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What Happened (Clinton book)

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What Happened
First edition
AuthorHillary Rodham Clinton
Subject2016 United States presidential election
PublisherSimon & Schuster
Publication date
September 1, 2017[1]
Publication placeUnited States
Media typePrint
Preceded byStronger Together 
Followed byThe Book of Gutsy Women 
Websitewww.simonandschuster.com/books/What-Happened/Hillary-Rodham-Clinton/9781501175565 Edit this at Wikidata

What Happened is a 2017 memoir by Hillary Clinton about her experiences as the Democratic Party's nominee and general election candidate for president of the United States in the 2016 election.[2] Published on September 1, 2017,[1] it is her seventh book with her publisher, Simon & Schuster.[3]

A paperback edition featuring a new afterword was released in September 2018, as was a Spanish translation titled Lo que pasó.[4][5][6]

Inception and advance publicity[edit]

Clinton discussing the book with Cheryl Strayed at BookExpo America

Existence of a new Clinton work was first revealed in February 2017, but at the time it was billed as a volume of essays centered around the author's favorite sayings, with only some allusions to the campaign.[7][8][9] Financial terms of that work, which had no announced title, were not publicly disclosed but industry observers expected her monetary compensation to be large.[10] The new purposing of the work and its thematic substance were revealed in July 2017.[9][3] After the title was announced, it was parodied with memes on Twitter.[11][12]

The New York Times wrote that the stated aim of the book was to offer an intimate view of what it was like for Clinton to run as the first female presidential candidate from a major party in United States history, in an often vicious and turbulent campaign. This is her third memoir, following Living History in 2003 and Hard Choices in 2014; advance publicity for the work said it would be her "most personal" yet[2] and quoted from her words in the book's Introduction: "In the past, for reasons I try to explain, I've often felt I had to be careful in public, like I was up on a wire without a net. Now I'm letting my guard down."[2] Clinton promised a new level of candor as a major theme of the initial publicity surrounding the book.[13][8][3] The work was also said to include some self-help ideas about how to get past highly unpleasant experiences.[14]


What Happened is a first-person account[15] dedicated to "the team that stood with me in 2016,"[16] and one of its chapters is largely a list of everyone who worked on her campaign.[17] It is organized into six main parts, titled: Perseverance, Competition, Sisterhood, Idealism and Realism, Frustration, and Resilience. Each part has from two to five chapters within it.[18]

After the introduction, the book opens with a scene from the United States presidential inauguration of 2017,[17] attended by Clinton and her husband, where she watched President Donald Trump take office. She begins:

Deep breath. Feel the air fill my lungs. This is the right thing to do. The country needs to see that our democracy still works, no matter how painful this is. Breathe out. Scream later.[19]

In the next chapter, "Get Caught Trying," she starts with her reasoning for running:

I ran for President because I thought I'd be good at the job. I thought that of all the people who might run, I had the most relevant experience, meaningful accomplishments, and ambitious but achievable proposals, as well as the temperament to get things done in Washington.[20]

Further in, she elaborates:

It was the chance to do the most good I would ever be able to do. In just one day at the White House, you can get more done for more people than in months anywhere else. We had to build an economy that worked for everyone. We had to take on serious national security threats. These issues were already on my mind all the time.... I knew I would make the most of every minute. Once I started thinking about it that way, I couldn't stop.[21]

In the book, she defends her campaign, saying they were economical with travel expenses, snacks, and office supplies.[22] "Our national campaign staff [were] living and working on a tight budget..." She revealed that the average donation was $100 and that the majority were from women.[23]

She also describes campaigning in hostile areas of the country, like Mingo County, West Virginia, "Ground Zero for the coal crisis."[24] She describes being taken aback by the level of anger she was met there with. She wrote, "This wasn't just about my comments in one town hall. This was something deeper."[25]

In the book, also, Clinton tries to explain the combination of factors that led to her electoral loss, including James Comey, Vladimir Putin, Mitch McConnell, The New York Times, NBC,[26] WikiLeaks,[27] the American media as a whole,[28] sexism, white resentment, Bernie Sanders and his supporters, Green Party candidate Jill Stein, and herself, specifically her comments on putting "coal miners out of business" and labeling her opponent's supporters as a "basket of deplorables".[29][17][30]

She noted that President Obama worried that extending the handover process after Trump's win would be bad for the country. She wrote "After so much hand-wringing about Trump undermining our democracy by not pledging to accept the results, the pressure was on us to do it right. If I was going to lose, the President wanted me to concede quickly and gracefully. It was hard to think straight, but I agreed with him."[31]

The book contains a number of Clinton's policy proposals, featuring her analysis of a problem area and her ideas for how to solve it[32] like resolving the issues of climate change[33] and securing the vote.[34] It also says though she was ecstatic about Barack Obama's win in 2008, "in some ways, the [moment with Trump as president] now feels even more hopeful, because it is a battle-hardened hope, tempered by loss and clear-eyed about the stakes.... We are doing the work."[35]

Another subject of the book is how to get through difficult experiences. Clinton discusses her practice of yoga and her liking of chardonnay,[36] but in particular, she lists a large number of books that helped her cope with the loss in one way or another. These included mysteries by Louise Penny, Jacqueline Winspear, Donna Leon, and Caroline and Charles Todd. They also included the Neapolitan Novels of Elena Ferrante, the spiritual works of Henri Nouwen, and the collected poems of Maya Angelou, Marge Piercy and T. S. Eliot.[36]

What Happened closes with a scene from a speech she gave at her alma mater Wellesley College.[32] Clinton concludes it with the advice to readers to "Keep going."[37]


Domestic sales[edit]

Copies of What Happened during Clinton's appearance at the Hill Auditorium in October 2017

The hardcover edition was published on September 12, 2017; it immediately went to the top of the Barnes & Noble, Amazon,[38] and USA Today bestseller lists.[39] The book debuted at number one on The New York Times Best Seller List for both hardcover nonfiction and combined print and e-book nonfiction sales, remaining atop the lists for it stayed for two weeks.[40][41] It dropped to number two on both lists in its third week.[42] By the beginning of November it had spent six weeks in the top four positions of the list.[43] By the beginning of January 2018 the book had spent sixteen weeks on the list.[44] The following week it fell off.[45] The book debuted at number one of the Publishers Weekly "Top 10 overall" and "hardcover nonfiction" bestseller lists. In its third week on the lists, it dropped to number three of the "Top 10 overall" and to number two of the "hardcover nonfiction" lists with a total of 311,982 hardcover copies sold.[46][47]

What Happened sold 300,000 copies in its first week.[48][49] The first-week sales were lower than her 2003 memoir, Living History, but triple the first-week sales of Clinton's previous memoir, 2014's Hard Choices.[48][50] The first-week hardcover sales for What Happened were 167,000.[48][49] This marked the strongest hardcover debut for a nonfiction book since 2012's No Easy Day.[48] Simon & Schuster also announced that What Happened sold more e-books in its first-week than any nonfiction book had since 2010.[48] As of December 10, 2017, the book had sold 448,947 hardcover copies.[51]

After its paperback, rerelease, the book debuted at #9 on The New York Times Best Sellers' "Paperback Nonfiction" list.[52]

International sales[edit]

What Happened also performed strongly in its release outside of the United States. In the United Kingdom, What Happened debuted atop The Sunday Times bestseller list.[49]

In Ireland, the book was able to peak atop the Nielsen BookScan component chart for hardcover non-fiction.[53] On the primary Irish Nielsen BookScan chart tracking sales of both hardcover and paperback books in all genres, What Happened debuted at number ten (selling 767 copies).[54] It jumped to number seven in its second week (selling 800 copies).[55] It jumped further to number four in its third week (selling 1,117 copies).[53] In its fourth week it dropped to number six (however with consistent sales, selling 1,116 copies).[56] It exited the top-ten in its seventh week.[57]

In Canada, What Happened debuted atop The Globe and Mail's hardcover non-fiction best sellers list.[58] It remained on the chart for six consecutive weeks.[59][60][61][62][63][64] In New Zealand, What Happened debuted number 8 on Nielsen BookScan's "International Non-fiction - Adults" chart.[65] In Australia, the book charted on Books+Publishing's bestsellers chart.[66]

Critical reception[edit]

What Happened polarized book critics.[67][68][69]

Jennifer Senior of The New York Times said:

What Happened is not one book, but many. It is a candid and blackly funny account of her mood in the direct aftermath of losing to President Donald J. Trump. It is a post-mortem, in which she is both coroner and corpse. It is a feminist manifesto. It is a score-settling jubilee. It is a rant against James B. Comey, Bernie Sanders, the media, James B. Comey, Vladimir Putin and James B. Comey. It is a primer on Russian spying. It is a thumping of Trump.[69]

For Washington Post writer David Weigel noted that Clinton "apologizes to the reader, who has to relive all of this. 'It wasn't healthy or productive,' she writes, 'to dwell on the ways I felt I'd been shivved.' It's a perfect word, 'shivved.' The Hillary Clinton of this bitter memoir ... again and again ... blames herself for losing, apologizing for her 'dumb' email management, for giving paid speeches to banks, for saying she would put coal miners 'out of business.' She veers between regret and righteous, sometimes in the same paragraph."[70]

A review in the Chicago Tribune by Heidi Stevens stated that the passages in the book about Russia's involvement in the US election "read like a spy novel".[15] Thomas Frank in The Guardian contends that "Unfortunately, her new book is less an effort to explain than it is to explain away. ... Still, by exercising a little discernment, readers can find clues to the mystery of 2016 here and there among the clouds of blame-evasion and positive thinking."[32]

An analysis by Ezra Klein, editor-in-chief of Vox, saw a different role for the book, making reference to Clinton's belief that progress is best made by working within the political system: "What Happened has been sold as Clinton's apologia for her 2016 campaign, and it is that. But it's more remarkable for Clinton's extended defense of a political style that has become unfashionable in both the Republican and Democratic parties."[71]

David L. Ulin of the Los Angeles Times wrote in his review for the newspaper that the book is a "necessary—if at times clunky and unconvincing—retrospective" and that "She should have been president, and she knows it; regret and loss is palpable throughout the book. And yet it's also the case that she remains unable to reckon with just what happened in the 2016 election, looking for explanations, for reasons, while at the same time never quite uncovering her own complicity."[37]

Sarah Jones of The New Republic wrote:

The real problem with What Happened is that it is not the book it needed to be. It spends more time on descriptions of Clinton's various post-election coping strategies, which include chardonnay and "alternative nostril breathing," than it does on her campaign decisions in the Midwest. It is written for her fans, in other words, and not for those who want real answers about her campaign, and who worry that the Democratic Party is learning the wrong lessons from the 2016 debacle.[68]

Jeff Greenfield wrote in Politico Magazine that the book suggests "that the person we've seen over the past quarter-century, and the person we watched seek the presidency twice, is the authentic Hillary. In fact, to judge by her book, she may have been the most authentic person in the race."[72]

A 2019 study in the journal Perspectives on Politics tried to evaluate the veracity of reasons that Clinton presented for her loss in the 2016 election.[73] The study found that "more often than not, HRC’s assumptions are supported" but that there was little evidence that the e-mail scandal, including FBI Director James Comey’s intervention shortly before Election Day, contributed to her loss.[73]

Awards and honors[edit]

Time magazine listed What Happened as #1 on its list of the best non-fiction books of 2017.[74] NPR's Book Concierge included What Happened on its list of "2017's Great Reads."[75] What Happened also won the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Memoir & Autobiography.[76]

Book tour[edit]

The Hill Auditorium during Hillary Clinton Live

It was announced on August 28, 2017, that Hillary Clinton would be starting a North American book tour in September 2017 to promote What Happened, as well as the picture book It Takes a Village (a new take on that 1996 volume).

Clinton scheduled more than thirty appearances in cities across the United States and Canada as part of an official book tour which lasted through December 2017.[77][78]

Clinton also traveled to the United Kingdom to promote the book. In part, the events in the U.K. were considered a great success, with tickets being sold out in less than an hour in some places.[79]

In May 2018, she took her book tour to New Zealand and Australia.[80]

Hillary Clinton: Live[edit]

Clinton partook in a series of engagements titled Hillary Clinton: Live. At many of her appearances, Clinton was met with enthusiastic audiences filling multi-thousand-seat venues. Starting prices for general admission tickets ranged from $30 to $125.[81]

Map of cities visited by Hillary Clinton: Live[82]
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Hillary Clinton: Live tour dates[82]
Date City Country Venue
September 18, 2017 Washington, D.C. United States Warner Theatre (hosted by Politics & Prose)
September 28 Toronto Canada Enercare Centre
October 3 Fort Lauderdale United States Broward Center for the Performing Arts
October 9 Davis Jackson Hall
October 23 Montreal Canada Palais des congrès de Montréal
October 24 Ann Arbor United States Hill Auditorium
October 30 Chicago Auditorium Theatre
November 1 New York City The Temple Emanu-El Streicker Center
November 9 Milwaukee Riverside Theater
November 13 Atlanta Fox Theatre
November 16 Denver Bellco Theatre
November 28 Boston Boston Opera House
November 30 Philadelphia Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts
December 11 Seattle Paramount Theatre
December 12 Portland Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
December 13 Vancouver Canada Vancouver Convention Centre

Book signings[edit]

In addition to Hillary Clinton Live events, Clinton also held book signings at locations across the United States as part of her book tour.

Tickets for particular signings sold out very soon after going on sale. For instance, tickets to Clinton's signing at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena sold out within ninety minutes. The president of Vroman's Bookstore reported that it was the fastest that the store had ever sold out for an event.[83]

In the United States, some of the book tour's stops were located relatively near Chappaqua, New York, where Clinton maintains her personal residence. She also held book signings in California and Colorado.

Map of cities visited by book signings
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Book signings[84]
Date City Venue Notes
September 12 New York City Barnes & Noble (Union Square) Inaugural event of book tour; took place on book's release date
September 16 Brookfield, Connecticut Costco
September 23[85] Chappaqua, New York Chappaqua Library
September 26 Montclair, New Jersey Watchung Booksellers
September 27 New York City Greenlight Bookstore In Brooklyn
September 28 Buffalo Larkin Square Hosted by Larkin Square Author Series with the Talking Leaves bookstore[86]
October 6 San Francisco Books Inc. (Opera Plaza)
October 21 Middletown, Connecticut Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore
October 30 Winnetka, Illinois Book Stall
November 3 Falls Church, Virginia Barnes & Noble
November 17 Austin BookPeople
November 18 Little Rock, Arkansas Butler Center Gallery Hosted by Books-A-Million
November 29[87] New York City Strand Books Joint book signing with Chelsea Clinton to promote their picture books
December 1 Pasadena Vroman's Bookstore
December 5 Concord, New Hampshire Gibson's Bookstore
December 7 Rhinebeck, New York Oblong Books & Music
December 11 Denver Tattered Cover (Colfax)
December 12 Seattle Elliott Bay Books

See also[edit]



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  3. ^ a b c Siu, Diamond Naga. "Hillary Clinton to open up about the 2016 election in new book titled 'What Happened'". Politico. Retrieved July 29, 2017.
  4. ^ Canfield, Dan (September 21, 2018). "Hillary Clinton explains to Stephen Colbert why President Donald Trump can be indicted". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved September 21, 2018.
  5. ^ Lyons (September 16, 2018). "Hillary Clinton's New 'What Happened' Afterword Accuses President Donald Trump Of Using Hate To Divide The Country". Bustle. Retrieved September 21, 2018.
  6. ^ Lo que pasó (Spanish ed.). Amazpn. 2018. ISBN 978-1982101978.
  7. ^ Italie, Hillel. "AP NewsBreak: Clinton will reflect on 2016 race in new book". Associated Press.
  8. ^ a b Flood, Alison (July 27, 2017). "Hillary Clinton to 'let her guard down' in candid 2016 election memoir". The Guardian. Retrieved July 29, 2017.
  9. ^ a b Shaub, Michael (July 27, 2017). "Hillary Clinton's new book, 'What Happened,' will address the 2016 election". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 29, 2017.
  10. ^ Feldman, Dana. "Hillary Clinton Inks Book Deal With Simon & Schuster". Forbes. Retrieved July 29, 2017.
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  13. ^ Italie, Hillel. "Hillary Clinton will release a book called 'What Happened?' about her 2016 defeat to Trump". Business Insider. Associated Press. Retrieved July 29, 2017.
  14. ^ Kelley, Seth (July 27, 2017). "Hillary Clinton Reveals Title, Description of 2016 Election Tell-All".
  15. ^ a b Stevens, Heidi (September 12, 2017). "Hillary Clinton in new book 'What Happened' shoulders blame, takes aim". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved September 14, 2017.
  16. ^ Clinton 2017, p. 465.
  17. ^ a b c Jordan, Tina (September 12, 2017). "Hillary Clinton is upset about a lot of things in What Happened: EW review". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved September 23, 2017.
  18. ^ Clinton 2017, p. viii-ix.
  19. ^ Clinton 2017, p. 3.
  20. ^ Clinton 2017, p. 39.
  21. ^ Clinton 2017, p. 52.
  22. ^ Clinton 2017, p. 97-98.
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  31. ^ Clinton 2017, p. 385.
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  34. ^ Clinton 2017, p. 498.
  35. ^ Clinton 2017, p. 501.
  36. ^ a b Hohmann, James (September 18, 2017). "The reading list that helped Hillary Clinton cope". Philly. Retrieved February 12, 2018.
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  39. ^ McClurg, Jocelyn (September 20, 2017). "Hillary Clinton lands at No. 1 on USA TODAY books list; Katy Tur is No. 7". USA Today. Retrieved September 22, 2017.
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  50. ^ Nevins, Jake (September 20, 2017). "Hillary Clinton's What Happened sells 300,000 copies in first week". The Guardian. Retrieved September 20, 2017.
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  53. ^ a b Brown, Rebecca (October 7, 2017). "Irish Bestsellers 30th September 2017". writing.ie. Retrieved December 24, 2017.
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  68. ^ a b "Hillary Clinton Doesn't Get It". The New Republic. September 13, 2017.
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  73. ^ a b Quinlan, Stephen; Lewis-Beck, Michael S. (2019). "The Hillary Hypotheses: Testing Candidate Views of Loss". Perspectives on Politics. 17 (3): 646–665. doi:10.1017/S153759271800347X. ISSN 1537-5927.
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  82. ^ a b "Hillary Clinton: Live". www.hillaryclintonbooktour.com. Hillary Clinton Book Tour. n.d. Retrieved October 26, 2017.
  83. ^ "Hillary Clinton to appear at sold-out Vroman's Bookstore event Friday". www.pasadenastarnews.com. Pasadena Star News. November 30, 2017. Retrieved December 23, 2017.
  84. ^ "Book signings". www.hillaryclintonemoir.com. Simon & Schuster. n.d. Retrieved November 23, 2017.
  85. ^ "Hillary Clinton - Book Signing "What Happened"". www.eventbrite.com. Eventbrite. n.d. Retrieved December 23, 2017.
  86. ^ Zemsky, Leslie (August 24, 2017). "SOLD OUT: Hillary Rodham Clinton to sign books in Larkin Square, Thursday, September 28th, 12:30 pm". www.larkinsquare.com. Larkin Square. Retrieved October 27, 2017. The Larkin Square Author Series and Talking Leaves books is hosting a book signing with Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday, September 28th, 2017 at 12:30 pm
  87. ^ "EXCLUSIVE CHILDREN'S BOOK SIGNING: SECRETARY HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON & CHELSEA CLINTON". www.strandbooks.com. Strand Books. n.d. Retrieved November 8, 2017.

Works cited[edit]

External links[edit]