From Publishers Weekly
This second volume of the author's biography casts Clinton's first term as a Miltonian epic of fall and redemption. The years 1993–1994, culminating in the Democrats' loss of Congress in midterm elections, are Paradise Lost: a disastrous failure caused by a weak White House chief of staff (Mack McLarty), Clinton's own promiscuous openness to ideas and indecisiveness and, most of all, co-president Hillary's baleful influence. 1995–1996 are Paradise Regained: a new chief of staff (Leon Panetta) restores order, Hillary learns her place and Clinton grows a spine, comforts the nation after the Oklahoma City bombing, humiliates Newt Gingrich and wins reelection. (Alas, enter Monica Lewinsky, a luscious fruit in the Garden of Eden, eager to be plucked.) Hamilton styles this arc, with many military metaphors, as a study of Clinton's maturing capacity for command as he grows from arch-baby boomer to undisputed leader of his country. Unfortunately, this focus on character often overshadows the substance of policy (the treatment of Hillary's byzantine health-care plan is especially sketchy) and is not entirely convincing, since the early, feckless Clinton seems to have accomplished more than the determinedly presidential later Clinton, with his third way politics of triangulation. At the celebratory end of Hamilton's account, Clinton's comeback is a merely personal triumph, devoid of political significance. (July)
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In the wake of the almost simultaneous publication of two biographies of Hillary Clinton (Gerth and Van Natta's Her Way and Bernstein's Woman in Charge), it is interesting to once again view the first Clinton administration with the focus on the president, not the first lady. Hamilton, in this sequel to Bill Clinton: An American Journey (2003), examines the forty-second president's first term. By no means unsympathetic to Clinton, Hamilton views his subject as a man with a big heart and a big brain but also with a shocking inability to make decisions or manage personnel. Hamilton's strength is in making the most of the many secondary sources he relies upon, but he also draws material from some out-of-the-ordinary interviews, including one with Cliff Jackson, a Clinton rival and eventual enemy who helped bring Troopergate (the scandal over Clinton's extramarital affairs in Arkansas) to light. The only instance of using overtly slanted sources comes in the opening chapter, when Hamilton relates Gary Aldrich's version of an incident focusing on a foulmouthed first lady (Aldrich has been widely discredited and was not used by either Bernstein or Gerth and Van Natta). That lapse aside, this volume provides a straightforward and effective recounting of the ups and downs of a presidency shaped as much by personality as by policy. Cooper, Ilene