Synopses & Reviews
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 shows us the progress of a remarkable American, who, through his own enormous energies and efforts, made the unlikely journey from Hope, Arkansas, to the White House a journey fueled by an impassioned interest in the political process which manifested itself at every stage of his life: in college, working as an intern for Senator William Fulbright; at Oxford, becoming part of the Vietnam War protest movement; at Yale Law School, campaigning on the grassroots level for Democratic candidates; back in Arkansas, running for Congress, attorney general, and governor.
We see his career shaped by his resolute determination to improve the life of his fellow citizens, an unfaltering commitment to civil rights, and an exceptional understanding of the practicalities of political life.
We come to understand the emotional pressures of his youth born after his father's death; caught in the dysfunctional relationship between his feisty, nurturing mother and his abusive stepfather, whom he never ceased to love and whose name he took; drawn to the brilliant, compelling Hillary Rodham, whom he was determined to marry; passionately devoted, from her infancy, to their daughter, Chelsea, and to the entire experience of fatherhood; slowly and painfully beginning to comprehend how his early denial of pain led him at times into damaging patterns of behavior.
President Clinton's book is also the fullest, most concretely detailed, most nuanced account of a presidency ever written encompassing not only the high points and crises but the way the presidency actually works: the day-to-day bombardment of problems, personalities, conflicts, setbacks, achievements.
It is a testament to the positive impact on America and on the world of his work and his ideals.
It is the gripping account of a president under concerted and unrelenting assault orchestrated by his enemies on the Far Right, and how he survived and prevailed.
It is a treasury of moments caught alive, among them:
- The ten-year-old boy watching the national political conventions on his family's new (and first) television set.
- The young candidate looking for votes in the Arkansas hills and the local seer who tells him, "Anybody who would campaign at a beer joint in Joiner at midnight on Saturday night deserves to carry one box.... You'll win here. But it'll be the only damn place you win in this county." (He was right on both counts.)
- The roller-coaster ride of the 1992 campaign.
- The extraordinarily frank exchanges with Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole.
- The delicate manipulation needed to convince Rabin and Arafat to shake hands for the camera while keeping Arafat from kissing Rabin.
- The cost, both public and private, of the scandal that threatened the presidency.
Here is the life of a great national and international figure, revealed with all his talents and contradictions, told openly, directly, in his own completely recognizable voice. A unique book by a unique American.
"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.)
"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." Larry McMurtry, The New York Times
"[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-)" Frank McCourt, Entertainment Weekly
"Throughout its leisurely 957 pages...every facet of Clinton's complex, nuanced and sometimes maddening personality is on display." Newsweek
"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..." Francine Prose, Newsday
"[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." Marta Salij, Detroit Free Press
"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." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"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." Jerry Schwartz, The Associated Press
"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." Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today
"[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." Paul Reynolds, BBC News
"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." Ronald Steel, The New Republic
"[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." Tom Carson, The Atlantic Monthly
"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." Michael O'Brien, The Times Literary Supplement
(read the entire Times Literary Supplement review
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.
About the Author
Bill Clinton was born William Jefferson Blythe III on August 19, 1946, in Hope, Arkansas, three months after his father died in a traffic accident. When he was four years old, his mother wed Roger Clinton, of Hot Springs, Arkansas. Clinton was graduated from Georgetown University and in 1968 won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University. He received a law degree from Yale University in 1973, and entered politics in Arkansas. Clinton was elected Arkansas Attorney General in 1976, and won the governorship in 1978. After losing a bid for a second term, he regained the office four years later, and served until he defeated incumbent George Bush and third party candidate Ross Perot in the 1992 presidential race.
During the administration of William Jefferson Clinton, the U.S. enjoyed more peace and economic well being than at any time in its history. He was the first Democratic president since Franklin D. Roosevelt to win a second term. He could point to the lowest unemployment rate in modern times, the lowest inflation in 30 years, the highest home ownership in the country's history, dropping crime rates in many places, and reduced welfare roles. He proposed the first balanced budget in decades and achieved a budget surplus.