“What makes me such a lightening rod for people’s fury? I’m really asking. I’m at a loss.” So asks Hillary Clinton in What Happened, her new book that tries to analyse and explain the result of the Presidential Election that saw the campaign of the favourite for the White House founder and which propelled Donald Trump into the Presidency. It is the right question for which there is no delicate answer.

For nearly 40 years Hillary Clinton has been a leading figure in Washington and a player in US politics. She has held three huge jobs – First Lady, Senator, Secretary of State – any one of which would be the summit of a career. Twice she has been a Presidential candidate and once been the nominee of the Democratic Party for the Presidency. It is a truly remarkable career, especially as she struggles to demonstrate the same sense of wry humour and gentleness in public that she so often does in more intimate surroundings. That humour and a keen understanding of her own weaknesses and strengths are on display here.

Clinton apportions blame and criticism broadly, starting with herself, but reserves most of her ire for the former FBI Director James Comey. The re-opening of a FBI investigation into her email activity so close to polling day was certainly a very tough and damaging event. It is important to remember that whatever her strengths and weaknesses as a candidate she still won nearly three million more votes than the person who currently occupies the Oval Office. The  truth is that it was simply the latest in a long line of issues that raised questions about her and previously her husband’s conduct. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the Presidential election is that Hillary Clinton actually made it to being the nominee of her party at all.

Hillary Clinton of course cannot be considered in isolation. It is not on her own merits alone that she is judged because she is one half of the most interesting, dynamic and improbable political stories of the second half of the Twentieth Century. It is not possible to assess Hillary without taking into account Bill. Marrying Bill she says was “like hitching a ride on a comet”. Together they had won the Arkansas Governorship. Together they had launched an improbable Presidential campaign, pushing aside better known and more experienced candidates to win the nomination and then crushing George H.W. Bush in a tough campaign that saw them win well. They saw off Bob Dole’s challenge four years later and ended their two terms, which included an Impeachment process, congressional losses, and fundamental policy u-turns, in the White House with Bill Clinton’s popularity ratings at record levels. If he could have run for a third term all the indications were he would have won. In truth he has never stopped running. Since leaving the White House he has barely been out of the public eye, pronouncing on current affairs, and travelling the world as a sort of freelance head of state. Hillary Clinton ran in the shadow of her husband and their shared life.

In the end, Clinton is at a loss to explain how people feel about her. Her campaign could have been better, her public appearances snappier, her image softened, but probably the plain fact is running for the Presidency having lived such a huge public life and role before it was just too much baggage to pull, push and heave along. Hillary Clinton has in fact lived so long in the public eye and in the consciousness of so many that even before the campaign started most people already knew what they thought about her.

What Happened is a lively, engaging and humorous read. Perhaps it is simply not possible for Hillary to accept that in the end her candidacy was viewed through America’s long years of knowing her, her husband and her long record of public service, and not just on her independent merits and policies alone. Still, more Americans, many more Americans, wanted her and not Donald Trump to be their President, and she remains an inspiring figure championing important causes.

What Happened – By Hillary Rodham Clinton. Published by Simon & Schuster. Hardback £14.99.