"The best American political autobiography since Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father." —Charles Kaiser, The Guardian
A mayor’s inspirational story of a Midwest city that has become nothing less than a blueprint for the future of American renewal.
Once described by the Washington Post as “the most interesting mayor you’ve never heard of,” Pete Buttigieg, the thirty-seven-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has now emerged as one of the nation’s most visionary politicians. With soaring prose that celebrates a resurgent American Midwest, Shortest Way Home narrates the heroic transformation of a “dying city” (Newsweek) into nothing less than a shining model of urban reinvention.
Interweaving two narratives—that of a young man coming of age and a town regaining its economic vitality—Buttigieg recounts growing up in a Rust Belt city, amid decayed factory buildings and the steady soundtrack of rumbling freight trains passing through on their long journey to Chicagoland. Inspired by John F. Kennedy’s legacy, Buttigieg first left northern Indiana for red-bricked Harvard and then studied at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, before joining McKinsey, where he trained as a consultant—becoming, of all things, an expert in grocery pricing. Then, Buttigieg defied the expectations that came with his pedigree, choosing to return home to Indiana and responding to the ultimate challenge of how to revive a once-great industrial city and help steer its future in the twenty-first century.
Elected at twenty-nine as the nation’s youngest mayor, Pete Buttigieg immediately recognized that “great cities, and even great nations, are built through attention to the everyday.” As Shortest Way Home recalls, the challenges were daunting—whether confronting gun violence, renaming a street in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., or attracting tech companies to a city that had appealed more to junk bond scavengers than serious investors. None of this is underscored more than Buttigieg’s audacious campaign to reclaim 1,000 houses, many of them abandoned, in 1,000 days and then, even as a sitting mayor, deploying to serve in Afghanistan as a Navy officer. Yet the most personal challenge still awaited Buttigieg, who came out in a South Bend Tribune editorial, just before being reelected with 78 percent of the vote, and then finding Chasten Glezman, a middle-school teacher, who would become his partner for life.
While Washington reels with scandal, Shortest Way Home, with its graceful, often humorous, language, challenges our perception of the typical American politician. In chronicling two once-unthinkable stories—that of an Afghanistan veteran who came out and found love and acceptance, all while in office, and that of a revitalized Rust Belt city no longer regarded as “flyover country”—Buttigieg provides a new vision for America’s shortest way home.
About the Author
Born in Indiana in 1982, Pete Buttigieg is the US secretary of transportation and former mayor of South Bend, Indiana. A Rhodes Scholar and Navy veteran, Buttigieg was educated at Harvard University and the University of Oxford. He and his husband live in South Bend.
Buttigieg’s Shortest Way Home: One Mayor’s Challenge and a Model for America’s Future (Liveright) is the best written of all these books [by 2020 presidential candidates]; it offers the most unembarrassed political hope; and it’s got the best love story.... Buttigieg’s stirring, honest, and often beautiful book is a story of how the people of South Bend rebuilt their Rust Belt city, and made it a better place, and it’s an argument for what it means to answer a calling, and why it’s important to ask, again and again, ‘what each of us owes to the country.'
— Jill Lepore, The New Yorker
The best American political autobiography since Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father.... Buttigieg writes unusually well for a politician.... Is it too much to imagine that America could elect a gay president? I don’t think so.... Especially a man like this.
— Charles Kaiser, The Guardian
Personal, beguiling and quite moving as he talks about coming out and getting married… The story is told with brisk engagement — it is difficult not to like him…When Obama wrote his memoir, the idea that the nation would soon put an African-American in the White House seemed beyond the realm of the possible. After reading this memoir written 25 years later, the notion that Buttigieg might be the nation’s first openly gay president doesn’t feel quite as far-fetched. — Adam Nagourney, New York Times
If you were an early Barack Obama supporter a dozen or more years ago, you recall inching forward in your chair whenever he spoke. The words were so clear, the passion so strong, the message of hope so credible…. I suggest you watch the video of Pete Buttigieg at a CNN town hall. If that piques your interest, as it did mine, read his book, Shortest Way Home.
— Peter Funt, USA Today
In a sense, Buttigieg’s book is a kind of antidote to J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, a story of broken people in a broken place.... This is a comeback story of a place that got hit hard, survived and then began thriving again.... It’s entirely true that a leap from mayor to president has been impossible in the past. But these pages make a pretty good case that city halls just might be better training schools for the presidency than attendance at any five years of congressional hearings combined.
— E.J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post
Readers will find telling insights into the events that shaped Buttigieg's biggest decisions and share a typical day in the mayor's office; relive Buttigieg's tour of duty in Afghanistan (while he was still acting mayor); and understand his angst over being a young, gay public figure trying to get a date (spoiler alert: there's a happy ending!). First and foremost a great, engaging read, this is also an inspiring story of a millennial making a difference. — Kathleen McBroom, Booklist [starred review]
Since Buttigieg launched his campaign for the presidency last year, I have read or reread much of what he has written, at Harvard and since. Most notable is his excellent memoir Shortest Way Home, with its lyrical evocations of the Indiana landscape, its vivid account of military life in Afghanistan, its rollicking tales of campaign stops featuring Deep Fried Turkey Testicles and peanut-butter-and-bacon sandwiches dusted with powdered sugar, and its incisive analysis of the rewards and frustrations of life as mayor of a small city…. In one of the most powerful passages in Shortest Way Home, Buttigieg points out that there is no formula for resolving the tradeoffs required in government. Data cannot yield answers to questions about who should suffer, and how much, when competing policies are debated.
— James T. Cloppenberg - Commonweal
[Buttigieg] has an extraordinary story and great insights into the politics of our country. — David Axelrod
Mika and I have been overwhelmed by the reaction Pete Buttigieg got after being on the show. The only other time in twelve years that we heard from as many people about a guest was after Barack Obama appeared on Morning Joe.
— Joe Scarborough, MSNBC's Morning Joe
Combining candor and compassion with a brilliant understanding of how government can be more effective, Shortest Way Home demonstrates that Pete Buttigieg is not only a key political figure in his generation, but also an appealing and even funny writer. Far from a conventional politician's book, his work is an important entry in the American political tradition for the twenty-first century.
— Walter Isaacson
Pete Buttigieg has given more to his community and country before his 40th birthday than most of us do over the course of our lives. At every crossroads, he has turned towards service and leveraged his energy and intellect to help his neighbors and fellow citizens. In this book, you will not only learn about what brings Pete home, but what drives him towards his vision of a better, kinder nation. — Joe Kennedy III
In this uplifting coming-of-age memoir from the American heartland, Pete Buttigieg, successful mayor of revitalized South Bend, Indiana, writes that the shortest distance between opportunity and success, ‘like good literature, takes personal lived experience as its starting point’—a promising axiom for a prospective national figure. — David Levering Lewis