“There Is Nothing For You Here: Finding Opportunity in the 21st Century” by Fiona Hill is the first book that I finished in 2023. The first time I heard about Fiona Hill was when Nicolas mentioned seeing her on the Lex Friedman podcast and where she was discussing the war in Ukraine. He said that she sounded like she had very deep insights into the situation. I researched her further and decided to give a try to reading her memoir.
I have mixed emotions about the book. On one hand, I am really impressed by Hill’s personal journey. She is someone who comes from a poor family in an extremely poor town in the North East of England. Throughout her youth, the town went bankrupt when the mines nearby closed and miners (including her father) were out of jobs. In one of the chapters, she recounts how they had to complete an assignment on reviewing Princess Anne’s wedding that was broadcast on TV. Fiona Hill did not have a TV at home, so she tuned in to her radio and stood outside to see through the fence, the TV in the neighbor’s living room. That’s the level of poverty that we are talking about. In fact, the title of the book refers to the phrase that her father told her about their small town – there was nothing for her in that place. Yet, somehow she managed to get past that adversity, complete her Ph.D. in Harvard and become one of the leading experts on Eastern Europe and Eurasia at the White House. I loved the stories she shared about her life and how she ended up where she is. Perhaps, I wish she kept the whole book more personal.
I think that aspect of the book resonated a lot with me because I often found a lot of parallels with my own life and with the places that people do not expect you to get out of. One of my favorite insights from the book was related to opportunities and being able to use them:
Even when opportunity presented itself, I was learning, it took resources to seize it.
The other aspect of the book focused more globally on the infrastructure of the opportunity and what it looks like and looked like in the past in the places like UK, the USA and the Soviet Union. Fill offers a broad look on these countries and what issues and obstacles young people run into when trying to move past their given circumstances in life: for instance, she mentioned that in the UK, the main hindrance for youth is class while in the US, it comes to be race. Additionally, she also reflects on her time in the White House and what it was like to work in the administration of President Trump. I found that part of the book to be a bit mixed up because the writing got more scholarly and generalized. As I said, perhaps I would have enjoyed a more personal recounting of her life.
For the end, here is a more global reflection and some food for thought from the book:
Far too many people who were born ino similar circumstances in the generations after me did not have the same oppportunities. Deprived and disadvantaged, they will continue to be preyed upon by unscrupulous politicians who offer them a promise of opportunity in return for their votes. These left-behind people deserve better. But their problems are everyone’s. They are our fellow Americans and Brits, in some cases our family members and friends. Helping them will not be purely a selfless act. Because as long as they feel that there is no hope for them, there will be no hope for the rest of us. There will be nothing for us, anywhere.