Business Today

Ascent of a Woman

The book is a gripping summary of Hillary's chequered life, from her go-getter days at Wellesley to her ascent in politics.
By Ipsita Dasgupta   Delhi     Print Edition: May 22, 2016
Hillary – A biography of Hillary Rodham Clinton By Karen Blumenthal (PAGES: 450 PRICE: Rs 599 Bloomsbury)

Karen Blumenthal's biography of Hillary Rodham Clinton, Hillary, clearly proves that she is an award-winning children's writer and journalist. The book is engaging, to-the-point and a fast read. In an effort to establish who Hillary is, Blumenthal chronicles her life events, identifies her key influencers and adds perspective on her primary motivations. In the bibliography, Blumenthal reveals that she never actually interviewed Hillary. Notwithstanding this, she is able to deepen our understanding of a leader who has both "fascinated" and "divided" people.

As a mother of daughters and as a career woman, I find Blumenthal provides excellent insight into the complexity and challenges of being and "becoming" Hillary. Blumenthal divides her book into four sections: Hillary's childhood and academic years; her years in Arkansas, balancing her career and family life; her years in the White House as First Lady; and the acceleration of her own political career - as a New York Senator, as a presidential candidate, as Secretary of State, and finally as a potential presidential nominee.

The book impacts me in two ways. As a professional, it brings to life great leadership traits - purpose, intelligence, curiosity, tenacity, grit and accountability. As a mother, I pay close attention to the influences and factors that aided in developing this person who has surmounted challenges and failures, and continued to pursue a strong career path and purpose.

The first two sections of the book are the strongest. Blumenthal illustrates key influencers in Hillary's life (parents, teachers, spiritual leaders) with great dexterity and we begin to get an insider's view of why Hillary is Hillary. The first interesting observation Blumenthal makes is that 'Hillary' was largely a boy's name at the time of her birth. She describes her parents as strong personalities (Hillary's mother as quieter and softer, but deeply influential on her children, and her father, hard-driving and stubborn). Her siblings, teachers, pastor and friends provide more clues. The early days demonstrate Hillary's idealism, curious, driven and opinionated nature, and her sense of accountability. Success comes easily from an early age and she is never one to back down from a challenge. But she is tempered - her teachers and administrators describe her as able to communicate issues with balance and convince others effectively. At Wellesley, "?Hillary's energy, charisma and leadership separated her from the crowd".

The chapters on Bill and Hillary's courtship illustrate effectively the strength and quality of the partnership they will build and sustain throughout their lives - due to their complementarities and similarities - and through the hardest of times. Blumenthal balances the devastation caused by Bill's infidelity with the enormous support they provide each other. A couple of examples include Bill following her to California for her summer internship and forsaking his own, and agreeing to reduce all activities through his Foundation and in his talks to enable Hillary's role as Secretary of State. Hillary's sacrifices are even starker, including her move to Arkansas and placing Bill's career first during his presidential campaign and tenure.

The second section, 'Arkansas', powerfully illustrates Hillary's personality, the way she is perceived and criticised, and her efforts to change perceptions for Bill's success and her own peace of mind. Deeply personal and difficult decisions like changing her last name and appearance to suit the needs of her husband's career stand out as poignant examples of her external challenges and internal struggles.

Though succinctly written, the third and fourth sections don't delve much into Hillary's thoughts, motivations and reactions. As Blumenthal races through to capture every incident and major event, bringing us to 2016 in 183 pages, she is unable to give us as much depth or reflection on how Hillary feels or reasons for the choices she makes.

As a working woman in current times, you cannot help but notice and respect Hillary's resolve to have it all (whatever your politics may be) - her goals include a strong family whose foundation is unshaken through deep challenges and a laser-focused ambition to be relevant publicly and to serve her country. The former is captured perfectly in a picture of the Clintons walking away from the camera after Bill admits to his affair, as Chelsea holds both of their hands.

The last section of the book describes Hillary's career path from NY Senator to today. This is probably the section that crams the most in a few pages - September 11, Benghazi, Chelsea's marriage, birth of Chelsea's daugther. Although a great summary of all the events surrounding her, the author leaves us wondering about many things.

Within the context of the US elections, Blumenthal's book comes at a great time. It gives deeper insights than we have had so far on a truly unique candidate - likely, the first female Democratic nominee in the US. Personally, I found most value in the story of an incredibly accomplished woman who faced the extreme, unimaginable challenges of having her applications rejected because "we don't accept women", to the more familiar challenge that all women face today of balancing personal, familial responsibilities and career aspirations. When my children are older, this is one of the books I will recommend to them. ~

The reviewer is EVP and Head, Asia Pacific & Russia/CIS, Glenmark Pharma.


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