on July 4, 2004
I am a conservative economist who, like many of the reviewers here, never voted for Bill Clinton. However, unlike those same reviewers, I read this entire book. I must say that it is somewhat satisfying to understand the thought processes behind this president. He is a remarkably bright individual who overcame a somewhat deprived childhood to excel at some of the world's finest educational institutions. Given the ineptitude of the current administration which won on pedigree, it is refreshing to know that hard work, intellect, and perseverance can also lead to the White House.
The book has a few tedious moments. The Arkansas campaigns are littered with the names of individuals no one outside of the Ozarks will recognize. On the whole though, this book delivers for the aficionado of American politics. You will see the deep thought and debate surrounding policy decisions. You will appreciate the fact that this president actually led his administration with his own ideas and strategies for implementing them. Likewise, he wrote many of his own speeches and routinely held press conferences without knowing the questions in advance. I would have liked even more from these areas, but the book does provide as much depth as most political memoirs.
What I would like from Clinton's second book would be a discussion of the perception and reality of American politics. For example, the Bush administration, with annual budget and trade deficits of over $1 trillion, has the most liberal fiscal policy since the Johnson administration. At the same time, they have increased the size of the government more than any other administration in history, with the effects of the war and 9/11 accounting for only 45% of this enormous growth. Clinton, on the other hand, was extremely conservative during his second term, shrinking the government, slowing the growth in expenditures across the board, and balancing the budget. Yet, Clinton is reviled as being too liberal by conservatives who don't seem to do their homework. It's too bad they're unwilling to spend time reading a book like this instead of allowing radio talk show hosts to fill their heads with lies that matter.
I must confess I am a fan of political autobiographies. The first one I ever read was the Nixon autobiography; I've since read the various presidential and prime ministerial works past and present. Against these various tomes, Bill Clinton's memoirs, 'My Life', stacks up well. There is nothing earth-shattering and revealing here; there are some different nuances and a little more candour involved, but not a lot. After all, Clinton is still a relatively young man, and could have other political aspirations (he wouldn't be the first president to also serve in the Congress after the presidency), and of course, his wife has an active political life of her own, which I am certain was a major consideration in the tone and content of this volume.
I was fortunate to get advance reading material of this before the day of release, and got the local bookseller to permit me a purchase after midnight last night. Of course, like many people, I turned first to the part about Monica Lewinsky, who, for better or worse, will be a defining image of Clinton's presidency for the foreseeable future - history will likely be kinder to Clinton (as it ended up being for Nixon, and others who have stumbled in office), but for the present, this image holds true. There is a typical Clinton-esque mixture of self-reproach and blaming of others. Clinton's greatest ire is saved for Kenneth Starr, the special prosecutor, who Clinton characterises as being the tip of the spear of a vast right-wing conspiracy including conservative white southerners who never worked for civil rights.
He discusses the icy situation with his wife Hillary and daughter Chelsea after the revelations, and how he slept on the sofa in different rooms for a significant period after the revelations. He also writes of his own self-examination and self-therapy (how does one do therapy with a president? Actually, there is some insight here, with his marriage counseling going on for a year after the incident). From visits with preachers (Clinton was never a traditionally religious man) to his own readings of self-help books and spiritual classics (one such, 'Imitation of Christ', by Thomas a Kempis, is a superb and well-known text, but not one I would have ever guessed useful for a president in this situation).
He gives some insights into the campaign trails, his early Arkansas experiences prior to national politics, and the two presidential elections, the first against the elder Bush, and the second against Bob Dole. He also takes good account of his childhood - the stories of his mother and various male figures in his early life are quite interesting, and beyond what was public during his presidential days. Even the derivation of his name - William Jefferson Blythe Clinton, has a story behind it worth reading.
One of the key points of interest of any political autobiography is the commentary and speculation the author makes on present and future situations, and Clinton's is no exception. He mentions his own assessment of the danger Iraq posed (he would have rated it no higher than number six on his list of priorities), and claims to have been more forceful in warning the incoming Bush administration about the dangers of Osama Bin Ladin. He also gives interesting perspectives on allies and other foreign leaders (John Major and Tony Blair, Chinese President Jiang Zemin, Yasir Arafat, Ehud Barak, etc.).
In all, Clinton takes some of the blame for the troubles of his presidency, but shifts quite a bit of it to others, too. He also takes credit where credit is due for some of the successes in his presidency, but on the whole, as is typically true in such writings, casts the best of possible lights on most of his actions and the outcomes. Being an extrovert with a penchant for introspection, it is a wonder that this book could be contained in a mere 1000 or so pages.
Love him or hate him (and it is amazing how few people have neutral feelings about him, as he experienced and wrote about in his book), Clinton is a figure politicians must deal with for some time to come, and historians will likely rarely tire of debating and analysing.
on August 13, 2004
The intelligence, eloquence, charm, and generosity of Bill Clinton all come alive in a 957-page documentary of an intriguing and rich life. The adoption of the "Clinton" name after his abusive and alcoholic first stepfather and his acceptance and forgiveness of his second stepfather, despite his bad reputation, signal the magnanimity of the young Bill. His mother's life-long struggle to provide him stable family environment, education, and love all made him a special person who understood the suffering of the poor, the black, the sick, and the old. His rural Arkansas upbringing fostered his curiosity in early life to explore the greater world of politics that took him to Washington, New York, Oxford, and Moscow, in only two decades of his early life. Clinton reveals the crucial role of school in training and preparing young people for future participation in democratic governments.
No wonder why the rich, white, and religious hated his guts since he embodied the struggle and charisma of the poor and well-educated class that would shake the foundation of the old tradition of politics that only serves the rich and powerful minority. He won all wars waged against him solely by the way of reasoning he had inherited from his poor yet closely attached family members, in addition to his extensive reading of books that made his mind deals with complex conflicts without losing focus of the fundamental issues. His encyclopedic mind was also his drive for adoring sex and appreciating its great pleasure in soothing life, which also infuriated his haters. That also made him the most peaceful and economically successful president that loved sex and hated violence.
Clinton's supporters will be thrilled with this book that demonstrates how a man goes through eight years of presidency yet still retains his ability to remember details, associate with simple people, and question all traditional values in the context of their benefit to the progress of democratic governing. The generosity of Bill Clinton in sharing his life experience with his readers is evidence that he might exceed Jimmy Carter in his global reach for peace, democracy, and equality. This also explains the timing of publishing the book in the election year with a president who stumbles speaking simple sentences and who has ruined America's reputation around the world with his arrogance and narrow scope of understanding.
Ironically, Clinton starts his book by dignifying his critics' claim that he was a bad man and by expressing his love to Hilary, whom he has betrayed. Thus, he shows that even a man as expansive as Clinton could possibly be shaken in his strongest assets despite the fact that most of his adversaries have committed worse mistakes than his (e.g., Newt Gingrich). While Bush senior spends his retirement relaxing and parachute jumping from airplanes in his eighties, both the democratic ex-presidents, Carter and Clinton, are roaming the globe working on solving greater international problems to educate and heal greater masses of people around the globe.
on January 19, 2005
The ideologues on both sides are going to give this 5 or 1 depending on their perspective. But if you are a curious reader without a particular political axe, I think you will still enjoy this book.
My word of caution is that remember this is the guy who got an ovation for the words "in conclusion" toward the end of the Dukakis convention because of his long windedness, and you may find this a tome to get through.
But just as it is longwinded, a little slick, and graceful with the truth, it is also lyrical in places, insightful and intelligent, and capable of touching emotional chords.
WJC certainly has some axes to grind. I don't think Newt Gingrich or Ken Starr will be invited over to Chappaquah anytime soon, and I found the pop psychology bit to be a little rich. He would have been well-served by a strong editor. Also, I think there is something profoundly unknowable about the man, and I know he pulled his punches when it came to some of his analysis -- he had to, because of political senstitivities.
But it's his perspective, and whatever else he may be, he is truly an American original.
I gave this book to my deeply conservative father-in-law because I thought he would get something out of it (and not because I think it will make him a Clinton-lover either).
'My Life' is a long and detailed autobiography of William Jefferson Clinton, the forty-second president of the United States of America. Though this book is very long, approximately one thousand pages, it was entertaining enough to read the whole thing. It is obvious that he kept a detailed diary his whole life.
Pres. Clinton's book is not the normal biography. It is written in chronological order starting with his boyhood. Though as you read it you will find yourself jumping all over time. He does this whenever he feels he has to defend his actions. And I felt the whole book is about trying to defend his legacy and set the record straight. The book seems very self-serving and he seems more concerned about what we think of him, instead of just writing what transpired.
Though I did find his book very easy to read. I did feel as if he I was sitting on a covered front porch with a class of ice tea and listening as Pres. Clinton spins an interesting tale. I had no problem reading the entire book and did find it enjoyable despite his agenda. He does share some of his shortcomings and how he overcame them. This is also a story of a boy making good in America. He comes from rural state and used every opportunity America offers each and every one of us. And that message is worth sharing.
Do not pick up this book looking for dark details of his life. You will not find it. But I did learn much about how he saw himself and his view on affairs that affected or touched his life. I do recommend reading this book.
I had read in reviews that the book was very dull, but I found it so interesting I could hardly put it down. I think that now, having read so many recent books about the last two administrations, I have a very good picture of the differences in both style and substance. There were few real surprises in the book except the fact that Clinton had something nice to say about nearly everyone, even Newt Gingrich. Bill Clinton is apparently a man who is fascinated by human nature and appreciates political deftness. I liked reading the book because it put most of the news stories of the 90's into context whereas my memory has them in patches. Don't read it if you are bored by politics or hate Arkansas.
on July 9, 2004
Since I'm on the road a lot, I bought the audio version. I'm glad I did this because I got to hear the author's telling of his story.
Of course it's not the world's greatest writing or story telling, but then that's not what I was expecting.
On the one hand the book is extremely personal and candid, telling of the President's difficult childhood and his remarkable survival and rise to public life through it.
On the other hand, it does not go into personal relationships in a way that the hype for the book leads the reader to expect.
While their privacy should be respected, especially given the horrible expose that has occured, the Clinton's seem to have worked through issues in their relationship. This work would be valuable and healing to share in more detail with others.
What impressed me most in the book also deeply saddened me: how easy it is for a party or group who doesn't like a particular elected official to bring harm to that person, rightly or wrongly, through discrediting campaigns.
Whatever your political persuation, you should come away from this book believing this ease of manipulation needs to be addressed for the health of both the presidency and the nation. And that's a very important reason to read the book.
on July 17, 2004
In the acknowledgements he thanks his editor, Robert Gottlieb, saying, "Without his judgement and feel, this book might have been twice as long and half as good." Robert should be fired. He only did half of his job. :-/
Now that I've explained where the last star went, I found this to be a fascinating book. Like him, or hate him, he was one of the most effective Presidents we've ever had. For those who've forgotten most of what he did, this paragraph might remind you:
"My last State of the Union address was a joy to deliver. We had more than 20 million new jobs, the lowest unemployment rate and smallest welfare rolls in 30 years, the lowest crime rate in 25 years, the lowest poverty rate in 20 years, the smallest federal workforce in 40 years, the first back-to-back surpluses in 42 years, 7 years of declining teen pregnancies and a 30% increase in adoptions, and 150,0000 young people who had served in AmeriCorps. Within a month we would have the longest economic expansion in American history, and by the end of the year we would have 3 consecutive surpluses in more than 50 years."
In his book he explains the events and major decisions that he thinks caused that. He explains choices, and why he made them. Some of his choices I agreed with, some I don't. Either way I was interested to see why he made the choices that he did. And he put a context worth thinking on around many issues which I knew about either peripherally or not at all.
But for me the single most fascinating part of the book was a message that he didn't intend to deliver. Bill Clinton is a very capable politician. Politicians succeed by getting people to do things for them. Even now that he has no more political milestones to achieve, every page demonstrates how relentless he is in reaching out to people and trying to find possible grounds for a connection. Even when he has cause to be bitter he tries to find good things to say. Only on civil rights and Whitewater does some natural resentment show, and even then he clearly tries to keep it in check.
on December 27, 2004
Too much of a good thing, this Presidential autobiography is virtually a day-by-day account of the Bill Clinton political years. It isn't the length that frustrated me as much as the futility of the narrative...long, numbing passages with page after page of schedules, itineraries and celebrity encounters, but then short, easy to miss recaps of important events like the seige at Waco or the Columbine shootings.
There are great, poignant moments. I found myself missing the diversity, economy and peace of the Clinton years. His struggles for finding a resolution to Middle East conflicts, particularly with the late Yassir Arafat. The devastating defeat in the 2000 elections. It's all the more stunning to recognize how many of his accomplishments have since been done in.
It's unfortunate he did not have a more trusted advisor to judiciously edit this work...it could have been a more compelling read, instead of akin to going through his Daily Planner. Even so, it remains important historical, political reading and is clearly told in Bill Clinton's ever optimistic voice.
on June 22, 2004
Just to let you know that I am objective in this, I am a big fan of Clinton. I think he was a good president who got a raw deal. I will also admit, I havent read all of it yet--in fact Im about 300 pages in to this voluminous memoir.
That said, its pretty dull stuff. His legendary attention to detail is evident, often recounting individuals and events with stunning particularity. Its just a shame he doesnt bring any depth to them by describing more personalities of people, more backgound into events and more color to situations. As a result, it reads more like an anecdote or joke that only he and who he is talking about are in on.
Nothing I have read has really grabbed me (like Richard Clarke's Against All Enemies did consistently). Even events that were incredibly interesting from a public's point of view, like Monica, are presented as pretty dull and downplayed.
Anyway, I'm not sure if I'm going to finish it. It doesnt seem worth the time. If you're thinking about getting it, keep in mind that a $20 nutcracker or dustcollector on a bookshelf isn't necessarily worth the price. I would wait until paperback if I could do it again.