TWO hundred or so pages into Alyssa Mastromonaco’s account of her decade working for Barack Obama both before and after he became president, I finally realised that I was not her target audience. Ideally, she says, her readers would be young women, aged between 15 and 25, who could see themselves working in government. Her book, she adds, would help prepare them for the challenges that lay ahead. Moreover, it would be full of “funny stories” and “important lessons”. There was one small problem: she had yet to write it.

Unlike so many others, who when they fail at one job decide they are now writers, Mastromonaco, who is nothing if not self-deprecatory, was acutely aware that writing is a profession – “just like being a veterinarian, lawyer, or ballerina”. Since she could not see herself in a tutu, her solution was to ask a friend for help. Lauren Oyler, whose contribution was such that her name appears with Mastromonaco’s on the cover, duly obliged.

The result is as breezy as it is banal, an uncomfortable, expletive-ridden cocktail of self-help manual and behind-the-scenes memoir. Mastromonaco, with no Ivy League alma mater on her CV — she has a BA in political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison — rose to become deputy chief of staff to Obama, or Potus (President of the United States) as she refers to him. Anyone expecting revelations about him or hitherto unrecounted insights into his White House, however, should look away now. There is none. Or none worth committing to print.

Obama, we learn, was the kind of leader who, when irked, tended to raise his eyebrows rather than his voice. In a crisis, such as the financial crash or Hurricane Katrina, he remained calm. He was informal to a fault and would rather his staffers called him Barack than Mr President. He was also thoughtful and kind. Towards the end of Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? Mastromonaco relates when, after she had left the White House payroll, Obama called her from Air Force One to offer his condolences on the death of her cat. “I heard we lost Shrummie today,” he said. Say what you like about Donald Trump but it’s hard to imagine him stooping to that level. Or perhaps not.

Before working for Obama, Mastromonaco interned for Bernie Sanders (“he met with constituents more than any politician I’ve known since”). Thereafter she joined John Kerry’s abortive presidential campaign as “assistant to the press department and the scheduler”. She offers one direct quote from him about her: “She worked for Sotheby’s – she must be good.”

Much of the book is taken up with telling us how stressed out she was. A major aspect of her job involved taking care of Potus’s travel arrangements, which would do in anyone’s head. To young women thinking of following in her sneaker steps, she offers reassurance: “At any high-powered job, you’re going to have to work a lot. America is a nation of people who work a lot and of people who strive to work a lot.” She herself worked a lot, and drank a lot, too. When she was younger she also regularly smoked pot, to which she had to own up if she wanted access to the Oval Office. Like many of her fellow Americans she is disarmingly frank and wears her emotions “on her sleeve” along with other cliches.

There are a few, excruciating pages about the problems of periods and the dearth of tampon dispensers in the White House. It was at this point I ought to have twigged that I was not on Mastromonaco’s wavelength. I did, however, enjoy her story of a last-minute visit to Buckingham Palace where, bereft of anything suitable to wear, she curtsied to the Queen in jeans. This called for the raising of an Obama eyebrow.

On another unforgettable occasion she got to go to the Vatican and meet Pope Francis: “You’ll think it’s lame when I say that it feels like you’re in The Da Vinci Code ... the paintings, the architecture – you don’t have to be a Catholic to think it’s incredible.”

But before she had a chance to take it all in Mastromonaco had to deal with what could have escalated into a major diplomatic incident: an incipient attack of diarrhoea. What to do? Call for help? Let nature take its course? Pray to the patron saint of digestion? “Which,” wondered our incontinent, engaging, scatalogically-obsessed author, “is the least worst option?” Such is the glamour mixing with the world’s elite.