What Sheryl Sandberg's and Ivanka Trump's books have in common

There's nothing to learn from rich and privileged Trump, while Sandberg could reveal a bit more raw emotion.

by Christine Armstrong
Last Updated: 19 Jul 2017

Trump and Sandberg have both written self-help books: Trump for working women and Sandberg for those enduring grief or adversity. As if to acknowledge the singularity of their life experiences, Sandberg's leans on academic Adam Grant as her co-author and Trump cites a dizzying number of world-leading thinkers.

Trump says she is 'rewriting the rules of success' for women who work, without ever specifying which rules she is doing away with. She does this by showing off about her 'chaotic and amazing' life in which she is an involved mother, a loving wife and incredibly committed to her work. She allows brief chinks through her bedroom curtains to flash us with just how imperfect she is. Sometimes she has avocado on her dressing gown. Sometimes she is emotional, but her amazingly smart husband talks her out of that.

Her key theme is that women need to 'architect' the lives they want by, among other things, dreaming big, identifying their passions and leading with purpose. If it all sounds like you've read it before: you have.

If you are a mother and heiress who has failed to open a book or hear a TED talk in the last few years, this may be just what you need to be reassured that at least one other person faces the same struggles you do. Problems like being awoken to a call from Anna Wintour offering you an unsolicited internship at Vogue. Or someone who, when they prioritise their tasks, is able to consign shopping for food into a box marked neither urgent nor important. If you are this person, maybe you too can arrange for your daughter to visit your pink office, sit at her pull-down desk and have a midweek 'mommy lunch date'. Otherwise I can't think of a reason to buy it, aside for an interesting mooch on how very poorly advised the super-rich are. That this book was published with such a lack of new insights or substance is fascinating. It's almost as if someone wanted her to make a tit of herself.

Onto Sandberg. It's hard not to warm to someone who admits she was smug before her husband died. She's taken pastings in the past for not realising how hard solo parenting is. Now it has been forced on her.

At the heart of Option B is her own experience of grief. It is supported by insights from experts and enriched by stories of others who have experienced trauma, such as the chat with Malala Yousafzai (Pakistani activist and youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate) when she came to dinner. Previously Sandberg has been attacked for being rich and white so, to compensate, she sprays us with data about the struggles of ethnic minorities and poor people without quite conveying she's fully engaged with it.

Perhaps the most interesting sections are the advice she gives anyone confronted with the grief of others. She says that being polite and ignoring someone else's tragedy for fear of upsetting them is crap: they haven't forgotten their husband died.

Two big things link the books.

The first is their reticence to express unseemly emotions. Although happy to explore grief, Sandberg holds back elsewhere, for example talking about becoming 'frustrated' with her daughter, when she may mean she did a full Billingsgate fishwife and tore a strip off her. In a book about grief, this is a shame and creates a barrier between me and her. Trump volunteers little introspection and I am left mulling over what she doesn't say. She doesn't, for example, say that she sometimes comes home and feels sad because her baby smells of someone else. That her kids say and do things she doesn't recognise because, being out a lot, means they learn more from others. That sometimes she completely loses sight of her husband in the business of living. This may be because none of it is true or maybe because she doesn't care to share anything that isn't Insta-filtered.

The second is that they feel premature. Sandberg's husband died only two years ago. It's clear that she's made huge progress, she coyly admits she is trying dating. But in a few years' time, she'll have a much richer and deeper take on it all. Similarly, Trump's life has changed in a flash. In time, a much more visceral account of that transition, revealing the screw-ups as well as the wins, would be more interesting.

Of the two books, choose Sandberg for her power to make you pull your loved ones close and to inhale the way they smell. She would, I think, be happy to know that and it may be reason enough to buy it. If it's not, Adam Grant's own books are a fine read.

Christine Armstrong is a contributing editor of MT, owner of villas4kids.com and a partner at Jericho Chambers

Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules for Success by Ivanka Trump is published by Portfolio, £16.99

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg is published by WH Allen, £16.99

Images: World Economic Forum and Michael Vadon


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