The announcement that Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg would publish a book about the workplace, women's role in it, and how gender inequality still affects all of us, seemed to be greeted with equal parts anticipation and dread. Some potential readers couldn't wait to hear what Sandberg would have to say, while others predicted that it would just be another salvo in the “mommy wars” – the endless debate over whether or not women who are parents should work full-time and what is best when raising children.
“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,” proclaimed the book's publisher, Knopf Doubleday. “This means that women’s voices are still not heard equally in the decisions that most affect our lives… Sandberg digs deeper into these issues, combining personal anecdotes, hard data, and compelling research to cut through the layers of ambiguity and bias.”
Sandberg’s book was released on March 11. Today, holding the No. 1 position for hardcover nonfiction sales on The New York Times bestseller list, the book has garnered largely positive from book reviewers.
“Sandberg ... has written a brave book that is unabashedly personal and political,” Monitor reviewer Anna Clark wrote. “’Lean In’ serves as a kind of philosophical and practical toolkit for women with ambitions of all kinds, and an education and inspiration for men who are aware that their workplaces and home lives are diminished when women are only a fraction of who they can be.”
New York Times reviewer Anne-Marie Slaughter spoke positively of Sandberg’s voice in the book in her review.
“Sandberg is not just tough, however,” she wrote. “She also comes across as compassionate, funny, honest and likable…. Most important, Sandberg is willing to draw the curtain aside on her own insecurities.”
NPR reviewer Maureen Corrigan was less enthusiastic about Sandberg's execution but overall did applaud her effort. Corrigan said she found parts of the book dull but that she’d still “slide ‘Lean In’ into my teenage daughter’s bookshelf.”
“I dozed off twice while reading it,” Corrigan wrote. “Most of the book is kind of blah, composed of platitudinous-corporate-speak-intermixed-with-pallid-anecdotes.... 'Lean In' may not be the most impassioned or entertaining feminist manifesto ever written and, sure, Sandberg is somewhat blinkered by her big bucks and privilege and inhibited by corporate caution. Yet, it's great to have a woman with such a platform speak up about sexism.”
Of course the book has also had its share of detractors. Writing for Atlantic, Christina Hoff Sommers charged that Sandberg “is mired in 1970s-style feminism.”
“An up-to-date manifesto on women and work should steer clear of encounter groups and boys-must-play-with dolls rhetoric,” she wrote. “It should make room for human reality: that in the pursuit of happiness, men and women often take different paths.”
And WBUR writer Carey Goldberg identified what she calls “Sandberg’s biggest blind spot”: that some mothers don’t want to work while their children are young.
“Our greatest obstacle is not any girly self-doubt,” Goldberg wrote. “It is a rigid workplace culture that won’t let us ratchet down. It is employers who do not offer flexible alternatives that drive parents out, by offering only a binary choice between full-time-plus or the highway.”
Online reviews of the book have also been divided, with some readers singing its praises and others finding the content objectionable.
“This is a life-changing book, if you let it be,” an Amazon commenter named Cathryn Michon wrote. “By writing truthfully ... about her own failings and insecurities, Sheryl Sandberg tells every woman who reads this book that they are not alone if they ever pulled back from their ambitions, whatever they may be."
Michon also deplored "the vicious criticism" that has been hurled at the book. "The fact that there has been this much venom spewed at the writer of a business book (does anybody know what Jack Welch's dad did for a living or who paid his college tuition? Does anyone care?) tells you everything you need to know about how the playing field for women in business is in no way equal,” she wrote.
But a commenter on Goodreads named Aryn said she couldn’t see what the fuss was about.
“I am confused by this book, [because] it doesn't inspire me at all,” she wrote. “In fact, it makes me wonder if the other women around me actually feel this way??? I can't seem to relate to [Sandberg's] frame of mind. Maybe it's a generation thing? Maybe it was how I was raised, but I don't feel the same insecurities.”
Given the book's strong sales, one thing seems certain: “Lean In” – and the debate over its content – won’t be going away anytime soon.