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on October 31, 2000
I have held on to this book since 1996. I was intent on reading it as soon as I received it, but I held off for one reason or another. I am glad I did. By waiting until the end of the Clinton presidency I have been able to keep in mind many of the personal details of Bill Clinton and am able to to keep into context all of the things that have happened since it was published in 1996.
Within everything else that has been supposed and predicted about Bill Clinton and his legacy, there will be no doubt that he is definitely one of the most enigmatic politicians in the history of the U.S. It will be history that will judge how relevant the Clinton legacy will be. Perhaps 100 years from now this decade will only be remembered for the economy and the boom in technology. Who knows? Bill Clinton may not even be remembered as being the president of this decade--much like now when people cannot tell you who presided in the White House during the Gilded Age.
Those fascinated with President Bill Clinton will be because of his incredible adeptible personality. Clinton is the hybrid of all politicians to come before him. He is insecure & he is confident; he is short-tempered & he is relaxed in public; he is brilliant & yet knows his intellectual limits. His approval rating is high, but people do not like the man. He is all things to all people--loved and reviled. And one of his criticisms has always been his willingness to compromise ideologies--conservative and liberal--to get things done. This tends to infuriate both sides. If for anything else, he is NOT boring. Whoever we get as president this next election, neither Bush nor Gore will be nearly as interesting in the news as Clinton has been.
David Maraniss' book seeks to find some order within the complicated person that is Bill Clinton. I appreciated his balance and his use of some appropriate anecdotes that brought some depth to the man that we always think we know from the media. Bill Clinton essentially is a man who is constantly running for office. He always was and perhaps always will be campaigning. It's basically his hobby and THAT will be his legacy. He is like a great strategist always looking for the key to winning not only most of the battles, but realizes that one may need to lose a battle to win a war.
Maraniss is fair when approaches Clinton's flaws, for which there are several his critics have managed to exploit. I think the author does a great job of putting these "scandals" into perspective. Though I did find it amusing one segment referring to Paula Jones. It would be a couple of years after this book's publication that that Paula Jones investigation would explode into the eventual impeachment of Bill Clinton. I found that Maraniss does tend to underplay many of these scandalous incidents that are perhaps more significant than he reports them, but he does manage to paint them into Clinton's character in such a way that we understand that these flaws are all just symptoms to a larger problem. There are amusing stories describing Clinton's affairs and Hillary's knowledge about them and how these are resolved--such as the incident of a younger female volunteer being ushered quickly out the back door as Hillary Rodham enters the front door of Bill's campaign office.
Clinton has never stopped running. His life ever since junior-high school has been that of an ambitious campaigner. More or less he just jumped from one office to one higher. Eventually it was going to end at the Oval Office which he was able to hold for 8 years. This book will not give anyone any insight to how the Clinton presidency is or will be. The book ends at Clinton's announcement for the presidency in 1991. What this book does do is give the reader some deserved depth into Bill Clinton and how his personality and talents have led him to the highest office. This is a well doen description that is not apparent from the daily press that we have not seen in the last 8 years. And if you are like me, reading this towards the end of the Clinton administration, you will no doubt be amused at how his character has influenced the events over the last 4 years since this book was originally published.
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on October 23, 2001
Above and beyond the demonization and canonization . . . before the scandals, successes and defeats . . . lay the strong personality possessed by a Falstaffian hunger for the love, acceptance, and power the celebrity of politics can provide.
Journalist Maraniss' possesses an uncanny ability to avoid all the hyberbole that has surrounded Clinton and cut to the facts and create a vibrant portrait of not just a man driven to succeed at all costs, but also of a generation seeking to find its place in history.
Maraniss' central thesis: that Clinton is the first representative of the Baby Boom Generation (and everything that statement implies) to enter the White House, forms a compelling historical tapestry on which to weave his narrative.
I've always valued in a biographical author, the ability to place the subject in the bigger picture and historical frame of reference and Maraniss proves most successful in this sense. He takes a great deal of time building the proper context in which to place the Clintons. Their collective rise to power is no accident. Neither is, in reading the book, their collective fall from Grace and relative political invincibility. They knew exactly how to tap into (and exploit) the collective unconsciousness of their generation.
First in His Class, also benefits from a most prudential editing. It really is tight in its narrative and commentary. Maraniss wastes very little in developing and defending his thesis. It is so refreshing to see an author remain so focused. Even his digressions develop his central vision.
This gets my vote as the best Clinton book thus far.
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on February 24, 1998
I purchased First in His Class over a year ago, but having read six other "Clinton" books I needed a break. And then the Lewinsky story broke. David Maraniss does a superb job here. He doesn't dwell or sensationalize. What he does is give the reader uncluttered, readable, reliable biography. And then the whole Clinton thing, the "why's" and "how comes" becomes "perfectly clear." It's a fascinating life and a fascinating book. And it proves that quality biography does not have to be 800 pages long.
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on December 11, 2000
David Maraniss has written a gripping account of Bill Clinton's rise to power. It is a testament to the quality of his work that there is no feeling of partisanship. The picture that emerges is one of a thoroughly determined, charming and intelligent individual. Maraniss examines also what kept him motivated and more precisely, who. Detailed accounts of his mother and stepfather, of Hillary and his peers are invaluable to help us understand this highly complex character. What I found most interesting about the book was the extreme emotions that I felt about Clinton. At first, one can only feel admiration and respect for the southern boy who made his way to Georgetown, Oxford and Yale Law with the brightest in the country. However, power corrupts and as Clinton starts his political ascension, he becomes less and less of a sympathetic character. I couldn't give this book five stars for a variety of reasons. While accounts of education and early life are undoubtedly useful guides, Maraniss should have focused more on Clinton's political career. It only starts roughly three quarters into the book... Finally, the book ends with Clinton announcing his candidacy for president in 1991. Surely, we could have gotten a glimpse of the toughest campaign of his life. Nonetheless, brilliant book which you should buy to understand the man who has presided over such prosperity and created such controversy.
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on January 12, 2000
This book is the absolute gold standard for political biographies. Maraniss has no axe to grind-he's just a terrific researcher, writer, and analyst. Read this book before you even think about reading any other book about Clinton.
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on April 28, 2013
I never voted for Bill & never would despite his many assets. He is without any real integrity. Marraniss has written a greatly detailed bio of Bill from birth to his presidential nomination including all his childhood friends. Bill trained himself from early on to get as little sleep as possible because it interfered with all the work he constantly did to further his ambitions politically.. He never had any other interests outside of running for office..a man of great guile & charm. At Oxford after graduating from Georgetown, Bill made long lasting influential friends & had great conflict about getting out of the draft. Who could blame him for opposing the Vietnam war?
His mother adored both him & his worthless brother Roger (she actually thought Roger would become the next Elvis) His serial philandering with women was always there since Bill needed constant people to talk with & use in any way to further his political goals. When he was defeated after his first term as governor, Bill proved resiliant & learned from his mistakes. His marriage to Hillary is depicted, I thought, realitically. She was the money maker in their partnership & was straight as an arrow in her goals & didn't get side tracked like he did. It was a truly co-dependent relationship for both good & bad. Always arguing but unable to get along without the other.
Bill has a brilliant mind & his own narcisstic needs were his own downfalls. Virginia, Roger & Bill all went into therapy & while Bill understood some of his compulsive behavior he never stopped it.
Dick Morris figures strongly in this bio of Bill as a guiding character who did advise him correctly even though he was always a slimey individual.
Hillary comes out as the smarter & more disciplined of the two but lacking in his charisma. The book, like the bio of Obama that Marraniss wrote is documented with every trivia imaginable & that is why I found it tedious at times. But that is just my opinion. It is very well written. Because of reading this book I am now going to read A Woman In Charge since HRC may well be our next president. She wouldn't waste so much of her tenure as Bill did which was the saddest thing about his 8 years in office.
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on August 15, 2007
As a Clinton fan, I read all of the bios and his autobiography. "First" remains my favorite because it details Clinton's evolution from a boy born into less than ideal circumstances with only 3 assets---an adoring mother, scholastic achievement and a singleminded goal to become president---to making the american dream come true. I recently purchased another copy for my nephew, who is shopping colleges. This is a must read for all who doubt the power of education to change your life not just for the better, but for the best.
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on February 6, 1996
NOT your standard political biography. Excellent example of the craft of biography, regardless of the subject. This reads reads like fiction and author David Maraniss clearly deserved his Pulitzer for his balanced reporting on the Clinton '92 campaign. The 400+ page book ends with Clinton's announcement for president. This goes a long way to explain why Clinton is the way he is. Love or hate him you can't be indifferent. A must read before the electiion
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on October 19, 2002
First, the title of this story can be misleading. In highschool, college, at Oxford and Yale, Clinton was never "first in class," based solely on grades. But, who cares? Clinton is one of the best presidents in United States history and Maraniss gives an inside look into the life of this great man despite not interviewing anyone in the Clinton family. He uses research based solely on interviews from those people closest to the man himself. When you reach for this book don't think it will give you an inside look at the presidency. It rolls along in chronological order from birth to announcement of candidacy for the 1992 presidential election so never gets to the presidency. It does however provide some interesting insights into the Clinton marriage, and the Clinton psyche. His temper, although rare is described well in this biography. Overall, it is a great read for anyone who wants to know more about a former president. Everything from his Oxford years and apparent affairs with other women not named Monica Lewinsky or Paula Jones. Perhaps the greatest thing about this book is how Maraniss remains neutral. Regardless of his like or dislike of Clinton, he never shows it.
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on June 4, 1999
Fair and balanced look at Bill Clinton. Maraniss is an excellent writer, making this an easy read.
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