Hard Choices

by Hillary Rodham Clinton

Hardcover, 2014




New York : Simon & Schuster, 2014.


Hillary Clinton's candid reflections about the key moments during her time as Secretary of State, as well as her thoughts about how to navigate the challenges of the 21st century.

User reviews

LibraryThing member TooBusyReading
Whether you think Hillary Clinton is the next best hope for president or evil personified, there is much to be said for this look into the life of a U.S. Secretary of State.

Much to be said, but most of it already has been said so I'll keep this short and non-political.

I am amazed at how many balls any U.S. Secretary of State has to keep in the air at one time. So much knowledge needed, such a fine line to walk. Clinton does a great job of explaining some of those decisions that have to be made, of debunking some misinformation, of explaining relationships with various countries and the social issues that must be addressed.

There is a ton of information in this book. There is also a little bit of hubris showing through, a lot of “I” but then she is writing about her life, so how can I expect otherwise?.

I listened to the Audible unabridged version of the book. Occasionally, Clinton's reading sounded a bit wooden, but overall, it added to the book to be able to listen to it in her voice. The book humanizes her, for those of us who tend to forget that she is just a human being, like the rest of us.

People on both sides of the political fence should find this book interesting.
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LibraryThing member bowedbookshelf
Clinton sets herself up to be compared with Dean Acheson by recalling his Pulitzer Prize-winning book at the outset. It is typical of Clinton to set her sights high. One must remember that Acheson wrote at a time when faith in government was at an all-time high, and many folks read it before criticizing it. I am not at all sure the same could be said for Clinton’s comprehensive memoir about her four-year (2009-2013) term as Secretary of State for the Obama Administration.

I come away thinking there is perhaps no person with better credentials to be president. She could handle the job, certainly. But we would have to decide if she is the person we want to lead our country and the world into the future. She would be an activist president for sure, clearly convinced that American leadership is all we should or could consider. Clinton blasts critics who proclaimed Obama “led from behind” on Libya, and said his leadership was in fact critical to the success of that international involvement.

Clinton’s time as senator from New York was good preparation for the prodding, jockeying, and cajoling that is done in international forums and with government heads of state. Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense while Clinton was Secretary of State, expressed a vast admiration for Clinton’s intelligence, experience, restraint, and pragmatism in his own memoir, Duty. Both longtime Washington insiders, Gates and Clinton shared a sense of service, a clear-eyed realism, and a healthy skepticism. I believe they also shared a mutual distrust of Vladimir Putin and both sought to marginalize, where possible, his inputs.

A lot happens in four years when the world is the stage, as Hillary Clinton’s memoir of her time as Secretary reminds us. Clinton logged nearly a million miles in her role as Chief Diplomat, though like all managers, spends more time dealing with and talking about trouble areas than about countries whose troubles were not catastrophic.

Most revealing and interesting for me were her discussions about Syria, Iran, Gaza, Libya, Russia, and Afghanistan, including the Bin Laden raid and Benghazi. She was remarkably open about the steps that led to backdoor talks with Iran, and the calculations she had to make when considering deteriorating situations in Syria, Libya, and Gaza.

The Syria section reveals the calculus around the support for rebels. The Iran talks were equally revealing—Clinton is remarkably frank about her assessment of country rulers and their personal ‘styles.’ It almost reads like a Wikileaks cache in this section and perhaps she is willing to talk it about because of those leaks. When it comes to Gaza, Clinton hauls out the (surely tattered by now) “strong support for Israel” that we have come to expect, but tempers it with unenthusiastic observations about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s political history, party backing, and current positions. She managed to avoid the wider invasion of Gaza that we are experiencing now, but consistently reiterated the increasingly critical need and strong support for a two-state solution.

The Edward Snowdon leaks in May 2013 came after Clinton resigned in February 2013. Clinton must have been aware of and not in opposition to the information collected during her tenure…perhaps even using it in fact. It would have been interesting to hear what she would say to Angela Merkel about the taps on Merkel’s personal phone, when Clinton makes the observation that she and Merkel are often considered two of a kind and expresses admiration for what Merkel has been able to do while she has been in office.

Clinton had areas of concern that she championed wherever she went: women’s rights and human rights. She is a tough negotiator and gave plenty of government leaders some restless nights with those “hard choices” she talks about. Clinton recognized and harnessed the power of the connected world, and the tendency of the world to shrink as telecommunications, cell phone connection, and social media improved. Fortunately, she is not afraid of changes in the status of women, LGBT citizens, and minority voices, and instead welcomes them.

She recognizes that all talent will be needed in a 21st Century world facing climate change, shifts in energy dependencies, and the economic upheavals that will bring. We cannot afford to shun anyone with a good idea and had better take advantage of all the skills our citizens can bring. It’s a question of making sure they are all able to grasp opportunity when it presents itself. I like this concept a lot, and think her insistence on human and economic and political rights for all citizens may be her longest legacy.

Clinton felt so strongly about energy policy, economics, and the interdependencies of trade that her role as a wide-view activist Secretary of State surely encroached on the roles of other cabinet-level officials. In her memoir she sounds positively Presidential in making decisions, deciding directions, and in the scope and definition of her role. Obama had much on his plate in handling domestic intransigence so he was probably pleased to have someone with Clinton’s understanding, reach, and clout. She says they worked well together, and I’m sure it worked about as well as any team with high stakes and powerful players.

What struck me as I listened to Clinton’s memoir is the number of times familiar names were recycled again and again in different jobs, some from much earlier administrations, as though they are the only ones who could handle the work. I suppose it is true that experience counts, but isn’t that one reason Obama was elected to office…that he actually didn’t have all the experience (and all the baggage)? Foreign countries trying to keep tabs on who is doing what in the American government must be pleased they don't have to research the background of anyone new. There simply has to be some transfer of responsibilities to new players: a requirement of top-level posts should be finding and training their own replacements. Sometimes it just sounded like a closed system though I can appreciate the time constraints in finding someone able to handle a task effectively and with grace. If anyone is interested in trying to solve the intractable problems involved with government work, they should make their wishes known, and be known, because it is who you know that counts.

I do not think there is any certainty about Hillary Clinton taking on another campaign for President, though there is probably no person better equipped to handle her activist agenda, despite her age. She is both revered and feared at home and abroad. Enormously motivated, she believes she has and can still make a difference in people’s lives. I feel confident that this seasoned political actor wants to see what American voters decide in November. [Biden says he is doing the same.] If the attitudes and will of the American people were to significantly change the balance of power in the Congress in favor of Republicans, she may be swayed one way or the other. On the other side of the equation, the Democrats must find and field another credible candidate for Clinton to relax her sense of responsibility. In many ways, we'd be lucky to have her--she is a dogged American proponent. She can't be the only person able to take this on, though we have seen what lack of leadership has done for other countries, the Middle East in particular. That wouldn't happen on Clinton's watch.

Readers who lived through this period may feel they’ve “heard all that” Clinton has to say, but I don’t think anyone can say they’ve heard it all until they hear it from the woman who did the driving. It was a tumultuous period in world history and it was completely enlightening to hear what our Chief Diplomat had to say about it. Hillary Clinton remains something of a marvel.

Clinton only narrated the introduction and the epilogue, but Kathleen Chalfant had a voice that recreated Clinton’s accents and speaking style so completely, I was unsure sometimes who was narrating. Chalfant did a fantastic job with the place and personal names and the pacing.

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LibraryThing member knittingmomof3
A solid an interesting auto-biography that kept me fully engaged.
LibraryThing member mckait
Hard Choices by Hillary Rodham Clinton is not a light summer beach read. It is however a worthy one, and a book that I was anxious to read to gain insight to Hilary's years as Secretary of State. I was also interested In comparing the stories and experiences to those of Madeleine Albright, who served as Secretary of State for eight years, during Bill Clinton's years in the white house. I would like to mention that her book, Madam Secretary is well worth reading, quite compelling and very personal at times.

During Hillary's early years, shortly after college and after marrying Bill she moved to Arkansas and was a co-founder of the Arkansas Advocates for Children and families. She served as chairman for the Legal Services Corporation and became a partner in a prestigious law firm, and was First Lady of the state of Arkansas, where she tasked herself with reforming the state's education system. As First Lady of the United States, her concentrations were the Clinton health care plan,the State Children's Health Insurance Program and Safe Families act. Then she became a Senator for the state of New York, making her the the first First Lady of the United States to hold a public office.

But getting back to Hard Choices, I have to admit that the first thing I did when opening the covers of this book was to turn to the pages of photographs that are included in the book. Some of them were familiar, others more personal and all of them thought provoking in some way, or at the very least fascinating to see these captured moments of time.

The book opens during the days following the election of 2008, in the days before the then President elect requested that Hilary join his team as Secretary of State. Here, she chronicles the letdown that she herself and her team felt after the election. Hilary then addresses her decision to not only support our newly elected president, but how she encouraged her team and her followers to do the same, to unite in order to do what was best for our country. At first unwilling to take on the office, she remembered that one of the historic figures who had been most inspiring to her over the years, William Henry Seward, First Governor then Senator of New York, and Secretary of State for Abraham Lincoln, who invited Seward to that office after defeating him in the Republican nomination. A story chronicled in Doris Kearns fantastic book Team of Rivals

After accepting the office of Secretary of State, Clinton visited 112 countries, traveled nearly a million miles with her staff. This book is a sort of diagram of the strategies employed during her years in office, interspersed with personal experiences and opinions. We are treated to behind the scenes looks at what went down during the many diplomatic missions and military situations with which she was involved over her four years in this office.

There are explanations of of how the media affects politics, how our country works like a finely built clock, with many parts, may teams working in conjunction with each other to form just the right balance to hopefully, reach the outcome that is best. We are told about the successes and failures. There are entertaining stories of meetings and friendships formed with the heads of state of many countries, and how these same connections hold and affect our government even today.

The Middle East and of course Vladimir Putin are frequently mentioned, and the importance of our relationships with Asian countries. An altogether satisfying and informative read.
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LibraryThing member mancmilhist
I found Hard Choices hard going.

I wanted some more depth and detail, which for a potential presidential contender was probably too much to ask.

You only get to hear what Hillary wants you to hear which is a lengthy world tour of recent hot spots with some detail on how diplomacy works, but I just felt it was too superficial.

I'd look forward to a time when she can be more frank and not pitching for the top job.
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LibraryThing member Bodagirl
The book comes across as more of a resumé than a memoir. It was incredibly informative, especially for someone (ahem) that was only just becoming more politically aware during Clinton's time as Secretary of State. There are brief, fleeting moments when Clinton the politician turns into Hilary the person, but it is definitely a platform for to prove her qualifications.

I give kudos to the producers for finding a narrator that sound like Clinton with a head cold. Clinton reads the introduction, but then Chalfant takes over. I took a break after the intro, and it took me awhile to figure out that Clinton wasn't narrating.

PopSugar Reading Challenge 2016 | Task 16: A political memoir
BookRiot Read Harder Challenge 2016 | Task 21: About politics
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LibraryThing member keylawk
Hillary Clinton writes like a lawyer and a problem-solver. To that legal perspective, she now clearly adds a diplomatic "charm", as she limns her outreach to parties encountered during her years of public service as Secretary of State. The mix of pragmatic solutions she urges comes through in “Hard Choices”.

This is not a light-weight skimmer. She takes us along with her in the interactions and travels of Department of State. For 600 pages. She makes little of how grueling her schedule was, but I was exhausted just by imagining it!

In spite of the detail, she makes it interesting, and supplements so many of the events we questioned at the time. I was frankly on the edge of my seat to read what next!

She devotes several chapters to the attack on Benghazi and her friendship and admiration for Ambassador Stevens. He was fluent in Arabic and cherished the Middle East. His murder sent State into mourning, and hardened diplomats still in tears were caught by surprise as Congress sent prosecutorial investigators into the unstable theater to find evidence of wrong-doing against our own Administration.

The book sorts out the demands of other nations, but it was a mess. And perilous. Hillary clearly fought to protect Americans, and the Libyan people. She kept the international coalition together. The book carefully reviews Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan and even China, showing the international interests and candid portraits of the personalities in play.

She brings light to events by providing actual specific quotes of conversations with world leaders. She indulges almost no finger-pointing or blaming others. Even crediting Senator McConnell for working with her in the outreach to Myanmar even though he had slashed the Benghazi security budget.

I am surprised by how much attention she gave to listening to what others have to say. Experts, other world leaders, and also their staffs, the working teams, the practical-minded problem-solving engineers, the suffering victims of loss. Many parts of the book are emotional, but the Secretary maintains a steely-zen composure, like "It's what it is".
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LibraryThing member madam_razz
I found this book to be informative and extremely fascinating. I've come away with a new appreciation for just how hard and intimidating a job like Secretary of State can be (at least, I would be intimidated). The chapters on Asia, the UN, and Benghazi were all of special interest to me. I also really enjoyed the personal anecdotes, little things that cut through whatever else was going on and made me smile while reading. I think most of all, though, I liked when she talked about her mother. That nearly moved me to tears. This is a great book, if rather long, but definitely worth it. On each page I found something interesting and thought-provoking.… (more)
LibraryThing member billsearth
At over six hundred pages, this is a long read. It is not like most memoirs but more a day to day log of Mrs. Clinton's travels and meetings while acting as the Secretary of State. Over 500 pages are the day to day type log of her meetings and travels.

There are two sets of photos in the book, both in clumps out of place t the text. Nearly all photos are of Mrs. Clinton front and center, usually but not always with the people she met during this time.

My favorite part of the book is the first fifty pages or so where she is getting over her disappointment of losing the democratic primary, and the epilog, where she covers what is next for our country and for herself. I will leave it to the reader to find out directly from her what she feels will be the future for her and the country.

For the foreign relations historian, the middle ninety percent of the book is well organized by chapters and the index is good.
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