Book notes: Shortest Way Home by Pete Buttigieg

Shortest Way Home by Pete Buttigieg book summary review and key ideas.

Shortest Way Home: One Mayor’s Challenge and a Model for America’s Future by Pete Buttigieg


“Once described by The Washington Post as “the most interesting mayor you’ve never heard of”, Pete Buttigieg, the 36-year-old Democratic mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has improbably emerged as one of the nation’s most visionary politicians.

First elected in 2011, Buttigieg left a successful business career to move back to his hometown, previously tagged by Newsweek as a “dying city”, because the industrial Midwest beckoned as a challenge to the McKinsey-trained Harvard graduate. Whether meeting with city residents on middle-school basketball courts, reclaiming abandoned houses, confronting gun violence, or attracting high-tech industry, Buttigieg has transformed South Bend into a shining model of urban reinvention.

While Washington reels with scandal, Shortest Way Home interweaves two once unthinkable success stories: that of an Afghanistan veteran who came out and found love and acceptance, all while in office, and that of a Rust Belt city so thoroughly transformed that it shatters the way we view America’s so-called flyover country.” -Audible

Opening thoughts:

I think I saw Mayor Pete publicize this book on one of the comedy political shows I watch, either late show with Stephen Colbert or Daily Show with Trevor Noah. He seems like an amazing guy and a very qualified leader, as he’s running for president in 2020. So I’m very interested to read this book and go more in depth with his background and his thoughts

Key notes:

  • He learned that you should never assume who will support you
    • Surprisingly, he had a good number of support from older voters despite being a young guy when running for mayor
  • He agreed with his friend and wish that he could outsource more mundane and less productive parts of being an official like ceremonies and ribbon-cutting’s
    • This would allow him more time to do meaningful work that actually helped the city
  • Small talk felt a natural in the midst of grief
    • But isn’t that what we need sometimes when grieving? Just someone to talk to about nothing in particular
      • Nothing profound, just being there
  • You don’t necessarily console through the wisdom of your words, especially as a public official
    • It was a powerful if grim early lesson
    • As an elected official, he became a symbol
      • What mattered to her, the grieving mother, was that he showed up
  • He saw that policy and symbolism could not be decoupled
    • As a manager, a mayor must focus on what can be measured and proven, difficult decisions, and the use of new and old tools to solve important problems
    • But as a leader, sometimes the most important thing is simply to show up or gather the right people together to send a certain kind of message
  • Perhaps the depth of sorrow we sometimes feel as mourners is what makes us best appreciate the value of celebration
  • He heard a comment from a former mayor and governor about being a good mayor
    • Leaders make themselves vulnerable
  • The possibility of highly visible failure has a exceptional power to propel us to want to succeed
    • That power can be harnessed to motivate a team or even a community to do something difficult
  • The reality of politics is personal, not theoretical
    • All politics is local, especially national politics
    • This is in regards to the inhuman federal immigration enforcement policies, as well as Mayor Pete’s office trying to reassure immigrant families that local law enforcement are there to protect and serve
      • The new government policies of anti-LGBTQ and anti-immigration made his job as mayor much harder
  • As a general rule, we seem less likely to hate from up close 
  • Many people responded judgmentally towards anyone who could vote for Trump and then be surprised by this sort of outcome
    • But to do so is to assume that voting is about ideology and policy analysis, rather than identity and environment
  • For every important step you take, there is a “Do Not Surprise” list
    • He decided to come out via a newspaper article in writing
  • For LGBTQ rights, the biggest obstacle wasn’t hatred or religion, it was a simple fact that so many people believed wrongly that they didn’t even know anyone who was gay
    • It is easier to be cruel or unfair to people and groups in the abstract, harder to do so towards a specific person in your mitts
  • We don’t actually want to go back, we just think we do, sometimes, when we feel more alert to losses than to gains
    • A sense of loss inclines us, in vulnerable moments, to view the future with an expectation of harm
    • But when this happens, we missed the power of a well-envisioned future to inspire us towards greatness

Main ideas / Themes:

What it means to be a public figure (policy vs symbolism) – For Mayor Pete, he’s initial focus was to skip all of the ceremonial stuff and get to the actual work that makes people’s lives better. He later realized the power and influence he had as a public figure. How his mere presence during these celebratory events and times of crisis really make a difference to the community.

The power of vulnerability – He also learned that leaders make themselves vulnerable. Having the stakes and risks out there is a great motivator and can push teams to do great things. It pushes us to succeed and exceed our own expectations.

It’s harder to hate from up close – This is such a powerful theme that I think could be the main takeaway from this book in regards to politics and the political climate of the United States. He learned that it’s harder for people to hate when they know specific people from a particular group. I think the answer to the division in this country and globally is the realize that we’re more connected and similar than we think.

Closing thoughts:

Another fantastic autobiography by a politician. Pete is such an intelligent and insightful guy, he really does remind me of Obama. As a guy who comes from a very different background compared to the other Democratic Presidential Candidates, I can’t help but root for him as one of my favorites.

His story is fantastic as he gives great insight in what it’s like to be a young person in politics, but also to be a leader in such a turbulent time. His idealism and optimism is inspiring, which I think is a testament to his generation (our generation lol). His lessons learned on what makes a good leader and how to bridge the gap between people of different identities is something that someone like the current president should definitely learn.

Overall, fantastic book. I highly recommend for anyone who wants to know what Mayor Pete is all about and especially if they’re following the current race for the Democratic Party nomination.

One Takeaway / Putting into practice:

There were a number of good life lessons from this book that might not be actionable, but great ideas to internalize.

However, my one takeaway that I believe I can put into practice is this:

  • When someone is grieving, small talk or just being there with someone might be what they need at the moment

This is big for me because it’s always tough to figure out what to do or what to say when someone is sad. But it’s a good reminder that sometimes the person just needs you to be there for them. Whether that’s sitting silent with them, or just making small talk.


Mayor Pete gives us his insight on what he’s learned on his journey to becoming the Mayor of South Bend, Indiana.



6 thoughts on “Book notes: Shortest Way Home by Pete Buttigieg”

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