Colorado’s high-profile governor submits an unconventional autobiography.
When it comes to political memoirs, a notoriously guarded, agenda-driven genre, readers are not wrong to be wary. What, then, to make of this exquisitely timed publication by a two-term governor of a purple state only months before his party casts about for a vice presidential nominee? Hickenlooper has lived a life sufficiently varied and interesting that his run for office doesn’t occur until past the midpoint of the narrative. Elected Denver’s mayor in 2002, he became the first in 125 years to move from that office to the governorship in 2010. When politics takes over the story, we’re in the familiar, dreary territory taken up with bouquets to supporters and subordinates, tributes to gritty and resilient constituents, electoral obstacles overcome, problems solved, and controversial issues confronted—in Hickenlooper’s case, fracking, same-sex unions, legalizing marijuana, and capital punishment. The author emerges with pretty high marks, but we’re inclined to credit him because of the apparent honesty he brings to his public career. With the help of Potter (Shadows in the Vineyard: The True Story of the Plot to Poison the World’s Greatest Wine, 2014, etc.), who served as the author’s speechwriter, Hickenlooper recounts his troubled boyhood, his peripatetic and protracted academic career—he’s the only Wesleyan student ever to receive “tenure”—his checkered love life, his (largely failed) artistic ambitions and endeavors, his dabbling in real estate, his mostly unsatisfying stint as a geologist, and his wildly successful run as a brewpub entrepreneur. All this entertains wonderfully: the brushes with the famous—Yoko Ono, Phil Donahue, etc.—the colorful anecdotes about the campaign to save “Mile High,” the beer label authored by Kurt Vonnegut, the Quaker ancestor who was also a brewer.
Hickenlooper draws an analogy between brewing and politics (the activist as yeast, the political leader as brewer), but however apt that metaphor, it’s difficult to imagine a more unusual preparation for public life than the one ably recounted here.