Eight years ago, Pete Buttigieg was elected as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, at the age of only twenty-nine, the youngest mayor in the country. Since then he has presided over a city that had been struggling ever since the collapse of the Studebaker auto plant decades before, and he has helped to reinvigorate its economy into a shining example of urban renewal. In Shortest Way Home, Mayor Buttigieg interweaves his own personal story of growing up in South Bend with a narrative of the city itself. After high school, he left to pursue a higher education, first at Harvard and then as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, before joining the prestigious consulting firm McKinsey. Feeling discontent in his job and having a desire to be in public service, he came back home to South Bend to mount an unsuccessful campaign for Indiana state treasurer and later his successful run for mayor. During his tenure as mayor, he has dealt with many urban challenges while simultaneously serving in the Navy reserves and completing a tour of duty as an intelligence officer in Afghanistan. His mission was a life-changing one in that he knew he finally needed to be open about who he really was, and that meant coming out as gay in an op ed for the South Bend Tribune, which eventually led to a relationship with his husband, Chasten. With a healthy dose of hope, humor, and an evident love for his city, Mayor Buttigieg chronicles his story along with his vision for the future of not only the Midwest, but the entire country.
Aside from having vaguely heard that he was the mayor of South Bend, Indiana and was running for President of the United States, until a few months ago, I really had no clue who Pete Buttigieg was. He hadn't even hit my radar, because I thought he was just another of the little-known candidates who'd thrown their hat in the ring. Then I read an article about him that was written by a trusted minister on my favorite online progressive Christian blog that intrigued me. From there, I devoured a number of other articles, interviews, and speeches in an effort to find out who this guy was. What I discovered was a man who impressed me with his intelligence, thoughtfulness, and ability to articulate his ideas and positions. But what really grabbed my attention was his capacity to speak my faith language and his unabashed willingness to do so. As a result, I've been following him closely ever since, so when my book club went on summer hiatus, I decided I would use that time to really dive in and check out his memoir to see what new insights I could glean about this talented, young politician.
Shortest Way Home begins with Mayor Buttigieg's reminiscences of growing up and coming of age in South Bend. Following high school, his journey took him away from home for a large part of the next decade as he studied at Harvard and later Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. After graduating and returning to the US, he worked as an analyst for the consulting firm McKinsey, but largely found the job unfulfilling. That's when his life path took him back home to South Bend. From there, we learn about his failed bid for the Indiana State Treasurer's office and his subsequent run for South Bend mayor, which he won. He has served in that position for the past eight years, and several chapters cover his time governing and how he helped revitalize a city that had been struggling ever since the closure of the Studebaker factory decades earlier. He also covers his time in the Navy Reserves and being called up for active duty on a seven-month tour in Afghanistan as an intelligence officer during his tenure as mayor. That whole experience was a wake-up call that eventually spurred him into publicly coming out as gay at great risk to his reelection campaign. The risk paid off with voters giving him another term as mayor, and now that he could openly date, he also finally found love with his now-husband, Chasten. This all brings us full-circle to where he is now, running for president.
Shortest Way Home gave me deeper insights into Mayor Buttigieg both as a man and as a politician. One thing that struck me was how much his love for his city of South Bend comes through in his writing. It's certainly never been a place I've aspired to put on my bucket list to visit, but the picture he paints of the city almost makes me want to. Another thing that rather surprised me is how many times I found myself smiling and/or chuckling at something he wrote. Mayor Buttigieg usually comes off in his interviews and speeches as a quiet, unassuming person - he is an introvert after all, so he doesn't have the same charisma one often observes in politicians - so seeing his sharp, witty sense of humor was refreshing. I was also impressed to see that the humility he projects on television also comes through in his writing. His ambition seems to be tempered with a healthy dose of modesty, something rarely seen on the political stage. He almost seems reluctant to talk of his accomplishments as mayor, and when he does, it's often done in a more collective sense, giving credit to all the people involved in a project besides himself. While it would probably be impossible for a politician to write a memoir that doesn't involve some discussion of politics, I found that Mayor Buttigieg manages quite admirably to avoid any hyper-partisanship, always trying to see the good in others even those with whom he disagrees. As a hopeless romantic, though, my favorite part was probably the chapter on his relationship with Chasten, which I thought was very sweet and heartfelt. I almost wanted more, but at the same time, I respect his seeming desire to keep his personal life as private as possible for someone who's in the public eye.
Overall, I very much enjoyed Shortest Way Home. The book is extremely well-written and engaging. This man definitely has a way with words and his ability to describe things with soaring narrative prose is both eloquent and beautiful in a way that made my writer's heart sing. The only reason I dropped a half-star is because there were a couple of chapters that covered some things that weren't quite as interesting to me and I found myself zoning out a little while reading those. But that was just a small thing in an otherwise exceptional book. I appreciated this memoir and Mayor Buttigieg's willingness to allow readers like myself insights into his life and journey thus far. I look forward to seeing where the future takes this bright, young man.
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