Title:  Lean In

Author:  Sheryl Sandberg

Publisher:  Knopf, 3/11/2013

Format:  Hardcover, 240 pages

Rating:  This is a book that really isn’t about the writing.  It’s a thesis, really an extraordinarily long position paper on the state of feminism in America today.  And, for all of that, it’s quite interesting.  I don’t think I’m saying this just because I’m a woman with a professional license, over the age of 35, but everyone who’s interested in accomplishing their life’s ambition should read this book.  It’s author is a successful, apparently brilliant, insightful woman who knows how to get what she wants.  A five star book for The Nashville Reader.

Synopsis reprinted from Goodreads: Thirty years after women became 50 percent of the college graduates in the United States, men still hold the vast majority of leadership positions in government and industry. This means that women’s voices are still not heard equally in the decisions that most affect our lives. In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg examines why women’s progress in achieving leadership roles has stalled, explains the root causes, and offers compelling, commonsense solutions that can empower women to achieve their full potential.

Sandberg is the chief operating officer of Facebook and is ranked onFortune’s list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business and as one ofTime’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. In 2010, she gave an electrifying TEDTalk in which she described how women unintentionally hold themselves back in their careers. Her talk, which became a phenomenon and has been viewed more than two million times, encouraged women to “sit at the table,” seek challenges, take risks, and pursue their goals with gusto.

Review:  This book surprised me.  I was charmed and encouraged by Sandberg’s stand for feminism.  I do think that the push for equality is waning.  I graduated from a women’s undergraduate program that has now gone co-ed, as many other all-girl colleges have done over the last 20 years.  While I think going co-ed can be a step toward equality,  it is true that the encouragement given to young women who want to be leaders has lessened in those programs, in the sense that there is less rhetoric about going out and taking your place in the world because you are a woman and you bring something different to the table.  Sheryl Sandberg brings that encouragement back to forum.  Her primary message seems to be:  whatever you do, do it with enthusiasm, fore-thought and bring everything you have to the table.  Granted, some of her examples rely heavily on the relatively privileged lives of college educated, upper middle-class women; but, that is the world she knows and certainly a writer of a non-fiction memoir must lean heavily on her own experience.

For me, the antithesis to Sheryl Sandberg’s feminist ideal would be the portrait of a woman painted by Jeanette Walls, when she describes her mother in The Glass Castle.  Certainly, any woman in any situation would benefit from Sandberg’s wisdom about making decisions for the moment that you are presently living, and not basing those decisions on some imagined future life.  The one criticism I would offer to Sandberg’s presentation is that she neglects to mention the narrowing of opportunity.  It is generally true that when a person moves toward one path versus another, e.g., toward a career instead of a more domestic based lifestyle the choices and decisions that follow that move are weighted to the ideal the person moved toward in the first place.  That is to say, once you are fully engaged in your career the choices put in front of you will likely be based on that career, and it may become very difficult to make the choice that Sandberg’s friend did and completely stop a legal career for twelve years.  Certainly opportunities to rejoin the workforce in one’s former capacity are infrequent.  Also, the fewer additional resources a person has (money, household help, etc.) can make career and daily decisions more complicated.

Even with those issues on the table however, the basic message of decide what you want to do and work every day to do that thing with gusto should be a maxim for everyone’s life–male or female.