It’s difficult for me to write about Hillary Clinton’s What Happened without revisiting my anger over the continuing injustice of her treatment by much of the press. Yes, there have been appreciative reviews of the book, reviews that recognize that Clinton, as Megan Garber puts it, “is doing the thing so many women politicians and citizens have done, recently, in a world that refuses to make space for them: It reclaims.” In doing so, it inaugurates “a newly emotional style of political engagement”—but without sacrificing the factual, as some other politicians have done. Yes, it’s a candid, warm, and sometimes angry account of Clinton’s experience; it’s also an astute, multifaceted analysis of the “perfect storm” that resulted in the disaster of 2016.
The unvarnished malice of the negative reviews, however, makes it difficult to avoid the conclusion that many responses to the book are an extension of the same desire to castigate Hillary that pundits brought to their reporting of the campaign. The book is “useless” (Sam Kriss) and “essentially wrong-headed” (Sarah Leonard); it’s like “Hillary cornering you in a coffee shop, replaying the game tape.” And of course, there’s the “blames everyone but herself” theme, with which we’ve been bludgeoned since the night of the election.