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Well, she didn't escape to Tijuana to hang out with Elvis. She didn't decide to run a surf shack in Belize. She did not take up knitting, or posting in all-caps on Facebook, or complaining about how the TV remote doesn't work, as a docile grandmother should. Instead, she decided to write about the thing that really needs fixing: the American political system.

Contrary to the pleas of journalists – in the main, but not all, men – Hillary Clinton has not gone away, and has instead decided like the lawyer she was to dissect what went so badly wrong for her in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

You'll be happy to know, Hillary-shooers, that she is abject in defeat. Before the publication of her new memoir, What Happened, we were told that she would be score-settling, rock-throwing and all manner of other behaviour unbecoming to a woman. However, by my count, Ms. Clinton accepts blame for her defeat or offers apologies for her strategies 21 different times in What Happened. I could have missed a few. At the end, for critics who have missed the previous 20 mea culpas, she writes of "the aching sense that I let everyone down." Perhaps that will be some comfort to those who wanted to see her sink below the surface of the pond, warts and all.

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If anyone can identify what's wrong with America's busted engine, it's the woman who's had her head under the hood for 30 years. Although, I know, boys: You don't want a girl tinkering with something that precious. "It's important we understand what really happened," Ms. Clinton writes. "Because that's the only way we can stop it from happening again." To that end, she looks at how the system failed alongside her – the media that disproportionately blew up the story of her private e-mail server; the Russian government that tried to hack the election; the former FBI director's various public pronouncements about her e-mails; the deep strain of rage running through the republic; the misogyny and racism that fuelled that rage.

"This has to be said," Ms. Clinton writes. "Sexism and misogyny played a role in the 2016 election." Just how big a role will be debated for years to come. It might even be smaller than Jupiter. Perhaps one day I'll ask the Trump supporter I stood next to in Florida last October who screamed, "Trump that bitch!" over and over, or the guy who had lovingly crafted a tiny cardboard jail with a tiny inmate Hillary inside.

Either way, Ms. Clinton faces a perplexing conundrum in her book. She wants to tell the truth about the difficulties of being a female candidate, and yet she does not want to send all the other ladies screaming in fear back to safe jobs, like lumberjack or bomber pilot.

"I hesitate to write this," she says, before going on to write it: How she's been criticized over the years for her looks, her voice, her clothes, her marriage, her ambition, her choice of surname, her health, her likeability and a few other things that have absolutely nothing to do with her policies.

Oh, and her grasp of policy: She acknowledges that she is probably too much of a wonk for American voters, some of whom were put off by her in-depth knowledge of complex issues.

I imagine there are jobs where an excess of expertise isn't useful, but I can't imagine U.S. president is one of them. I guess we're finding out.

"It's not easy to be a woman in politics. That's an understatement. It can be excruciating, humiliating." Even to point that out is to draw more criticism: Why are you complaining so much? Get out if you don't like it. Go away. But the only answer to that is not silence, or apology. It is not hiding out in the woods of New York. The answer, as she points out, is to identify what's wrong and fix it for those who come after.

I'm sure there's a part of Ms. Clinton that would have preferred to retreat to her house in the woods, to yell at Bill about how he rearranged the bookshelves, to write letters to the editor of the local paper about sewage mains. But there are still so many people out there counting on her voice, like the third-year law student who wrote a letter after her defeat: "Eventually, eventually one of us will crash through that highest and hardest glass ceiling. And it will be because of our hard work, determination and resilience. But it will also be because of you. Just you wait."