When Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, first entered politics as a candidate for state treasurer in 2010, he was 27 years old, had no political connections, and was baby-faced enough to pass for a college student. To bolster some name recognition before a statewide gathering of Democratic activists, Buttigieg and his campaign manager got creative, plastering every route to the hotel with spray-painted yard signs that read: MEET PETE.
Their efforts paid off. By the time the event started, the room was buzzing with one question: “Who the hell is Pete?”
Soon citizens across the United States may find themselves asking the same question, as Buttigieg contemplates spring boarding from his two terms as mayor of South Bend to larger political roles. His memoir of his time in office, “Shortest Way Home” reads like a love letter to his hometown as well as a hearty handshake of introduction to a man poised to move to the national stage.
Iowa readers can find a lot to appreciate in this book, as Buttigieg writes astutely about real issues facing our communities, such as the proverbial brain-drain of talent and youth; the economic effects of the loss of manufacturing jobs, and how to continue building community across racial, economic and religious lines.
Written in seven sections, “Shortest Way Home” begins with Buttigieg as a young Catholic boy in South Bend who exemplified the brain-drain, leaving Indiana for Harvard, then Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. He then bucked this trend by returning to his hometown at 29 after an executive-track position at McKinsey. Buttigieg found himself called to service — first in the Navy, then politics.
The majority of “Shortest Way Home” centers on Buttigieg’s two terms in office, including successes and hardships, such as in 2013 when he was deployed to Afghanistan and left the city in the hands of his administration.
While Buttigieg isn’t stingy with bureaucratic details, he’s equally generous with personal and narrative descriptions, making even the most banal scenes engaging and memorable, such as his conversations with Democratic Party Chairman, Butch Morgan, who wields a landline phone like a weapon.
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A thoughtful, sincere memoir about one man’s love for his Indiana hometown, “Shortest Way Home” proves that one needn’t be connected, or a certain age, or of a certain background, to make a difference in a community.