Read Like a Clinton: A Round Up of Literary References in WHAT HAPPENED

This content contains affiliate links. When you buy through these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Elizabeth Allen

Staff Writer

Lifelong book lover, Elizabeth Allen managed to get a degree in something completely unrelated that she never intends to use. She’s a proud Connecticut native who lives in a picturesque small town with her black olive-obsessed toddler daughter, her prom date-turned-husband, and her two dim-witted cats Penny Lane and Gretchen Wieners. She spends her days trying to find a way to be paid to read while drinking copious amounts of coffee, watching episodes of Gilmore girls until the DVDs fail, waiting for her husband to feed her, and being obnoxiously vain about her hair. Elizabeth’s work can be found at, where she is currently reading and reviewing all of the books referenced in Gilmore girls. She is also the cohost of two podcasts discussing the work of Amy Sherman-Palladino (“Under the Floorboards” and “Stumbling Ballerinas”). Basically, her entire goal in life is to be a bookish Lorelai Gilmore. She clearly dreams big. Twitter: @BWRBooks

After many tears and much relived anger, I finally finished What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton. It wasn’t an easy read. Some of the wounds of the 2016 election are still raw and pulling off the bandage to poke at them a bit hurt more than I thought it could. But it was personally important for me to read. Not exactly cathartic, but something I needed to really begin to work through my anger and towards effective resistance.

This is not going to be yet another thinkpiece about how much right HRC had to tell her own damned story as compared to Bernie and all of the (mostly Y gene bearer) talking heads. This was her story, more intimately experienced by her than any other living soul in our country. Period. There, I just saved you a lot of internet reading and eyerolls.

But, this is Book Riot. So of course, we’re most interested in what exactly this accomplished lawyer, First Lady, Senator of New York, Secretary of State, and first female nominee for President of the United States kicks back with after a long day of fighting the patriarchy. Reading is clearly a big part of the Clintons’ lives. Hillary discusses in her book an intricate book tracking spreadsheet she and Bill use. She talks about watching Bill constantly rearrange their beloved bookshelves. Literature is obviously a central theme to their love story. And HRC proves that through the number of literary references she employs throughout What Happened.

So, if you miss having a literate president. If you aren’t convinced of the genius of The Art of the Deal. And if you’re looking for your next read to inspire you to “resist, insist, persist, enlist,” here is a round up of all of the literary references in What Happened.

But first, I must brag. My 4 year old daughter and I got to meet Hills herself shortly after it was released and got signed copies of What Happened and her new children’s book, It Takes a Village. It was a surreal, touching experience and it (along with her latest book) left me with the confirmation that we all made a very big mistake. But What Happened gave me the motivation to right our nation’s collective wrong. It turns out, I remain forever and always #stillwithher.

Read Like a Clinton: A Round Up of Literary References in WHAT HAPPENED |

Dr. Seuss

“Invictus” by William Ernest Henley (as quoted by Nelson Mandela)

Louise Penny

Jacqueline Winspear

Donna Leon

Charles Todd

The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante

And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen

The Bible

“East Coker” by T.S. Eliot

Hard Choices by Hillary Rodham Clinton

New and Selected Poems, Vol. 2 by Mary Oliver

“A Splendid Torch” by George Bernard Shaw

Carl Sandburg

The Clue of the Tapping Heels (Nancy Drew book 16) by Carolyn Keene

Nora Ephron

David Foster Wallace

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg and Nell Scovell

The Destruction of Hillary Clinton by Susan Bordo

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

“Käthe Kollwitz” by Muriel Rukeyser

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Learning to Drive by Katha Pollitt

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

Delphi Complete Works of John Buchan by John Buchan

The Mind’s Eye by Oliver Sacks

“The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver

A Letter of Consolation by Henri Nouwen

Elizabeth Stone

Marge Piercy

Marian Wright Edelman

Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America by James Forman, Jr.

Langston Hughes

“Success” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Maud Muller” by John Greenleaf Whittier

With Liberty and Dividends for All: How to Save our Middle Class When Jobs Don’t Pay Enough by Peter Barnes

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Charles Finch

Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose by Flannery O’Connor

“Easter, 1916” by William Butler Yeats

Robert Frost

Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the American Presidency by Joshua Green

Henry James

“You Are Accepted” by Paul Tillich

Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville

Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert D. Putnam

It Takes a Village by Hillary Rodham Clinton

The Power of the Powerless: Citizens Against the State in Central Eastern Europe by Václav Havel

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

The True Believer by Eric Hoffer

Did I miss any literary references in What Happened? Let me know in the comments.