We will probably not be getting The Winds of Winter in 2017, but at least we got one tale of political intrigue in bookstores this year: What Happened, Hillary Clinton’s first-person retelling of the 2016 campaign. And while the ending may not be as shocking as any of George R.R. Martin’s — she loses — there’s still enough in the book’s 400 pages to pique a reader’s interest, including folksy anecdotes about life on the campaign trail, harsh words for her male opponents, and a fair amount of self-examination about how she fell short. We’ll leave the official review up to the critics, but in the meantime, here’s a helpful summary of the juiciest tidbits.
1. Remember that famous photo of Bill and Hillary at Trump’s wedding? She says that they weren’t close at all with Donald and Melania, and assumed they were only invited to increase the wedding’s “star power.” They only went, she says, because they happened to be in the area anyway.
2. Those clear ponchos everyone wore at Trump’s inauguration were originally white. Until one staffer realized that, from a distance, they all looked like “KKK hoods.”
3. After the election, Hillary was often approached by strangers who apologized for not doing enough to help her win. (Even more mortifyingly, some parents forced their adult children to apologize to her for not voting.) She writes that she didn’t know how to handle these interactions: “These people were looking for absolution I just couldn’t give.”
4. Hillary’s postelection depression outfit? “Yoga pants and a fleece.”
5. Her postelection pop culture: Friday Night Lights, Gilmore Girls, the Hamilton cast album, The Good Wife, Madam Secretary, Blue Bloods, and NCIS: Los Angeles, which Bill “insists is the best of the bunch.”
6. She did not anticipate her post–State Department speaking engagements becoming such a big deal. “I liked that there was a way for me to earn a very good living without working for any one company, or sitting on any boards,” she writes. “Many of the organizations wanted the speeches to be private, and I respected that: they were paying for a unique experience. That allowed me to be candid about my impressions of world leaders who might have been offended if they heard.” Still, she writes, she should have thought more about how these speeches would look to voters. “When you know why you’re doing something and you know there’s nothing more to it and certainly nothing sinister, it’s easy to assume that others will see it the same way. That was a mistake. … Especially after the financial crisis of 2008–2009, I should have realized it would be bad ‘optics,’ and stayed away from having anything to do with Wall Street. I didn’t. That’s on me.”
7. Obama pushed her run for president. “He made it clear that he believed that I was our party’s best chance to hold the White House and keep our progress going, and he wanted me to move quickly to prepare to run,” she writes. Clinton says she finally decided to go for it after a visit to Oscar de la Renta’s house in fall 2014. (The designer died in October of that year.)
8. Even on the campaign trail, Hillary tried to spend as many nights at her own house as possible. A typical breakfast: “scrambled egg whites with vegetables. When they’re around, I add fresh jalapeños. Otherwise, it’s salsa and hot sauce.”
9. She tries to work out every day. But she says she’s “no match” for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who “pumps iron and does planks and push-ups two days a week.”
10. She found her favorite makeup artist after an “oh, honey” moment from Anna Wintour, “who saw me at an event and knew I needed help.”
11. According to her own math, Clinton spent “six hundred hours, or twenty-five days” on the campaign trail getting her makeup done. “I’ve never gotten used to how much effort it takes just to be a woman in the public eye,” she writes.
12. Her favorite hot sauce: Ninja Squirrel Sriracha, and Marie Sharp’s, especially the red habanero pepper flavor.
13. She’s ambivalent about selfies. “To be clear, if you see me in the world and want a selfie and I’m not on the phone or racing to get somewhere, I’ll be glad to take one with you,” she writes. “But I think selfies come at a cost. Let’s talk instead! … That feels real to me. A selfie is so impersonal — although it does give your wrist a break from autographs, now obsolete.”
14. She vehemently denies the suggestion that she spent too much time fundraising from wealthy donors. “Until the day comes that campaign finance reform is signed into law and upheld by the Supreme Court, if you want to run a viable national campaign, there’s no way around it: you’re going to have to do some serious fund-raising, online, by phone, by mail, and in person,” she says. “I reject the idea that it’s impossible to do it while maintaining your integrity and independence.”
15. She says she can’t quite understand with why so many people dislike her so intensely. “When it comes to some of my most controversial actions — like my vote giving President Bush the authority to go to war in Iraq — I was far from alone,” she writes. “That doesn’t make it right, but it also doesn’t explain the venom targeted at me specifically. Why am I seen as such a divisive figure and, say, Joe Biden and John Kerry aren’t? … They’ve run for president. They’ve served at high levels of government. They’ve cast votes of all kinds, including some they regret, just like me. What makes me such a lightning rod for fury? I’m really asking. I’m at a loss.” (She’s not really at a loss: She later ascribes much of the hatred to sexism.)
16. She went so far as to hire a “linguistics expert” to advise her on the right way to talk on the stump as a woman. “He said I needed to focus on my deep breathing and try to keep something happy and peaceful when I went onstage,” she recalls. “That way, when the crowd got energized and started shouting — as crowds at rallies tend to do — I could resist doing the normal thing, which is to shout back. Men get to shout back to their heart’s content, but not women. Okay, I told this expert, I’m game to try. But out of curiosity, can you give me an example of a woman in public life who has pulled this off successfully — who has met the energy of a crowd while keeping her voice soft and low? He could not.”
17. Trump’s supporters made her feel like Cersei Lannister: “Crowds at Trump rallies called for my imprisonment more times than I can count. They shouted ‘Guilty! Guilty!’ like the religious zealots in Game of Thrones shouting ‘Shame! Shame!’ while Cersei Lannister walked back to the Red Keep.”
18. She’s pen pals with one of her favorite mystery authors. (She doesn’t name them, so start taking guesses now.) Still, she writes, it’s hard for her and Bill to make new friends: “Do we let people into our lives who we don’t know very well? What if they just want to get to know us in order to have a good story to tell? We’ve been burned by people who’ve done that. It’s not fun to feel used.”
19. Susan Sarandon gets a thinly veiled shout-out: “Making the perfect enemy of the good is short-sighted and counterproductive. And when someone on the left starts talking about how there’s no difference between the two parties, or that electing a right-wing Republican might somehow hasten ‘the revolution,’ it’s just unfathomably wrong.”
20. She thought about “shaking some sense” into Matt Lauer after he spent an entire debate asking her about her emails. But she didn’t. “Here’s another example where I remained polite, albeit exasperated, and played the political game as it used to be, not as it had become.”
21. Though Clinton is proud of the campaign she ran, and disputes the idea that she ran as a candidate of the status quo, she admits she didn’t quite stir enough excitement: “I do recognize that my campaign in 2016 lacked the sense of urgency and passion that I remember from ’92 … In 2016, we were seeking to build on eight years of progress. For a change-hungry electorate, it was a harder sell.”
22. She admits that the “basket of deplorables” comment was a mistake, but stands by her reasoning, citing a survey where 55 percent of white Republicans believed most black people “don’t have the motivation or willpower to pull themselves up out of poverty.”
23. At one point Clinton says she “felt like Ray Donovan,” though she’s referring to the former Labor secretary, not the hero of the hit Showtime drama.
24. After the pivotal Comey letter, which was spurred by emails found on Anthony Weiner’s computer, Huma Abedin burst into tears and said, “This man is going to be the death of me.”
25. Among his other crimes, Vladimir Putin is a manspreader. “When I sat with Putin in meetings,” Clinton recalls, “he looked more like one of those guys on the subway who imperiously spread their legs wide, encroaching on everyone else’s space, as if to say, “I take what I want,” and “I have so little respect for you that I’m going to act as if I’m lounging at home in my bathrobe.”
26. After the election, Hillary almost went full conspiracy-corkboard over the Russia story. “To keep it all straight, I started making lists of everything we knew about the unfolding scandal. At times, I felt like CIA agent Carrie Mathison on the TV show Homeland, desperately trying to get her arms around a sinister conspiracy and appearing more than a little frantic in the process.”
27. Her concession call to Trump was short. “It was all perfectly nice and weirdly ordinary, like calling a neighbor to say you can’t make it to his barbecue.”
28. She sparred with her speechwriters over her concession speech. Their first draft was “combative,” while Clinton preferred a conciliatory tone. They finally landed on a compromise: “shorter and more gracious but not sugarcoated.”