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4 Local Warehouse US History- Clinton, Bill

My Life

by

My Life Cover

ISBN13: 9780375414572
ISBN10: 0375414576
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Excerpt

Chapter 1

PROLOGUE

When i was a young man just out of law school and eager to get on with my life, on a whim I briefly put aside my reading preference for fiction and history and bought one of those how-to books: How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life, by Alan Lakein. The books main point was the necessity of listing short-, medium-, and long-term life goals, then categorizing them in order of their importance, with the A group being the most important, the B group next, and the C the last, then listing under each goal specific activities designed to achieve them. I still have that paperback book, now almost thirty years old. And Im sure I have that old list somewhere buried in my papers, though I cant find it. However, I do remember the A list. I wanted to be a good man, have a good marriage and children, have good friends, make a successful political life, and write a great book.

Whether Im a good man is, of course, for God to judge. I know that I am not as good as my strongest supporters believe or as I hope to become, nor as bad as my harshest critics assert. I have been graced beyond measure by my family life with Hillary and Chelsea. Like all families lives, ours is not perfect, but it has been wonderful. Its flaws, as all the world knows, are mostly mine, and its continuing promise is grounded in their love. No person I know ever had more or better friends. Indeed, a strong case can be made that I rose to the presidency on the shoulders of my personal friends, the now legendary FOBs.

My life in politics was a joy. I loved campaigns and I loved governing. I always tried to keep things moving in the right direction, to give more people a chance to live their dreams, to lift peoples spirits, and to bring them together. Thats the way I kept score.

As for the great book, who knows? It sure is a good story.

ONE

Early on the morning of August 19, 1946, I was born under a clear sky after a violent summer storm to a widowed mother in the Julia Chester Hospital in Hope, a town of about six thousand in southwest Arkansas, thirty-three miles east of the Texas border at Texarkana. My mother named me William Jefferson Blythe III after my father, William Jefferson Blythe Jr., one of nine children of a poor farmer in Sherman, Texas, who died when my father was seventeen. According to his sisters, my father always tried to take care of them, and he grew up to be a handsome, hardworking, fun-loving man. He met my mother at Tri-State Hospital in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1943, when she was training to be a nurse. Many times when I was growing up, I asked Mother to tell me the story of their meeting, courting, and marriage. He brought a date with some kind of medical emergency into the ward where she was working, and they talked and flirted while the other woman was being treated. On his way out of the hospital, he touched the finger on which she was wearing her boyfriends ring and asked her if she was married. She stammered “no”—she was single. The next day he sent the other woman flowers and her heart sank. Then he called Mother for a date, explaining that he always sent flowers when he ended a relationship.

Two months later, they were married and he was off to war. He served in a motor pool in the invasion of Italy, repairing jeeps and tanks. After the war, he returned to Hope for Mother and they moved to Chicago, where he got back his old job as a salesman for the Manbee Equipment Company. They bought a little house in the suburb of Forest Park but couldnt move in for a couple of months, and since Mother was pregnant with me, they decided she should go home to Hope until they could get into the new house. On May 17, 1946, after moving their furniture into their new home, my father was driving from Chicago to Hope to fetch his wife. Late at night on Highway 60 outside of Sikeston, Missouri, he lost control of his car, a 1942 Buick, when the right front tire blew out on a wet road. He was thrown clear of the car but landed in, or crawled into, a drainage ditch dug to reclaim swampland. The ditch held three feet of water. When he was found, after a two-hour search, his hand was grasping a branch above the waterline. He had tried but failed to pull himself out. He drowned, only twenty-eight years old, married two years and eight months, only seven months of which he had spent with Mother.

That brief sketch is about all I ever really knew about my father. All my life I have been hungry to fill in the blanks, clinging eagerly to every photo or story or scrap of paper that would tell me more of the man who gave me life.

When I was about twelve, sitting on my uncle Buddys porch in Hope, a man walked up the steps, looked at me, and said, “Youre Bill Blythes son. You look just like him.” I beamed for days.

In 1974, I was running for Congress. It was my first race and the local paper did a feature story on my mother. She was at her regular coffee shop early in the morning discussing the article with a lawyer friend when one of the breakfast regulars she knew only casually came up to her and said, “I was there, I was the first one at the wreck that night.” He then told Mother what he had seen, including the fact that my father had retained enough consciousness or survival instinct to try to claw himself up and out of the water before he died. Mother thanked him, went out to her car and cried, then dried her tears and went to work.

In 1993, on Fathers Day, my first as President, the Washington Post ran a long investigative story on my father, which was followed over the next two months by other investigative pieces by the Associated Press and many smaller papers. The stories confirmed the things my mother and I knew. They also turned up a lot we didnt know, including the fact that my father had probably been married three times before he met Mother, and apparently had at least two more children.

My fathers other son was identified as Leon Ritzenthaler, a retired owner of a janitorial service, from northern California. In the article, he said he had written me during the 92 campaign but had received no reply. I dont remember hearing about his letter, and considering all the other bullets we were dodging then, its possible that my staff kept it from me. Or maybe the letter was just misplaced in the mountains of mail we were receiving. Anyway, when I read about Leon, I got in touch with him and later met him and his wife, Judy, during one of my stops in northern California. We had a happy visit and since then weve corresponded in holiday seasons. He and I look alike, his birth certificate says his father was mine, and I wish Id known about him a long time ago.

Somewhere around this time, I also received information confirming news stories about a daughter, Sharon Pettijohn, born Sharon Lee Blythe in Kansas City in 1941, to a woman my father later divorced. She sent copies of her birth certificate, her parents marriage license, a photo of my father, and a letter to her mother from my father asking about “our baby” to Betsey Wright, my former chief of staff in the governors office. Im sorry to say that, for whatever reason, Ive never met her.

This news breaking in 1993 came as a shock to Mother, who by then had been battling cancer for some time, but she took it all in stride. She said young people did a lot of things during the Depression and the war that people in another time might disapprove of. What mattered was that my father was the love of her life and she had no doubt of his love for her. Whatever the facts, thats all she needed to know as her own life moved toward its end. As for me, I wasnt quite sure what to make of it all, but given the life Ive led, I could hardly be surprised that my father was more complicated than the idealized pictures I had lived with for nearly half a century.

In 1994, as we headed for the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of D-day, several newspapers published a story on my fathers war record, with a snapshot of him in uniform. Shortly afterward, I received a letter from Umberto Baron of Netcong, New Jersey, recounting his own experiences during the war and after. He said that he was a young boy in Italy when the Americans arrived, and that he loved to go to their camp, where one soldier in particular befriended him, giving him candy and showing him how engines worked and how to repair them. He knew him only as Bill. After the war, Baron came to the United States, and, inspired by what he had learned from the soldier who called him “Little GI Joe,” he opened his own garage and started a family. He told me he had lived the American dream, with a thriving business and three children. He said he owed so much of his success in life to that young soldier, but hadnt had the opportunity to say good-bye then, and had often wondered what had happened to him. Then, he said, “On Memorial Day of this year, I was thumbing through a copy of the New York Daily News with my morning coffee when suddenly I felt as if I was struck by lightning. There in the lower left-hand corner of the paper was a photo of Bill. I felt chills to learn that Bill was none other than the father of the President of the United States.”

In 1996, the children of one of my fathers sisters came for the first time to our annual family Christmas party at the White House and brought me a gift: the condolence letter my aunt had received from her congressman, the great Sam Rayburn, after my father died. Its just a short form letter and appears to have been signed with the autopen of the day, but I hugged that letter with all the glee of a six-year-old boy getting his first train set from Santa Claus. I hung it in my private office on the second floor of the White House, and looked at it every night.

Shortly after I left the White House, I was boarding the US Airways shuttle in Washington for New York when an airline employee stopped me to say that his stepfather had just told him he had served in the war with my father and had liked him very much. I asked for the old vets phone number and address, and the man said he didnt have it but would get it to me. Im still waiting, hoping there will be one more human connection to my father.

At the end of my presidency, I picked a few special places to say good-bye and thanks to the American people. One of them was Chicago, where Hillary was born; where I all but clinched the Democratic nomination on St. Patricks Day 1992; where many of my most ardent supporters live and many of my most important domestic initiatives in crime, welfare, and education were proved effective; and, of course, where my parents went to live after the war. I used to joke with Hillary that if my father hadnt lost his life on that rainy Missouri highway, I would have grown up a few miles from her and we probably never would have met. My last event was in the Palmer House Hotel, scene of the only photo I have of my parents together, taken just before Mother came back to Hope in 1946. After the speech and the good-byes, I went into a small room where I met a woman, Mary Etta Rees, and her two daughters. She told me she had grown up and gone to high school with my mother, then had gone north to Indiana to work in a war industry, married, stayed, and raised her children. Then she gave me another precious gift: the letter my twenty-three-year-old mother had written on her birthday to her friend, three weeks after my fathers death, more than fifty-four years earlier. It was vintage Mother. In her beautiful hand, she wrote of her heartbreak and her determination to carry on: “It seemed almost unbelievable at the time but you see I am six months pregnant and the thought of our baby keeps me going and really gives me the whole world before me.”

My mother left me the wedding ring she gave my father, a few moving stories, and the sure knowledge that she was loving me for him too.

My father left me with the feeling that I had to live for two people, and that if I did it well enough, somehow I could make up for the life he should have had. And his memory infused me, at a younger age than most, with a sense of my own mortality. The knowledge that I, too, could die young drove me both to try to drain the most out of every moment of life and to get on with the next big challenge. Even when I wasnt sure where I was going, I was always in a hurry.

TWO

i was born on my grandfathers birthday, a couple of weeks early, weighing in at a respectable six pounds eight ounces, on a twenty-one-inch frame. Mother and I came home to her parents house on Hervey Street in Hope, where I would spend the next four years. That old house seemed massive and mysterious to me then and still holds deep memories today. The people of Hope raised the funds to restore it and fill it with old pictures, memorabilia, and period furniture. They call it the Clinton Birthplace. It certainly is the place I associate with awakening to life—to the smells of country food; to buttermilk churns, ice-cream makers, washboards, and clotheslines; to my “Dick and Jane” readers, my first toys, including a simple length of chain I prized above them all; to strange voices talking over our “party line” telephone; to my first friends, and the work my grandparents did.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Yi, March 13, 2011 (view all comments by Yi)
A nice book, nice story!
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gbengaadegboye, May 19, 2007 (view all comments by gbengaadegboye)
an intriguing story of a boy who rose up from a poor background to becoming the most poweful man on earth.It therefore shows us that we can achieve anything we want to achieve in life if we set our minds to it no matter our background or where we are coming from.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780375414572
Author:
Clinton, Bill
Publisher:
Alfred A. Knopf
Author:
Clinton, Bill, Etc
Subject:
Political
Subject:
Historical - U.S.
Subject:
United states
Subject:
Presidents
Subject:
Presidents & Heads of State
Subject:
Personal Memoirs
Subject:
Family
Subject:
Presidents -- United States.
Subject:
Clinton, Bill
Subject:
Biography-Presidents and Heads of State
Copyright:
Edition Number:
1st
Publication Date:
June 22, 2004
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
32 PAGES OF PHOTOGRAPHS
Pages:
1008
Dimensions:
9.44x6.50x2.08 in. 3.24 lbs.

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Related Subjects


Biography » General
Biography » Political
Biography » Presidents and Heads of State
History and Social Science » US History » Presidents » Clinton, Bill
History and Social Science » US History » US Presidency
Rare Books » US History and Americana

My Life Used Hardcover
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Product details 1008 pages Alfred A. Knopf - English 9780375414572 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Former President William Jefferson Clinton's hotly anticipated 957-page doorstop of a memoir is much like its author — charismatic, longwinded, and, many might say, deeply flawed. The first Democratic president to be elected to a second term since FDR in 1936, Clinton has lived what is by any account an eventful, inspiring life. As explained in early passages notable for their frankness and humanity, Clinton, born to humble Arkansas roots, never knew his father. William Jefferson Blythe was killed in an automobile accident just months before his son's birth. Clinton adored his mother, Virginia, a nurse with a large, loving family and a harmless penchant for the racetrack. Difficulties began when Virginia married Roger Clinton, who struggled with alcohol and a violent temper. A turbulent home life and the vagaries of a segregated South, however, only pushed the gregarious Clinton to achieve. He became interested in politics at an early age. He wrote, debated, played the saxophone, and eventually made it to Georgetown and Oxford universities, a law practice, then to Little Rock and the governor's mansion, and eventually to the White House. Clinton's administration was equally dramatic. Domestically, he fought to balance the federal budget, presided over a government shutdown, and beat back a conservative cultural backlash. Diplomatically, Clinton skirmished with a bellicose Saddam Hussein, ended a genocidal crisis in Bosnia, accelerated the Mideast peace process until its eventual collapse, and began to deal with the budding threat posed by Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. To top that off, he left office in 2000 amid the bizarre Bush/Gore electoral crisis. Of course, what Clinton is also remembered for are the scandals that plagued his efforts. Beginning with Gennifer Flowers in the 1992 campaign, to Whitewater, Travelgate, the FBI file scandal, Paula Jones and ultimately the Monica Lewinsky affair that led to his historic impeachment, Clinton endured what then First Lady Hillary Clinton termed a 'vast right-wing conspiracy' to push him from office. The most interesting passages of Clinton's memoir reveal a simmering, deep animosity toward special prosecutor Ken Starr. Clinton defiantly blisters Starr as an unethical, overreaching partisan who illegally leaked details of his investigations to the press; exceeded his authority; humiliated, bankrupted and jailed innocent people for not playing ball; and served only to ring up huge legal bills for the Clintons, their staff and supporters. Certainly, Clinton's memoir has the raw material for a blockbuster book. But the sheer deluge of information is mind-numbing. Rather than expose the hurricane's eye of a remarkable life and an eventful presidency, the book instead blurs into an unrelenting blizzard of names, dates, campaigns, speeches, events, handshakes, tangential observations, memories, meetings, cities and towns, and anecdotes. The result is a narrative that obscures any meaningful measure of Clinton's true character and values. Save for his strong feelings about Starr, Clinton offers only brief personal assessments of the colorful personalities with whom he crossed paths, including his wife, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore and James Carville, opponents like George Bush, Bob Dole and Ross Perot, or world leaders such as Boris Yeltsin, and Yasser Arafat. Monica Lewinsky also escapes any meaningful scrutiny. Most frustratingly, Clinton, while admitting mistakes, offers no deep personal introspection. In an excerpt from a high school essay, Clinton wrote that he was a 'living paradox,' who 'detests selfishness but sees it in the mirror everyday.' That passage marks the most insightful stroke of self-analysis in the book. Yet while lacking immediacy, the book nevertheless manages a certain gravitas, if only for being a painstakingly thorough act of recollection. Given the fevered 'tell-all' anticipation surrounding the book's publication, however, it is certain to disappoint many readers even as it sells an astonishing number of copies. Some of that disappointment, however, was inevitable. After all, My Life is a presidential memoir, a historically self-serving category of autobiography alone unto itself and very much an extension of presidential politics--a profession that is never 'tell-all.' Even more tricky, Clinton's wife, Hillary, now the junior Senator from New York, is very much still in politics. When matched against other presidential memoirs, though, Clinton's scores favorably, certainly exceeding the flaccid efforts of his most recent predecessors, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. Still, Clinton, a popular, gifted orator with a clear mastery of public policy, has missed, or, perhaps, passed on, a golden opportunity to offer a truly resonant portrait of his embattled presidency or an enduring political vision. " Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day" by , "Bill Clinton has written two books: a beguiling memoir of growing up in the South and becoming a young Arkansas politician, and a tedious account of being President of the United States....[T]he memoir bounces along nicely for several hundred pages, as Clinton goes to college, serves as a junior aide for J. William Fulbright's Senate office, takes up his Rhodes Scholarship, and works towards becoming Governor of Arkansas in 1979. Indeed, if these pages had been published as a separate book, many would think that Clinton has contributed a classic of Southern political memoir." (read the entire Times Literary Supplement review)
"Review" by , "My Life is, by a generous measure, the richest American presidential autobiography — no other book tells us as vividly or fully what it is like to be president of the United States for eight years."
"Review" by , "[A] massive book, more than memoir, more than history. It is, with all due respect to the Pope, the journey of a soul, many-layered, complex, tantalizing....[The writing] rolls along, a hell of a good story...(Grade: A-)"
"Review" by , "Throughout its leisurely 957 pages...every facet of Clinton's complex, nuanced and sometimes maddening personality is on display."
"Review" by , "As political memoirs go, this one is reasonably well-written, and manages to strike a mostly agreeable balance between reportage and boasting, between analysis and self-justification....[A] voice that's bracing and comforting to hear..."
"Review" by , "[T]here's a wonderful naturalness to Clinton's writing in My Life and enough insights into this puzzling man that it's well worth plunking down [the price of the book] for 957 pages of his almost-unfiltered musings."
"Review" by , "The book, which weighs in at more than 950 pages, is sloppy, self-indulgent and often eye-crossingly dull — the sound of one man prattling away, not for the reader, but for himself and some distant recording angel of history."
"Review" by , "Part of the problem is that My Life is relentlessly chronological....It's like being locked in a small room with a very gregarious man who insists on reading his entire appointment book, day by day, beginning in 1946."
"Review" by , "My Life is not a great book. It's not even a good book, but like its author, it has its moments and flashes of insight. It is Clintonesque: frustrating and fascinating, more exhausting than exhaustive."
"Review" by , "[My Life] is as [Clinton's] presidency was — at times fascinating, often rambling — and always overshadowed by the demons which formed the character of the boy and the flaws of the man."
"Review" by , "Like most celebrity biographies, this volume would be twice as good were it half as long....My Life is not, to be sure, a literary masterpiece in the same league as, say, the memoirs of Charles de Gaulle. But considering that we are currently graced with a president who has trouble putting together two consecutive unscripted grammatical sentences, Clinton's articulateness must count as an achievement."
"Review" by , "[T]he odds are overwhelming that My Life is destined to end up as a prominent but largely pristine totem on liberal America's bookshelves after its brief, proud season as a wrist-spraining fashion statement....Clinton's book was designed not so much to be read as to be an event's central prop; in more than one sense, we weren't really buying the story of his life. Rather, we were being offered a small chance to play spear carriers in an episode of it."
"Synopsis" by , President Bill Clinton’s My Life is the strikingly candid portrait of a global leader who decided early in life to devote his intellectual and political gifts, and his extraordinary capacity for hard work, to serving the public. It is the fullest, most concretely detailed, most nuanced account of a presidency ever written, and a testament to the positive impact on America and on the world of his work and his ideals.

Here is the life of a great national and international figure, revealed with all his talents and contradictions. Filled with fascinating moments and insights, it is told openly, directly, in President Clinton’s own completely recognizable voice.

From the Hardcover edition.

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