The Invisible Bridge

by Rick Perlstein

 

This chapter in Rick Perlstein’s chronicle of the modern conservative movement picks up where Nixonland left off, after the infamous Watergate break-in but before the Nixon administration’s crimes were revealed publicly. While Perlstein continues that story, through Congressional investigation and Nixon’s eventual resignation, The Invisible Bridge isn’t really about Nixon. Rather, it’s about the transition in conservative leadership from Nixon to future President Ronald Reagan.

When I read Nixonland a few years ago, I thought it was probably one of the most interesting non-fiction books I’d ever read. Perlstein’s narrative tells the parallel stories of Nixon’s rise to power and the nation’s ever-growing cultural divide in a way that makes his point clear: these two stories are one story. Nixon was adept at using social change for his own purposes, and he contributed in large part to our perception of the 1960’s to this day. (This, pretty much.) Reading Nixonland as a young gun who never lived through that decade, I figure it’s the closest I can get to understanding the feel of the era without having been there. Perlstein’s writing has this visceral quality that can take you back in time without making it seem like you’re travelling to a completely foreign land. His Nixon-era America is striking and familiar at the same time.

Perlstein paints an amazing portrait of Nixon, as well. Even through all the sliminess, Nixon comes across as a great intellect and a strong-willed leader. While he might not exactly be persevering- more than once, he quits politics after losing an election- he’s a man of energy and passion. These attractive qualities helped him to inspire the kind of loyalty that led his underlings to carry out undemocratic and criminal acts, and to subsequently go to jail for them. We tend to remember the Richard Nixon who looked sweaty and unshaven on TV, who seemed out of touch with his era, and who seemed to disdain American democracy, but Perlstein makes Nixon into a very impressive figure.

This leads me to the first difference I noticed between Nixonland and The Invisible Bridge: Perlstein’s utter contempt for Ronald Reagan. Reading Nixonland, you can tell that he has a grudging sort of respect for Richard Nixon, both as a man and as a leader. He respects Reagan as neither. The Invisible BridgeAs a Democrat myself, I’m sympathetic to the idea that Reagan was not the superhero that he’s made out to be in the media, and that his brand of conservatism has darker foundations than we typically like to think about, but even I found myself wondering whether he’s being given a fair shake in this book. Perlstein’s Reagan is a born charlatan, lying to himself and to others because a better story was always more true than the facts could ever be.

I do think that character matters in politics, but it doesn’t seem accurate to try to paint a picture of Reagan, or anyone for that matter, using cherry-picked examples from every stage of his life. I don’t mean to imply that Perlstein uses anything out of context, since he’s generally very careful to provide as much context as possible, but I think he might be conveniently leaving a few things out. For example, I think it’s highly suspect that Perlstein’s Reagan never acts altruistically. Are we expected to believe that  Reagan’s never done anything with pure motives? Do anecdotes from his youth really reveal anything about his character? Does tweaking a story for different audiences make him a pathological liar? According to Perlstein, yes, yes, and yes.

Another thing that bothered me this time around was Perlstein’s use of real events as snapshots or microcosms of the contemporary national mood. Reading Invisible Bridge earlier this summer, I couldn’t help but do try to do this myself, and it turned out something like this:

“Meanwhile, America was tearing itself up over identity issues. A simmering activist movement known as Black Lives Matter, formed to protest violence and police brutality in minority communities, was courting controversy and causing white people to wonder whether their lives were valued in America anymore. A woman named Rachel Dolezal, a Spokane-based leader of the NAACP, was revealed to be a white woman passing as black. Sexuality and gender, too, all of a sudden seemed fluid. Bruce Jenner, celebrated Olympian, reality TV star, head of the infamous Kardashian clan, came out as a woman named Caitlin. And on June 26, the Supreme Court of the United States legalized same-sex marriage across the land. Whether you were looking at the New York Times or the New York Post, all you could see was a society that was becoming less recognizable by the day. You were afraid that you might wake up tomorrow and not recognize yourself in the mirror.”

See what I mean? It’s easy to start with some facts, mix in some commentary, and produce an anecdote presenting opinion as absolute truth. Were those things going on this past summer? Well, yea. Are the issues related? Some of them, sure. Does it really represent our time period? Maybe, maybe not. If you’re reading a passage like that fifty years from now, who are you to say? Nothing in that passage is inaccurate.

This writing style a bit sketchy to begin with, but Perlstein goes back to this particular well constantly. And maybe it’s because I wasn’t on board from the start, but these passages just got more and more tedious. Hell, one of his sky-is-falling incidents had to do with bees in a baseball dugout. Another related to Doc Ellis getting ejected from a game after trying to bean every batter he faced. I don’t know about you, but I usually don’t use the MLB as a marker for American political culture. Perlstein’s repeated use of this style seems intended to mask the absence of a real immersive experience.

As a follow-up to Nixonland, I was personally disappointed with The Invisible Bridge. Nixonland portrayed a perfect alignment between a man and his time period, as well as between the author and his subject matter. Not only does Perlstein know his stuff, but his portrayal of America in the 50’s and 60’s feels effortless. Everything seemed so real and tangible, almost as if I was actually watching a documentary, or even living the experience. The Invisible Bridge shattered that illusion for me. Instead of easily immersing readers in the subject matter, Perlstein felt like a museum tour guide who really wanted to convince me that his perspective on the exhibit was all-important. So sure, he knows what he’s talking about, and he’s probably right, but it really detracts from the experience a bit.

Compared with Nixonland, The Invisible Bridge feels like a step backward for Perlstein. The split focus on his two major subjects- Nixon and Reagan- doesn’t help, nor does Perlstein’s obvious contempt for the latter. The half of the book concerned with Reagan seemed like a chore compared to everything that came before it, which was generally fantastic.

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Duty

by Robert M. Gates

 

Yes, the title reminds you of poo. Moving on.

Duty is Gates’ memoir about his time serving as Secretary of Defense, under Presidents Bush (fils) and Obama. Appointed by the former to fix the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he was asked to stay on by the latter, presumably to add a bipartisan flavor to Obama’s cabinet and Department of Defense. Duty describes Gates’ time at the Pentagon and provides his perspective on each administration.

If you’ve read about the book, you’ve probably heard the gossipy accounts of the successive administrations: who got along with whom, etc. I think one question everyone wanted answered was, “Who do you think made better decisions as President?” DutyWell, Gates knows enough to steer clear of that one, though he’s less comfortable with the Obama team than he is around Republicans or the military. On the other hand, he shit-talks Vice Presidents Dick Cheney and Joe Biden about equally, thinking that both were too political and too vocal in foreign policy meetings, while just about professing his undying love for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. So he at least keeps an open mind.

But most of what Gates talks about is actually bureaucratic intransigence within Defense. His biggest problem at the Pentagon was that most of the top brass were focused on potential future wars, to the point of obsession. While this focus on upcoming problems and conflicts isn’t necessarily a bad thing- I’m glad that they think about tomorrow- Gates found that this attention came at the expense of the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which he felt he was brought in to fix. His mandate, as he saw it, was to realign the massive bureaucracy with the goal of winning our current wars. I find it hard to believe that the military paid as little attention to the wars it was fighting as Gates indicates, but he’s quite proud of his accomplishments in this area, especially the accelerated procurement of the life-saving MRAP, which I’ll get into in just a minute.

Though his book was interesting, by and large, I would get kind of annoyed when I felt that Gates was using his bipartisan label to elevate himself above decisions he didn’t like. In addition to disagreeing with and arguing against these decisions on their merits- which, to his credit, he does- he tends to adopt the posture of a neutral observer. The implication of this is that if you disagree with him, you’re behaving like a partisan hack. Gates consistently tells us that everything he did, by contrast, was for our country and our troops on the front line. While I don’t doubt that he’s telling the truth, I can see how it would get frustrating dealing with a man who believes his motives to be purer than anyone else’s in the room.

A couple months ago, while I was reading DutyNew York magazine came out with a cover story about race in the Obama era. In case you missed it, Jonathon Chait basically said, “Sure, Republican policies and politics can be racist, but Democrats are just as bad when they call Republicans racist. Everyone’s at fault.” What bothered me about this line of reasoning was best articulated by Elias Isquith on Salon as “the view from nowhere.” Essentially, Chait needs to retain his credibility as a neutral journalist, meaning that he can neither fully endorse either side’s actions or fully impugn either side’s motives. If he did so, he would immediately cease to be ‘neutral.’ The result? A piece pretty much devoid of actual content, all in the name of fairness.

I don’t think it would be fair to put Gates on the same level as Chait, but his tone sometimes bothered me. There are a few people in government that he would respect, even when he disagreed with them, but there were many whom he would often accuse of being hacks. The Obama White House, and particularly Joe Biden, are singled out as making foreign policy decisions based almost purely on politics. This is an especially strange charge given that during the Bush Administration, by Gates’ own account, national politics had a very strong influence on war policy in Iraq. Motives are not called into question in this case, but because Gates has taken the stance of an impartial observer, we’re supposed to trust that he knows the difference between a ‘political decision’ and an ‘informed’ decision.

Similarly, Gates likes to claim that he’s not a politician, and moreover that he has weak political instincts. A closer look reveals that the opposite is the case. In the aforementioned example of Iraq, Secretary Gates, the civilian team at the Pentagon, the military, and the White House were very adept at setting timetables for the surge, knowing how far away a deadline would have to be to avoid immediate accountability, while dodging a situation in which they could be criticized for setting a ridiculously distant (and therefore nearly irrelevant) date. This is not me calling them out for trying to outmaneuver Congress and the nation without us noticing. Go read the book. Gates is pretty open about politics driving aspects of decision-making in his time at Defense before the 2008 election.

A more subtle example of Gates’ political instincts is the MRAP program, which is credited with saving many, many lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gates writes that he had to fight the Pentagon for the procurement of these vehicles, which were better-suited than any other to withstand IEDs, and therefore protected soldiers on patrol. If his account is accurate, this means that a) top officials at the Pentagon didn’t place the highest priority on protecting their soldiers, at least not to the extent that they would go around the normal procurement process to do so, and b) the Pentagon and the White House failed to recognize that American casualties were driving opposition to the war in Iraq. I think it’s fair to say that American opposition to wars largely develops when we see our fellow Americans fighting and dying for reasons we don’t understand. A good way to keep opposition from spiraling out of control, therefore, would be to place the highest priority on protecting American lives. Hence, the MRAP. If Gates was as integral to the MRAP procurement as he tells us, either the Bush Administration and the military were incredibly obtuse about the impact of casualties on American war fatigue, or Gates is much more politically savvy than he lets on.

I feel a little bit bad, because it must seem like I’m criticizing a high-level government official for acting like a politician. I often find myself in the position of defending politicians, even those that I disagree with, when people write them off as self-interested blowhards. I think it’s rare that anyone gets into public service, politics included, without a real desire to see people’s lives improve. From Bob Gates to George Bush to Barack Obama to Stanley McChrystal, I don’t think there’s anyone in Duty that I wouldn’t assume to be a patriot, and it saddens me that Gates is so adamant about certain individuals not always having the public interest at heart. But of course, it’s his book, and he’s entitled to his opinions. It’s likely that Gates is just trying to be honest about his experiences, and I can’t fault him for that.

I’ve kind of gotten bogged down in the political crap, which I really tried not to do, but it is simply amazing to me how openly Gates disdains political theater while just as openly engaging in it. Regardless, most of the book isn’t really about that. Gates talks about the Defense budget, our relationships with Russia and China, changes in military culture (including the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell”), and other challenges that we’re facing or that we will face in the near future. He makes his opinions known, and tells it like he sees it. I’m guessing that Gates’ tenure at the Pentagon will turn out to be an important one, and it’s pretty interesting watching the changes at the Pentagon from the perspective of a man who clearly wasn’t always comfortable with the way things went down.

Duty is a fascinating memoir for what Gates says- the great anecdotes from his relationship with Obama, Bush, Clinton, etc- as well as what he doesn’t say. There’s probably no better vantage point on the foreign policy pivot between the Bush and Obama Administrations.

Johnny Cash: The Life

by Robert Hilburn

 

Johnny Cash died September 12, 2003, at the age of 71. My memories of this event are pretty vague. I had just been in a major bike accident, spent a week in the hospital, and was on the verge of starting my first year of high school- two weeks late. I also wasn’t a huge Cash fan at the time, but it was all over the news, and Time magazine memorialized him on the cover. For a while after, if you’d asked me what I knew about Johnny Cash, my reply would’ve been that he died while I was hurt. That’s it. The Cash biopic came out a few years later, but when I saw it I pretty much agreed with Jon Stewart: “Ray with white people.”

Cash didn’t make an impact on me until my 20th birthday, when my dad gave me a guitar. I don’t lay claim to any musical ability, but for a while the guitar was a fun pastime for me (I really need to get back into it), and one of the first songs I learned was Cash’s “I Walk the Line.” I don’t remember why; maybe because it’s distinctive enough that even if I fucked it up, people would still recognize it? I dunno. The point is, though I knew nothing about Cash when he died a decade ago, I have been converted. I’m a fan.

Hilburn’s Johnny Cash tells the man’s story, from his childhood in Arkansas through the end of his life. He covers Cash’s stint in the Air Force, rise to stardom in the 50’s, troubled relationship with June Carter, problems with drugs for most of his life, struggle for relevance, and declining health in later years. Johnny CashWhile Hilburn’s writing should be enough to keep you interested, I found that much of my enjoyment came from being a fan of Cash’s music. Seeing the origins of “Folsom Prison Blues,” and then watching it climb the charts, just wouldn’t work as well for me if I wasn’t listening to the song on repeat in my head- and then comparing Hilburn’s story to the end product. As a fan, this is great, and it keeps a pretty hefty autobiography fresh and enjoyable, but it makes me wonder whether a non-fan would be able to get through the book.

Whether you’re a fan or not, though, I’m guessing that there might be a few things that will grab you like they did me. Cash’s drug abuse, for one. It’s scary, at times, to trace his transformation from a road musician, who turns to pills to help keep him up for concerts, into a self-destructive addict who can barely take care of himself, let alone his family. The cycle of addiction, with alternating periods of rehab and relapse, took its toll on me; I found myself rooting for him to succeed, and disillusioned when he would inevitably fail.

This pattern was reflected in other aspects of Cash’s life as well. It probably won’t surprise you that his drug addiction took its toll on the music. His career, starting off so well in the 50’s, would get out of hand pretty often- he could almost instantly go from genius to hack in the public’s mind. Sometimes going years without inspiration, Cash nevertheless felt compelled to keep putting out record after record that wouldn’t make a dent in the charts, often borrowing the styles of contemporary musicians or using a formula that had worked for him in the past, such as the horns that made “Ring of Fire” stand out.

All of this takes place in the context of Cash’s steady progression into old age, probably accelerated by his on-and-off drug addiction. It’s tough to watch the guy who had been a young gun in country music turn irrelevant over the course of a few decades (and just a few hundred pages), his attempts to revive his career looking more and more desperate. And I, for one, didn’t realize how sick he actually was for the last decade of his life, barely able to make music and completely unable to tour.

Cash’s story would simply be one of fading glory were it not for his reinvention in the 90’s, courtesy of hip hop producer Rick Rubin. Cash and Rubin worked on several albums together, and what must’ve struck many as yet another gimmicky ploy turned out to be the perfect pairing. Often drawing inspiration from contemporary artists, these records are simultaneously vintage and modern Cash, and the product is all the more impressive considering his fragile health. His cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” and the accompanying video are a haunting account of his final years, underlined by the images of Johnny and June just months before their deaths.

I definitely know more about Cash than I did before. Is all of this new information necessary? No, probably not. I didn’t really need to know  his first wife’s name, or what years he was stationed in Germany, or exactly how many cycles of relapse and recovery he went through. On the other hand, this stuff provides context for Cash’s music, so as a fan I absolutely appreciate it. Hilburn is thorough, but he doesn’t get caught up on irrelevant factoids; he makes sure that if he’s dropping some information, it’s relevant to the larger story of Cash’s life, which is powerful enough to stand on its own.

Johnny Cash was a fascinating man and Johnny Cash is a fascinating book, so I’d recommend it to anybody interested in Cash or his music.

Going Clear

by Lawrence Wright

 

I try to steer away from religion. In conversation, in life, and certainly on the net. But sometimes, just once in a while, a man reads a book about religion. And that man has a blog about books, and feels obligated to document what he reads, all to satisfy his adoring public.

Scientology. I certainly know more about it than I did before. I don’t want to get into their doctrine; I’d just fuck it up. Here’s South Park to explain it for you. Go ahead, I’ll wait. I know you like South Park. If you hate following links, and you can stand a significantly shittier Youtube video, here you go:

So that’s part of Scientology, but Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear isn’t really about Scientologist doctrine, and it’s hardly about the religion at all. Instead, Wright takes it upon himself to meticulously document the life of the religion’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard, and the birth and growth of the Church itself. It’s a pretty remarkable story, and Wright takes his task seriously.

The story starts with Hubbard, a man who, from his early days, seems to have exhibited that great American trait, the gift of bullshitting. Other, less profane, people, might call this gift ‘imagination’. And for a science fiction writer such as Hubbard, not only is there nothing wrong with this, it’s actually essential for success. Given how much pulp science fiction existed in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s, an outsized imagination and a strong work ethic could help one emerge from the pack. L. Ron HubbardHubbard had plenty of both, and used them to become one of the most prolific and successful authors of all time.

Of course, the flip side, the ‘bullshit’ side, has to come out sometime. Hubbard’s recollections of his childhood are often, to put it mildly, of dubious accuracy. His military record doesn’t back up his own account of his experience in World War II, and he appears to have lied his way into the Navy in the first place. According to Wright, Hubbard sent false recommendations along with his application, and he embiggened his qualifications as a seaman and a scientist. Having secured his appointment as an officer, it appears that he bounced around from post to post, with his superiors often wondering how the hell they got stuck with a man who seemed to have no business in the military.

His military experience- as told by him- served as the foundation for his first stab at self-help, published in 1950 as Dianetics. The techniques outlined in this text allegedly helped him cure his war wounds, including blindness, though his records document no combat-related injuries. From what I can tell, the book itself is a jumble of pseudoscience that’s pretty much a ripoff of old school psychoanalysis, which is ironic given Hubbard’s and Scientology’s view of psychotherapy as an evil profession.

Dianetics evolved into Scientology, a set of beliefs and practices whose adherents would fight for decades to be considered followers of a legitimate religion rather than a cult. Hubbard would lead the Church of Scientology through persecution, exile, legal battles, and personal struggles, till his death in 1986. He was succeeded by David Miscavige, who leads the Church to this day. Though recognized in the United States as a religious organization, and therefore tax-exempt, Scientology continues to have a worldwide perception problem.

Wright weaves this history with the personal stories of Scientology ‘defectors’, including high-ranking Sea Org members as well as acclaimed film director Paul Haggis. Each of these people tells a different story, but all of them relate their enchantment, frustrations, and growing disillusionment with Scientology’s leaders and institutions. Haggis, for example, takes issue with the Church’s stance on homosexuality, and his fury when the Church stonewalls his inquiries into the matter leads to his resignation.

(The Church’s view of homosexuality is especially interesting in light of its desire to be associated with Hollywood, not exactly a homophobic culture; indeed, one of the Scientology’s early celebrity converts, John Travolta, strongly supports the gay community and has had his own sexuality called into question. According to Wright, the organization even helped Travolta maintain his straight public image. Additionally, several Church members, including L. Ron Hubbard’s son Quentin, are alleged to have been gay.)

Other ex-Scientologists describe what happens when one joins the Sea Org, Scientology’s clergy. In the 1960’s, feeling unwelcome in many countries, Hubbard and his followers took to the open sea- hence, the Sea Organization. Going ClearScientologists who join the Sea Org sign billion-year contracts, dedicating their mortal lives and a good chunk of whatever comes after to serving their Church. Though one might think that Scientology’s clergy and management would be treated better than most adherents, Wright and his witnesses claim that the opposite is the case. The Sea Org overworks and underpays its recruits, using their total faith and dedication to keep them in line. Wright describes horrifying conditions, including disgusting housing and meals that consist of scraps. These conditions only get worse for the Sea Org member who fucks up somehow, as they can be sent to the Rehabilitation Project Force, or RPF. Jesse Prince, one of Wright’s interviewees, claims that he was “incarcerated” in the RPF for threatening to leave the Sea Org, and made to work there for an indefinite amount of time, in his case a year and a half. And from the looks of it, the RPF is not somewhere you’d wanna be sent.

To be honest, Going Clear reminded me a lot of Nothing to Envy, Barbara Demick’s account of North Korea from defectors’ perspectives. North Korean defectors claim a reluctance to defect out of fear for their families’ safety; the ex-Scientologists Wright interviews often worry about being labelled a Suppressive Person (SP), preventing future contact with their families and perhaps bringing the wrath of the Church down on family members. North Koreans recall a mix of fear, awe, and acceptance that keeps them in line; the former Sea Org members describe sticking with Scientology in similar terms.

While Wright is meticulously detailing the foundation and growth of Scientology, he continuously explores the reasons someone would join the religion, commit to the Sea Org, tolerate the abuse that members are put through. According to several sources, both Hubbard and Miscavige subjected their underlings to physical abuse. How can people trust a leader who at any point may give in to violent rages? When the FBI raids Scientology offices in 1977 and stumbles upon over a hundred RPF members in a dark basement, none of them try to flee; Wright wants us to ask ourselves why. Were they brainwashed? Or was it simply dedication to their beliefs?

For Wright, it really comes down to this question: how do we define the differences between a religion, a cult, and a criminal organization? Does that distinction matter?

Lean In

by Sheryl Sandberg

 

(A guest blog from Emily, highly employable sister.)

As is traditional in my household, a vast majority of Christmas presents exchanged this year were books. While I’m not a huge reader, I just finished my last semester at college, meaning I suddenly have the blessing (read: burden) of having way too much free time. I also have the burden of desperately seeking employment. Together, this adds up to the perfect time for me to receive Sheryl Sandberg’s new book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.

Though Sandburg claims it is none of these, Lean In can certainly be classified as a combination of a self-help book, a feminist manifesto and an autobiography. Lean InI say self-help because it has already helped me. Throughout the book, she mentions a poster at the Facebook headquarters reading “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” which I find extremely inspirational. There are so many things that I want to do, but my fears hold me back every day. I’ve always assumed that it is because I’m shy and a little awkward that I’m afraid to move far away from home, raise my hand in the classroom, or apply to jobs for which I am not 100% qualified. In reading Lean In, I’ve realized that this is not just a product of me being shy, but is at least partly a product of me being a woman. Re-reading that sentence just made me feel a little brainwashed. Okay, so maybe I’m a little too willing to attribute my excessive anxiety about work and school to my gender, but it really is deeper than that. Sandburg points to multiple studies that show women are less likely to speak up in meetings, raise their hands in the classroom or negotiate for higher pay. I had never realized before that other people shared these apprehensions, and that the most apprehensive were usually women.

I definitely consider myself a feminist. This seems to be kind of a dirty word for a lot of women; they don’t want to be associated with those man-hating, bra-burning, no-nonsense lesbians. But for me, feminism is about being judged on my character and merits rather than my gender. In fact, I rarely have conscious thoughts about my gender, and I don’t tend to identify with other women simply because of our shared woman-hood. I see people as people, myself included. That is all that Sandberg is asking for in this book. She wants to point out that both men and women must take responsibility for breaking down social expectations based on gender. Women must stop criticizing other women for their career and parental choices, and men must stop encouraging “macho” stereotypes that reinforce the idea that males have no responsibility helping out at home. The assumption is that no woman can “have it all”, which causes a lot of women to leave the workforce even before they have a family, and Sandberg encourages women to fight that instinct, because it is very possible to have a successful career and happy, healthy children. Based on Sandberg’s desire to even out the playing field for men and women, I would absolutely include this in the “feminist” category. No, she doesn’t want to bring men down. And no, she’s not even blaming men. But that’s not what feminism is about. Sandberg looks forward to a time when being a female does not define one’s success, and hopes that “in the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.” She hopes that gender is taken out of the equation when skills and achievements are what really matter.

Most importantly, Sandberg admits that even she has doubts about her choices. After her first child was born she promised to take full advantage of maternity leave, and then was back on her work email within about a week. She worries that she doesn’t see her children enough and shared an anecdote about the pain she felt the first time her child cried for the babysitter instead of mommy. She acknowledges that not everybody has the luxury of being able to afford childcare or being able to take time off.  She doesn’t claim to have all the answers. Rather, she hopes that readers of Lean In will feel comfortable making choices, and give other women the opportunity to make their own choices without judgment.

I avoided reading any criticisms of this book until just now, because I didn’t want anything to affect my raw opinion of Sheryl Sandberg or her book, and I’m glad I did. Sheryl Sandberg on TimeThere has been some feminist backlash, accusing Sandberg of representing corporate America and ignoring the needs of women. She expects women to work hard to enhance their careers without any suggestions towards affordable childcare or equal pay rates. My main criticism is that Sandberg’s gender is the only thing not marketable about her; she is white, conventionally attractive, heterosexual, healthy, married, well-educated, thin, cis-gendered, etc. It would be refreshing to see this kind of success story from a woman who did not have everything else going for her.

That being said, Lean In has sparked a good discussion, which is all that I can hope for right now. Maybe she’s not the most likeable woman and her fight is limited to cookie-cutter businesswomen, and she definitely does not have all the answers. But nobody is perfect and it is a start, and as a young woman about to enter the workforce I definitely appreciate the solidarity demonstrated in this book. I have the privilege of thinking about my future and getting excited for opportunities that I can’t yet imagine. I know that other women are afraid to raise their hands, and I can consciously fight that by raising my own.

All in all, I’d recommend Lean In to anyone (man or woman) that feels overwhelmed when thinking about the future. Especially young people on the brink of a new career, this book will encourage you to put yourself out there and fight for the job that you want. Just remember that Sandberg is not evil and she is just trying to take action in the only way she knows how, which is by showing other women that rising up the corporate ladder is possible. And really, who can fault her for that?