42 Quotes from Shortest Way Home book by Pete Buttigieg



Hello friends. This post is a collection of quotes from the New York Times bestseller book - Shortest Way Home by Pete Buttigieg.

Shortest Way Home is a mayor's inspirational story of a Midwest city that has become nothing less than a blueprint for the future of American renewal.

Chapter 1-5 Quotes

Snow, of course, can be a beautiful thing. [...] But it is the mortal enemy of any mayor it touches. One day's worth of bungled plowing is all that stands between a mayor and political disaster. At a minimum, [...] a rough or mishandled snowstorm can bring days of criticism; at worst, [...] it spells career oblivion. Even after it melts, mayors curse the past winter's snowfall, because it invariably refreezes to become the progenitor of a mayor's other great enemy and prey: the pothole. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 1

As I learned growing up, snow can be a great unifier in a place like South Bend. [...] Snow furnishes the grounds for conversation - and even though we pride ourselves on being able to handle it, a good enough snowstorm can supply conversational fodder for weeks or even years to come. Like rain for the English, snow to a South Bender is worthy of intensive discussion even though, or perhaps because, it is so familiar. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 1

Coming into the world in the early 1980s puts you in that senior segment of the millennial generation that still remembers life before the smartphone. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 1

Growing up in any place with a lost golden age, you absorb its legacy in fragments, hearing once-great names - Oliver, Morris, Bendix, Studebaker - without being able to match them to anything living. You take them in at first without comprehension, like the names of saints. Only as you grow older, with more education and context, do you begin to picture how such giants of industry must have thrown their weight around their city, and what it might have been like as our factory precincts heaved with tens of thousands of workers at a time. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 1

(Talking about Harvard) Though the seventeenth century Puritans who founded the place wouldn't exactly recognize it these days, the basic message had not changed: you are among a select few admitted to this place, for the rare privilege of a fine education. And you had better put it to good use. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 2

(Talking about 9/11) This was an attack on the United States not by the country of Afghanistan, but by Al-Qaeda, protected by the Taliban, which governed most Afghans but was not exactly an administration. We had been attacked by a transnational network, hosted by a rogue regime presiding over a failed state. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 2

The top priority of the terrorist - even more important than killing you - is to make himself your top priority. This is why protecting ourselves from terrorist violence is not enough to defeat terrorism, especially if we try to achieve safety in ways that elevate the importance of terrorists and wind up publicizing their causes. We all want to avoid being harmed - but if the cost of doing so is making the terrorist the thing you care about most, to the exclusion of the other things that matter in your society, then you have handed him exactly the kind of victory that makes terrorism such a frequent and successful tactic. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 2

Education can come by drudgery or by adventure, and I had my share of both. Sometimes they're interwoven. In Washington, days spent mostly arranging other people's airline tickets were occasionally punctuated by the chance to tag along and meet some foreign ambassador as part of the conference preparations. In Tunis, where air-conditioning was as rare as a summer day below a hundred degrees, mornings in the sweaty classroom gave way to afternoons walking through hookah smoke and perfume in the markets of the old city and trying, in vain, to get Tunisian acquaintances to reveal over coffee how they felt about living under a dictatorship. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 3

(Talking about studying in Oxford) After years of painting, with broad verbal brushes, the kind of beautiful images that earn good grades in certain American college literature courses, I now had to make sure that every sentence and idea was precise, clearly defined, and airtight, in order to survive the skepticism of a British critic. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 3

(Talking about working at McKinsey) A wise McKinsey alum had once told me that there were four things to think about when chasing assignments at the Firm: geography, industry, function, and people. Of these, she counseled, the most important is people. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 3

(Talking about working at McKinsey) For purpose-driven people, this is the conundrum of client-service work: to perform at your best, you must learn how to care about something because you are hired to do so. For some, this is not a problem at all. [...] But for others, work can only be meaningful if its fundamental purpose is in things that would matter even if no one would pay you to care about them. No matter how much I liked my clients and my colleagues, delivering for them could not furnish that deep level of purpose that I craved. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 4

Anyone from South Bend knows exactly what it looks like when an industry collapses. No one wants to see it happen to anyone else - which was why I followed the news closely when the 2008 economic crisis left Chrysler on life support. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 5

Someone with a deep enough ideological worldview, coupled with strong ambitions to run for something bigger, can always find a way to use an office - any office - to make a name for himself. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 5

Good policy, like good literature, takes personal lived experience as its starting point. At its best, the practice of politics is about taking steps that support people in daily life - or tearing down obstacles that get in their way. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 5

In American political culture, you are not supposed to admit you have any interest in running for office until the moment you declare. [...] I'd like to think it has something to do with the premium we place on humility. There is something jarring about the idea that anyone thinks himself truly fit to perform the tremendously difficult and sensitive tasks of public office, and so putting yourself forward to do so seems immodest. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 5

Campaigning for office is enormously difficult, but in a way, it's not very complicated. You have to persuade voters to vote for you, raise money so you can reach more voters, and get other people to help you do those two things. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 5

Contrary to every unspoken rule of my education, running for office now meant trading a stable and prestigious role for an unlikely and unheard-of effort. It was time to step out of the warm embrace of well-branded institutions known for both nurturing and defining their people, and exchange it for the chance to build - and become - something new. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 5

Chapter 6-10 Quotes

Lose once in an uphill race your first time out of the gate, and you can still impress people by running respectably. Lose twice in less than a year, and you’re probably done with politics, at least for a while. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 6

The vibrancy of a campaign headquarters grows exponentially in the late weeks of a race. At first there is nothing going on but a candidate fundraising and a staff member or two - the space is quiet, almost grotesquely empty as its floor awaits tables, chairs, and volunteers. Then, imperceptibly, it begins to feel like a small community. Volunteers begin to populate the place, supporters drop off food, strangers pop in, and soon it is a hive of activity. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 6

Shaped by my consulting background, I arrived in office wanting to get concrete, measurable things done. My intentions focused on erasing inefficiencies and producing results. I took office eager to redesign the organization of local government and guide the course of our local economy, to see collapsing houses removed and urban infill built. The more concrete and countable my work product, the better. As for what you might call the symbolic functions of a mayor - sitting on a dais at a charity lunch or standing smiling next to a congressman or governor amid an endless sequence of speeches prior to a ribbon-cutting - to me this was a cost of doing business, an irritation to be dealt with as quickly as possible so I could get back to work. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 8

Growing into the job of mayor entailed grasping that the symbolic role given to me was no less substantive than the power of policy - if deployed wisely. It was a gradual conversion that began, like most important growth, in a moment of pain: the aftermath of a murder. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 8

Small talk felt unnatural 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. - Shortest Walk Home, Chapter 8

Like economic development, our understanding of violence prevention remains primitive, partly because so many overlapping causes are at play. It almost resembles the state of medicine in the nineteenth century: finally advanced enough to do more good than harm, but only barely and not always. - Shortest Walk Home, Chapter 8

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 to gather the right people together, to send a certain kind of message. - Shortest Walk Home, Chapter 8

The possibility of highly visible failure has an exceptional power to propel us to want to succeed, and that power can be harnessed to motivate a team or even a community to do something difficult. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 9

Anyone who has sat on a big committee with lots of experts knows the feeling when people around the table display their expertise by mentioning one complication after another, admiring the dimensions of the problem in an ever-deepening discussion that cries out for some modicum of simplicity so that there can be action. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 9

A university is not like any other large organization. Its students, faculty, and staff have characteristics different than any other community-within-a-community. However important their presence as residents, taxpayers, employees, and voters, the unique thing about them is the substance of their work. And if their intellectual endeavors are connected in the right way to the life of the community, the results are so profound that I now believe that a mayor who is granted one wish for any feature to add to her city - a stadium, a major corporate headquarters, a state capitol - should find the answer obvious: pick a world-class research university. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 10

Chapter 11-15 Quotes

Elected officials earn our keep by settling moral questions, ones where there is no way to make someone better off without making someone else worse off. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 11

Without exceptions to rules, the world would be a colder and probably worse place to live. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 11

"Big data" is different. It has the potential to change government, along with the rest of our society and economy, in categorically different ways than the use of data in general. Not everyone may share my definition, but to me the difference is this: Using data means gathering information, understanding it, and applying it. Using big data means analyzing information to find and apply patterns so complex that we may never grasp them. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 11

No matter how sophisticated the programs, they will never fully learn our sense of mercy - the rule not to be applied, the efficiency not to be captured. Capable of something resembling intuition but nothing quite like morality, the computers and their programs can only imperfectly replicate the human function we call judgment. Knowing when one valid claim must give way to another, or when a rule must be relaxed in order to do the right thing, is not programmable, if only because it is not completely rational. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 11

The arrival of a presidential aircraft is somewhat light on ceremony, but heavy on equipment and personnel - less a show of elegance than one of power. In a sense, it was also proof of the great faith and optimism shown by our cautious Founders in placing this much authority in the hands of one democratically elected human being. - Shortest Walk Home, Chapter 13

Over time I've observed that we are more generous, supportive, and pleasant toward people we actually know than toward those we understand only as categories or groups. Humans can of course be cruel in person, too, but as a general rule we seem less likely to hate from up close. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 13

Most Americans get our first understanding of wars from history books, starting with the dates each war began and ended. As with a human life, the span of a war is there in parentheses right after its name. The implication is that wars, like people, go from nonexistence to being and then back to nonexistence, all at a precise time and date. We grow up assuming wars have beginnings and endings. But that date is only the object of consensus after the fact, if at all. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 15

Chapter 16-19 Quotes

Someday, politicians won't have to come out as gay any more than one "comes out" as straight. Someone like me would just show up at a social function with a date who was of the same sex, and everyone would figure it out and shrug. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 16

Many of the worst historical injustices visited upon black citizens of our country came at the hands of local law enforcement. Like an original sin, this basic fact burdens every police officer, no matter how good, and every neighborhood of color, no matter how safe, to this day. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 16

On my thirty-third birthday, I was starting my fourth year as the mayor of a sizable city. I had served in a foreign war and dined with senators and governors. I had seen Red Square and the Great Pyramids of Giza, knew how to order a sandwich in seven languages, and was the owner of a large historic home on the St. Joseph River. But I had absolutely no idea what it was like to be in love. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 17

I can't promise you an easy life or a simple one. And sometimes privacy for us will be like this, stealing away a quiet moment even with people all around us. It won't always be elegant. But I promise it will always be an adventure, and I promise to love you forever. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 17

Nothing is more human than to resist loss, which is why cynical politicians can get pretty far by offering up the fantasy that a loss can be reversed rather than overcome the hard way. This is the deepest lie of our recent national politics, the core falsehood encoded in "Make America Great Again." Beneath the impossible promises [...] is the deeper fantasy that time itself can be reversed, all losses restored, and thus no new ways of life required. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 19

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 miss the power of a well-envisioned future to inspire us toward greatness. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 19

Our city administration's mission is to "deliver services that empower everyone to thrive." A government process can't single-handedly decide whether people will thrive or not. But we can make it more likely that they will, sometimes by acting and sometimes by getting out of the way. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 19

I've learned that great families, great cities, and even great nations are built through attention to the everyday. - Shortest Way Home, Chapter 19

Cited Quotes

Factories were our cathedrals, pushed up out of the great plains. - Michael Collins, as quoted in Shortest Way Home, Part I (Remembering)

To learn one must be humble. But life is a great teacher. - James Joyce, as quoted in Shortest Way Home, Part II (Learning)

When you are writing laws you are testing words to their utmost power. Like spells, they have to make things happen in the real world, and like spells, they only work if people believe in them. - Hilary Mantel, as quoted in Shortest Way Home, Part IV (Governing)

If I could get rid of three things in this world, it would be alcohol, abortion, and racism. - Butch Morgan, as quoted in Shortest Way Home, Chapter 6

There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. - Scandanavian saying, as quoted in Shortest Walk Home, Chapter 7

To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time. - Leonard Bernstein, as quoted in Shortest Way Home, Chapter 9

I just believe that every house oughta have a furnace, it oughta have a toilet, and it oughta have a piano. - Attributed to Steve Merriman, Shortest Way Home, Chapter 9

In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. - Abraham Lincoln, as quoted in Shortest Way Home, Part V (Meeting)

Think you're escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is shortest way home. - James Joyce, as quoted in Shortest Way Home, Part VI (Becoming)

An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. - G. K. Chesterton, as quoted in Shortest Way Home, Chapter 14

If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog. - Harry S. Truman, as quoted in Shortest Way Home, Chapter 17

Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past. - James Joyce, as quoted in Shortest Way Home, Part VII (Building)