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Shortest way home : one mayor's challenge and a model for America's future
2019
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New York Times Review
pete buttigieg has been the mayor of South Bend, Ind., since 2012. He went to Harvard, spent two years as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, where he studied Immanuel Kant and John Rawls, and served as a Navy lieutenant in Afghanistan. He speaks Arabic. He plays concert piano. He is gay. And now, at the age of 37, he has written a memoir, "Shortest Way Home." On the face of it, this does seem a little early. Yes, Barack Obama wrote one in 1995, nine years before he made a name for himself with a speech at the Democratic National Convention in Boston. But Obama was an unusual figure, a graceful writer with an arresting story of being an African-American with national political ambitions growing up in the turbulence of a race-torn nation. The emergence of this memoir at this moment - Buttigieg (pronounced BOOTedge-edge) has been elected to precisely one job so far - reflects the ambition and impatience of the man we get to know in these pages. He ran for Indiana state treasurer when he was 28, and was trounced. He withdrew after a heading-for-defeat bid to become the Democratic National Committee chairman in 2017. But more than that, Buttigieg's accelerated career arc is testimony to our times, to how the pay-yourdues traditions that once governed politics have been tossed aside with the election of Donald Trump. It seems no longer surprising that someone most people have never heard of has delivered a memoir: It has become the modern equivalent of an early outing to New Hampshire. With his rich resumé and his data-driven approach to running South Bend, Buttigieg has drawn attention from national Democrats and been suggested as potential presidential material by, among others, Frank Bruni in The New York Times. Just in case there was any doubt, Buttigieg announced in late January that he was forming an exploratory committee, the first step toward a run for the White House. And no wonder: His hometown, once devastated by the shuttering of a Studebaker plant - he writes of passing "the acres of collapsing Studebaker factories" on his way to school - is now thriving. If the underlying point of this book is to draw attention to himself as a future Democratic leader for a party aching for one, then his thumping re-election as mayor in a state Trump captured with 56 percent is quite a selling card. No small part of the fascination is that he is openly gay, twice elected in what he has sardonically described as "flyover country." Yet until the final chapters - personal, beguiling and quite moving as he talks about coming out and getting married - it is a subject he largely glosses over. It takes more than 40 pages until he clearly alludes to being gay, in a quick detour as he describes witnessing the rise of the infant Facebook at Harvard. Buttigieg takes us through growing up in South Bend, attending an Ivy League school, becoming a management consultant, joining the Navy Reserve. Much of his attention is on City Hall, with a green-eyeshade description of his methodical approach to dealing with 1,000 shuttered homes or increasing the efficiency of picking up the trash. There really is a chapter titled "Talent, Purpose and the Smartest Sewers in the World." But this is what mayors do. Until he recounts writing his coming-out essay for The South Bend Tribune, I had begun to wonder if Buttigieg had decided to airbrush his life story, with an eye to some future opposition researcher combing through these pages. This lends a cautious, sanitized feeling to some episodes. When he writes about dealing with Mike Pence (who was then the governor) as Pence championed a "religious freedom" bill that critics argued would let organizations discriminate against gays and lesbians, Buttigieg comes across as just another player at the table. I would have liked to learn, for example, if he ever wondered whether Pence was aware that this unmarried eligible bachelor was actually gay. But the book lifts off as he returns from Afghanistan and decides it was "time to get serious about sorting out my personal life." He recounts in satisfying detail the complexities of coming out when you are the mayor of South Bend. "The scenario of a 30-something mayor, single, gay, interested in a long-term relationship and looking for a date in Indiana must have been a first," he writes. The story of his meeting a man (you guessed it: online) is all the more moving for its understatement and delayed delivery. Buttigieg represents a new generation of gay Americans, one whose sexuality is not intrinsic to their identity. No one would ever accuse Buttigieg of being an evocative writer, but the story is told with brisk engagement - it is difficult not to like him - without sinking into the kind of prose one might fear from someone trained in writing reports for McKinsey. He writes with particular clarity when it comes to the subject of romance: "I was in my 30s, but my training age, so to speak, was practically 0. On my 33rd birthday, I was starting my fourth year as the mayor of a sizable city. I had served in a foreign war and dined with senators and governors. I had seen the Red Square and the Great Pyramids of Giza, knew how to order a sandwich in seven languages, and was the owner of a large historic home on the St. Joseph River. But I had absolutely no idea what it was like to be in love." When Obama wrote his memoir, the idea that the nation would soon put an AfricanAmerican in the White House seemed beyond the realm of the possible. After reading this memoir written 25 years later, the notion that Buttigieg might be the nation's first openly gay president doesn't feel quite as far-fetched. adam nagourney is the Los Angeles bureau chief of The Times and the co-author of "Out for Good: The Struggle to Build a Gay Rights Movement in America."
Library Journal Review
As mayor of his hometown of South Bend, IN, Buttigieg used his experiences as a business analyst, naval intelligence officer, Harvard graduate, and Rhodes Scholar to reinvent what had once been described as a dying city. Now in his late 30s, the author tells how he followed an unpredictable path back to his roots and details his journey into politics. His first campaign experience was to run for Indiana state treasurer in 2010. Following that unsuccessful campaign, Buttigieg decided to run for mayor of South Bend. In this role, he faced the challenges of mostly empty storefronts and long-abandoned and deteriorating industrial structures. Along the way, as a navy reserve lieutenant, Buttigieg was deployed to Afghanistan for seven months as a counterterrorism specialist while his deputy mayor filled in for him in South Bend. At the end of his deployment, Buttigieg decided to be honest about his sexuality, marrying his partner, Chasten Glezman, in 2018. VERDICT Buttigieg, a rising political star who was reelected mayor in 2016, offers an engaging story and guidance for nontraditional approaches to municipal leadership. Readers interested in politics, urban planning, and coming-of-age stories will especially enjoy this personal history.-Jill Ortner, SUNY Buffalo Libs. © Copyright 2019. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
Buttigieg, mayor and native of South Bend, Ind., manifests a decent, positive, and reflective presence in this upbeat and readable memoir, which follows a career path that recently landed him on the short list for chair of the Democratic National Committee at the age of 36. In seven sections, the narrative retraces his life so far: after Catholic school, Buttigieg attended Harvard, where the Institute of Politics afforded him the chance to observe some leaders and public servants up close, and was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford. These academic credentials led to a job with McKinsey & Company after a stint campaigning for John Kerry in 2004, during which he cultivated a taste for public office and enlisted in the Navy Reserves. Three years into his first mayoral term, he was called up for a seven-month deployment in Afghanistan in 2013, which spurred new insights on being of service and on foreign relations. After his service, he came out to his parents and then the city (via a newspaper editorial) and met and married his husband, Chasten, about whose family he writes warmly. In the final section, he discusses how "obvious" it seems to him that "economic fairness and racial inclusion could resonate very well in the industrial Midwest." Buttigieg's memoir is an appealing introduction of its author to a larger potential constituency. (Jan.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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