Was A Good Idea? as a political palate cleanser. I wanted it to transport me back to the wonderful years of the Obama White House, when things happened in an organized fashion (largely thanks to Mastromonaco herself), and the POTUS was a steadfast and comforting figure.

I loved learning more about Mastromonaco’s role both during Obama’s campaign and in the White House. As some one who is obsessed with organizing, it was pretty dreamy to hear about the work of someone who was responsible for figuring out the logistics of a jam-packed schedule like that of the President. Mastromonaco is also truly an inspiring figure for women thanks to her incredibly significant accomplishments in a male-dominated field at a very early age.

I struggled with the memoir’s structure and tone, however. It left me wishing that Mastromonaco had either employed a more experienced ghostwriter in helping her craft it, or that she had stuck to the political memoir aspect of it and dropped the self help portions. I recently found out that the book has been optioned by Mindy Kaling’s production company to be turned into a film, and I can see how Mastromonaco’s life would translate into a very compelling feature. While we wait for the screen adaptation, read my review of Mastromonaco’s memoir below.

What I Liked

Learning about the inner workings of the author’s life in the White House. This really was the primary reason I picked up this book – I wanted to learn more about what it was like for Mastromonaco to work both in Obama’s campaign and within his White House. Her story is beyond inspiring – she was the youngest woman ever to hold the White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations position at barely over 30 years old. Through her anecdotes about her work during the campaign and at the White House I learned so much about how Obama operated and how stressful a life of political service like Mastromonaco’s can be. From organizing one huge campaign event after another, to overseeing the logistics of every one of POTUS’ trips abroad, to being responsible for allotting every minute of the President’s time, Mastromonaco’s job sounds like an OCD person’s dream or nightmare, depending on which page you’re reading. Hearing about Mastromonaco’s contributions to the recovery operation during Hurricane Sandy was particularly inspiring.

The humor and personal anecdotes. In addition to sharing work stories throughout the memoir, Mastromonaco also shares some personal anecdotes, with typically absolutely hilarious results. From having to scrounge around for a tampon in a male-dominated White House, to being so tired from the campaign that she went to bed early on Election night, to nearly having an IBS-related debacle when she met the Pope at the Vatican, Mastromonaco opens up and allows the reader to feel that in the end, she’s a regular person to whom unfortunate incidents happen just like us. There were also more emotional personal anecdotes – like discussing her experience with seeing people struggle with food stamps when she was a bagger at a neighborhood grocery story in her high school days, or sharing the time when her beloved cat fell sick and passed away (complete with a call from POTUS straight from Air Force One to convey his condolences). I really felt that Mastromonaco didn’t hold back in sharing all aspects of her life throughout the memoir, and this enriched it past a simple political chronicle to something more relatable and revealing.

What I Didn’t Like

The tone. At the same time that I really appreciated how personal Mastromonaco allowed herself to get in this memoir, I think that where the book really failed for me was in the self-deprecating tone that Mastromonaco chose to discuss her many incredibly impressive accomplishments. Mastromonaco meant the book in part to serve as a source of advice for high schoolers and college-age women who were interested in entering politics. I think that the last thing these women need to hear is a female role model like Mastromonaco, who has achieved so much in her life, at times belittling her own accomplishments and acting almost as if she stumbled into each one of her important positions. I think it’s possible Mastromonaco thought this tone would be more accessible to young women reading her book – as if just like them, she also has insecurities and weaknesses she struggles with. I can understand this, but as a career woman in her 30s, I had to cringe at the way in which Mastromonaco sometimes didn’t stand up for her own success.

It felt rushed and disjointed. Mastromonaco admits several times throughout the book that she struggled to get started with writing this memoir. Eventually, during her post-White House job at VICE, she was able to find a ghostwriter to help her complete the book. Unfortunately the memoir still ends up feeling rushed, somewhat lacking in coherence and feeling like the work of a first-time writer, despite the additional help Mastromonaco obtained from Lauren Oyler. It was a super quick read, and by the end of it I was left thinking – where’s the rest? I think the jumbled nature of the book ultimately derived from Mastromonaco’s intention to write a book that was a hybrid between a political memoir and a self help book for women just starting out in their careers. The self help portions of the narrative felt haphazard and tacked-on, with most of the advice unfortunately feeling pretty common sense and basic. I wondered by the end whether sticking to a singular focus on composing the book as just a political autobiography would have helped with the solidity of the book overall.

Final Verdict - 3 Stars

Inspiring and humorous memoir from an incredibly successful female political figure, which unfortunately falls somewhat short of its potential due to a lack of cohesiveness in execution.
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