All leaders have a key person or key people to help and support them. Loyal and reliable aides are indispensible. The diary has to be managed and manipulated, briefing notes prepared, speeches written, paperwork processed, and visits organised. This all has to be done by a group the leader trusts. The sort of individuals a leader chooses to do these vital jobs reveals much about the leader. Political leaders, especially if they win high office, face such huge pressures and responsibilities that aides and assistants become more than simply organisers and processors, they often become second families. Just think of the recent great hoo-hah around the role of Theresa May’s former top aides, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, and you see how important these sorts of characters are.
Alyssa Mastromonaco served as Barack Obama’s White House Deputy Chief of Staff. In Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? she gives us an insight into what working in the White House is really like. It is fascinating because it is the White House, of course. It is the centre of American and world politics, home and headquarters of the most powerful political leader on the planet. What is also revealed in this light and often humorous memoir is that the White House, like all places of work, is full of ordinary people trying to do their best for their boss, often working in difficult and highly pressurised circumstances. The Boss being the President of the United States also means his team’s work is always done in the full glare of public scrutiny.
Mastromonaco’s account is more than just a look behind the scenes at the White House, however, because she worked for him long before he became President. Her story gives an insight into how Barak Obama began his run for the White House and how he conducted it. It is a fascinating story, written by someone who is clearly deeply fond of her boss – but it is none the worse for that. Even after eight years as President Barak Obama remains something of an enigma. “No drama Obama” was an approach he practised and a mantra David Cameron publicly subscribed to. For both men, fairly or not, it led them to them both being perceived to be too emotionally detached from what was going on around them.
There are great photographs by Pete Souza, the White House photographer during the Obama Presidency. He has produced some of the finest White House photography ever delivered and this book is graced by many of his pictures.
I served for a period as an aide to a leader of a British political party and so have some insight into what it takes to keep the show of a political leader on the road. This is a superb inside account of how someone made it to the centre of global politics and what happened when they did.
Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? – And other questions you should have answers to when you work in the White House. By Alyssa Mastromonaco. Published by Twelve. Hardback £20.99.
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