Cover Image: Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?

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Member Reviews

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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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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I really wanted to like this book - the description makes it sound like The West Wing with a female main character. However, I found the writing to be sloppy and uninteresting. I didn't like the gimmick of making it an advice book - her insider stories about working in the West Wing would have been interesting enough on their own to carry the book.  That being said, I wished she would get into more detail on the hijinks, rather than interjecting with not to do on a job interview. And, one story about her lack of pants was cute. Two or more got repetitive and made her sound like a stereotypical ditzy woman.
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A exceptional  read that will have you in awe of the authors accomplishments .and marveling at what it takes to work in the White House. 
Alyssa Mastromonaco worked for Barack Obama for almost a decade, and long before his run for president.  She was his deputy chief of staff at the White House.  With great respect for our great President Obama, humor and everyday occurrences she gives us a in depth view of life as White House staff.  She writes with reverence to her position and unbridled humor of her own trials keeping up with the daily schedule.   She is absolutely charming, very funny and loved her job. Her experiences are some of the first we have seen described in print of working alongside a great President with constant meetings, travel and  visits with heads of state. 
She describes with humor her time meeting the Queen, navigating protocol at the Palace, going to the Vatican and how she managed to keep everything organized and running  smoothly.   Her responsibilities were not just many, they were thousands of details to navigate within the course of a day.  She speaks candidly as a woman about what she had to do to prepare herself from carrying extra tampons, to managing her IBS under intense job pressure. She tells it all with professionalism and respect. 
This is candid, it is real and it is wonderful. I enjoyed this book and learning about the great people  it takes to work alongside a President. Very highly recommended reading.
  I appreciated how she respects our country, her responsibilities and President Obama. it was gratifying to read here he is indeed a exemplary President, a great patriot and highly  compassionate person .  They were a great team for our country and I thank the author for her service. 
Thank you for the ARC which did not influence my review.
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In my on-going quest to find the next "West Wing," I came across Alyssa Mastromonaco's book, "Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House."  I know you aren't supposed to, but I totally do judge books by their cover.  The cover of this book intrigued me because it's the author sitting on Air Force One with President Obama sitting on the arm of a chair in a relaxed but kind of perplexed fashion.  My initial thought was this would be the insider view of the inner workings of the White House and in some degree it is.  But also the cover made me think this author was about 25 years old.  She is not, by the way, but she mentions several times in the book that she looks younger than her actual age and sometimes it did not work in her favor.

I really enjoyed reading this book.  Once you get past how much Mastromonaco cusses it really is interesting to read how she grew up in a working-class, normal family.  She did not have a private school, ivy league education.  She was/is simply a hard worker that was confident in her skill set and took risks when she felt they were necessary.  Throughout the book she gives little tips, if you will, and a story to back up said tip.  Some of my favorites were:

    Like most women I know, I ultimately want to be likeable and trustworthy--as well as glamorous--but it's important to take baby steps.

    I have come to believe that hard work and a good attitude can get you farther than you could ever dream, and unfortunately, this is a really basic lesson that doesn't come up in most career advice.

    You should always be prepared to defend your choices, whether just to yourself (sometimes this is the hardest) or to your coworkers, your friends, or your family.

    Learning how to become a decision maker, and how you ultimately justify your choices, can define who you are.

    For me, leadership has always been much more about rallying people around a project or a cause than about being held up as the The Boss.

    From the beginning of my career in politics, I had a personally imposed policy about swimming in my lane and not over-commenting on things I wasn't an expert on. 

    Never brag about your ability to type.  It will never get you anywhere you really want to be.

    We are all replaceable.  Life goes on, but that doesn't mean it feels good.

    Being resilient means being honest: You have to admit when you're struggling.  Usually, someone will help you.

    Over and over in my life, I've been bowled over by how kind people can be, and how that kindness can change your outlook.

When I finished this book I sent a text to a friend of mine whose child wants to work in public service, I told her that they needed to read this book.  There are so many interesting aspects in this book: working in the White House, hard work pays off, women can work in men dominated places and be okay, and you don't have to be bread in the ivy league world to be successful.

I would recommend this book to a broad scope of people.  Do you find the internal workings of the White House interesting?  Read this book.  Are you a young female wanting to work in a male dominated world?  Read this book.  Are you a female currently working in a male dominated field?  Read this book.  Do you want to work in public service one day?  Read this book.  Do you like biographies?  Read this book?  Do you know a millennial?  Read this book.  See, almost anyone would enjoy this book.
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I really loved this book. It was political without being heavy. It had a great sense of humor and I could see people liking it even if they were not Obama supporters, since it doesn't really dwell on that aspect of the job. I have been recommending it all over the place to people.
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This was a very well written, honest, funny, and smart behind the scenes look at what it is like to be a young woman in a high powered political environment. This was a story that needed to be told, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Mastromonaco is a woman that young girls and women alike should know about, and look up to as a role model. I am glad that she decided to tell her story, and would highly recommend that it be read.
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This was an interesting book, offering tiny glimpses of Mastromonaco's work in the Obama White House and a smattering of passing advice to those who might wish to follow in her footsteps. But I was never sure (and I don't think the author was either) what the book was trying to BE. There wasn't enough detail for it to be a satisfying memoir, and the advice was so scattershot as to feel like an afterthought. Still, even tiny glimpses of the Obama White House were interesting, and I found Mastromonaco's persona endearing.
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I am reviewing this through Net.galley. It is a very good read. The author is honest about her strengths and weaknesses, using the opportunity to encourage other young women to expect success. Although the background is her time in Obama 's White House, she does not use that to reveal dirty secrets.. It is entirely constructive. The only bits the reader could do without is the detail about her personal hygiene but even revealing that demonstrates the openness of the biography. I found this to be a really good read.
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This book is worth reading but it is a book that can't decide what it wants to be. Is it a guide on how to succeed in your job? Or is it a political memoir. It's a blend of both, which is ok, but the transition between the two can be jarring. Way too much detail on the author's digestive problems! Still, it's good read and gives a very good and insightful perspective on President Obama and how it was like to deal with him on a personal basis.
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Given all the recent political discussions, it is also quite entertaining to see WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA? from Alyssa Mastromonaco, formerly Obama's Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations.   An interesting side note is that when Mastromonaco left that job, she was replaced by Anita Decker Breckenridge, a New Trier graduate.

As expected, Mastromonaco's book gives an inside look to some of the events and travel with which she participated.  In retrospect, many are very funny and this could be an inspirational text for young people interested in politics since she first describes becoming politically aware in the early 90's and working a summer internship for Bernie Sanders. She offers valuable advice for job interviewees, even noting, "Always ask where you’ll be sitting."Mastromonaco is also very honest about learning on the job, saying: "if you approach it with grace -- and a willingness to accept that many people know much more than you -- you can walk away a much better person than you were when you came in."

I did like reading about her early life and, for example, how her job in a local supermarket taught her empathy for food stamp recipients. Unfortunately, the book shifts focus to more personal relationships and her (sadly) sick cat. That seemed less relevant and lowered my evaluation in general.  I think that people older than our high school students – those in their 20's and maybe 30's – would be best able to relate to the life experiences and some historical events she describes. Kirkus calls WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA?  "a candid and charming memoir' and it certainly made me laugh out loud, especially in the early parts.
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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.

Full of hilarious, never-before-told stories, WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA? is an intimate portrait of a president, a book about how to get stuff done, and the story of how one woman challenged, again and again, what a "White House official" is supposed to look like. 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).

Told in a smart, original voice and topped off with a couple of really good cat stories, WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA? is a promising debut from a savvy political star.

Honestly, this book is as if Leslie Knope worked for President Obama and wrote a memoir about it. I couldn't put it down and in fact finished it in one sitting on a cross-country flight for work. Alyssa's writing is personable, relatable, and funny at times which sets this political memoir apart from the rest.
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I so enjoyed this book on many levels, not just as a political memoir.  I believe it is a fantastic resource for women in business as well. Each of Ms. Mastromonaco's entertaining reminiscences illustrates basic tips and tricks applicable to women in all walks of life. It's written quite conversationally so it reads like chats among friends. I really appreciated that it is written with self-deprecating humor and introspection.  Entertaining and informative, I highly recommend this book no matter your party affiliation!
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I really wanted to love this book. I was excited to read this book by Alyssa Mastromonaco and get an insiders look into the inner workings of the White House. Unfortunately I felt this book, although had some great stories and antidotes was a bit all over the place thematically and otherwise. I understand that much of what went on was classified but I wanted more. I did like the book, though and would love a follow up with more stories from the campaign trail.
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Great book about the author's time with John Kerry and President Obama. The author was very honest with her time with both men. I never thought about the people that helps with the President and what it takes to make things run. She alao shared very nice tidbits about the President, Queen Elizabeth and the Pope. She had a heck of a job but she handled it. To the author; sorry about your cat. This is a fun easy read. Thanks to NetGalley, the author and the publisher for the advanced copy of this book in return for my honest review.
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Alyssa may not be from Chicago, but she certainly seems like she absorbed a lot of our attitudes on life. If time had allowed I would have plowed through this memoir in a day. It's an easy, honest peek not only into The White House but into the life of a very average person who works there. Alyssa worked her way up the ladder into a job as deputy chief of staff for Barack Obama. I know I have a real problem with imposter syndrome as does Alyssa through most of this book. She is shocked when after firing off an angry email that Obama himself counsels her that she is scaring the staff. She is just so normal, and I think that although the chapters on list-making might have made more sense as an appendix, this reads like an honest conversation between a mentor and student. Alyssa includes many details that I know I would have flinched at. It's mostly those moments that you'll tell a close friend and hope that your coworkers never hear about. I loved that she was so honest and open about mistakes and just bad luck situations that she found herself in. Spoiler: I cried a little when her cat died.

My review was on an uncorrected proof copy that I received in exchange for an honest review from NetGalley.
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WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA? is a fun, easy read. The author writes well, and I found it entertaining to get a peek "behind the scenes" with the president. Perhaps my favorite story was about how Alyssa dressed in JEANS when everyone was lining up on the White House.lawn for photos WITH ROYALTY. The president took it well, but later remarked, "Jeans?"

Lesson learned: "When you are within 10 miles of the queen, carry a damn pair of trousers on your person at all times."

The stories are mostly pleasant--but sometimes terrifying. Honestly, I cannot imagine what it would be like with an IBS bowel problem when you going to meet the POPE! Well, Alyssa handled it with grace and style. Plus, they got her some "Presidental-strength" AD medication. The only problem--there was no water to be found. Oh well, all in a day's work.

And who knew that there were so few bathrooms in the White House?

So all in all, I found WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA? to be a fun, zany read. Don't worry if the politics are not your cup of tea--This isn't a political book--it's more a fun book of light-hearted memories. I wish I had been there--especially for that Pope visit.

Advance Review Copy courtesy of the publisher.
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