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Book Club Questions for State of Terror by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny

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Book club questions for State of Terror by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny dissects all the key plot points in this entertaining political thriller. There will be spoilers so for more context about the story, check out my spoiler-free review first.

I really liked this story! I didn’t read it quickly, I took my time, and definitely felt the authors did such a good job of building tension. It really has it all in this story—politics, some action, even a little romance. The international travel was fascinating, especially all the secret meetings with hostile foreign leaders. I mentioned this in my review but I’m so curious on what parts are based in reality from Hillary’s time as secretary of state—you know something was!

While the plot is engaging, it’s also scary in many ways—especially about the domestic terrorist that felt too close to reality. I feel the subject matter was handled well and there is a message to be had but again, it’s also a fiction tale and doesn’t try to change the world.

Let me know your thoughts below!

The Synopsis

After a tumultuous period in American politics, a new administration has just been sworn in, and to everyone’s surprise the president chooses a political enemy for the vital position of secretary of state.

There is no love lost between the president of the United States and Ellen Adams, his new secretary of state. But it’s a canny move on the part of the president. With this appointment, he silences one of his harshest critics, since taking the job means Adams must step down as head of her multinational media conglomerate.

As the new president addresses Congress for the first time, with Secretary Adams in attendance, Anahita Dahir, a young foreign service officer (FSO) on the Pakistan desk at the State Department, receives a baffling text from an anonymous source.

Too late, she realizes the message was a hastily coded warning.

What begins as a series of apparent terrorist attacks is revealed to be the beginning of an international chess game involving the volatile and Byzantine politics of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran; the race to develop nuclear weapons in the region; the Russian mob; a burgeoning rogue terrorist organization; and an American government set back on its heels in the international arena.

As the horrifying scale of the threat becomes clear, Secretary Adams and her team realize it has been carefully planned to take advantage of four years of an American government out of touch with international affairs, out of practice with diplomacy, and out of power in the places where it counts the most.

To defeat such an intricate, carefully constructed conspiracy, it will take the skills of a unique team: a passionate young FSO; a dedicated journalist; and a smart, determined, but as yet untested new secretary of state.

Book Club Questions for State of Terror

  1. Let’s first talk about why we think Hillary decided to co-write this novel featuring a female secretary of state.
  2. In your opinion, how much of Ellen is based on Hillary?
  3. Why did Doug Williams select his political enemy Ellen as his secretary of state? And on that same note, why did Ellen accept?
  4. What were the key reasons behind their contempt for each other? How did their relationship change over the course of the novel?
  5. Many of the men Ellen comes across don’t take her seriously because of her gender, age, what have you—they continue to underestimate her. How did Ellen use that to her advantage to get what she wanted? Let’s discuss her diplomacy and negotiation skills.
  6. What was your impression of Anahita and her family’s storyline?
  7. Ellen’s son, Gil, is an international journalist who once was held hostage by terrorists and eventually escaped. What did you think about Gil’s key role in the story? Why did he go the journalist route instead of the business one like his sister?
  8. Eric Dunn is based on Trump and there’s an interaction between himself and Ellen. What did you think as you read that scene?
  9. There are plenty of twists and turns in this story—what were some of the more surprising twists?
  10. How much of the novel and events—from the secret meetings with international political enemies to uncovering a plot by domestic terrorists—are potentially based in reality?
  11. What are your thoughts about the ending? What is the message of this story?
  12. What do you hope to see in a potential sequel?

Additional Recommendations

Hope you enjoyed book club questions for State of Terror! Here are some more recommendations along with links to book club questions.

American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson

If you’re looking for another political thriller, I highly recommend American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson!

It’s 1986, the heart of the Cold War, and Marie Mitchell is an intelligence officer with the FBI. She’s brilliant, but she’s also a young black woman working in an old boys’ club. Her career has stalled out, she’s overlooked for every high-profile squad, and her days are filled with monotonous paperwork. So when she’s given the opportunity to join a shadowy task force aimed at undermining Thomas Sankara, the charismatic revolutionary president of Burkina Faso whose Communist ideology has made him a target for American intervention, she says yes. Yes, even though she secretly admires the work Sankara is doing for his country. Yes, even though she is still grieving the mysterious death of her sister, whose example led Marie to this career path in the first place. Yes, even though a furious part of her suspects she’s being offered the job because of her appearance and not her talent.

In the year that follows, Marie will observe Sankara, seduce him, and ultimately have a hand in the coup that will bring him down. But doing so will change everything she believes about what it means to be a spy, a lover, a sister, and a good American.

Inspired by true events—Thomas Sankara is known as “Africa’s Che Guevara”—American Spy knits together a gripping spy thriller, a heartbreaking family drama, and a passionate romance. This is a face of the Cold War you’ve never seen before, and it introduces a powerful new literary voice.

You can order the book on Amazon here. Check out my book club questions here.

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

To me, Ellen is 100% based on Hillary. So if you’re looking for more fiction featuring Hillary, be sure to check out Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld. It’s a very unique novel.

In 1971, Hillary Rodham is a young woman full of promise: Life magazine has covered her Wellesley commencement speech, she’s attending Yale Law School, and she’s on the forefront of student activism and the women’s rights movement. And then she meets Bill Clinton. A handsome, charismatic southerner and fellow law student, Bill is already planning his political career. In each other, the two find a profound intellectual, emotional, and physical connection that neither has previously experienced.
 
In the real world, Hillary followed Bill back to Arkansas, and he proposed several times; although she said no more than once, as we all know, she eventually accepted and became Hillary Clinton.
 
But in Curtis Sittenfeld’s powerfully imagined tour-de-force of fiction, Hillary takes a different road. Feeling doubt about the prospective marriage, she endures their devastating breakup and leaves Arkansas. Over the next four decades, she blazes her own trail—one that unfolds in public as well as in private, that involves crossing paths again (and again) with Bill Clinton, that raises questions about the tradeoffs all of us must make in building a life.
 
Brilliantly weaving a riveting fictional tale into actual historical events, Curtis Sittenfeld delivers an uncannily astute and witty story for our times. In exploring the loneliness, moral ambivalence, and iron determination that characterize the quest for political power, as well as both the exhilaration and painful compromises demanded of female ambition in a world still run mostly by men, Rodham is a singular and unforgettable novel.

You can order the book on Amazon here. Check out my book club questions here.

Happy reading!