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117 of 122 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why Clinton Made the Decisions He Did
Taylor Branch and Bill Clinton were comrades-in-arms in the Texas Campaign of George McGovern for President. Twenty years later after he took office, Clinton invited his old friend in to offer him an important job. He wanted Branch to be his White House historian, his "Arthur Schlesinger." That plan didn't work out, but the two old friends did decide to make some "living...
Published on September 29, 2009 by James R. Holland

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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Like eating two day old left overs!
I have to say this book was a major disappointment. Taylor Branch was a glorified court reporter who dutifully reported on anything Clinton said without offering any insights or questions which may have lead to the end of his special relationship with the President. This book offers nothing that has already been offered up in Bill Clinton's own memoirs and, in many...
Published on November 28, 2009 by R. C Sheehy


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117 of 122 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why Clinton Made the Decisions He Did, September 29, 2009
Taylor Branch and Bill Clinton were comrades-in-arms in the Texas Campaign of George McGovern for President. Twenty years later after he took office, Clinton invited his old friend in to offer him an important job. He wanted Branch to be his White House historian, his "Arthur Schlesinger." That plan didn't work out, but the two old friends did decide to make some "living history," no holds-barred contemporary tape recordings of the events of Bill Clinton's Presidency as they occurred.
Taylor made two duplicate tape recordings of each of 79 two-hour interviews conducted over a period between 1993 and 2001. In order to insure that the President felt like he could talk candidly about even the most delicate subjects, it was agreed that Clinton would keep both tape recordings of each interview in his personal possession. Clinton put both of the only copies into "what he called `a good hiding place'--his sock drawer" in the dressing room next to his and Hillary's White House bedroom.
This book is not a transcription of those secret tapes. It is the author's recollections and notes of each of those two-hour "shooting the bull" confabs. After turning over the recordings to Clinton for safe storage in his super-secret hiding place, Taylor Branch would drive himself home. During the hour it usually took him to reach his driveway when driving home late at night and early in the morning, he would make another tape recording of his impressions and recollections of what was said during the earlier White House interviews. These "driving home tape recordings," his notes and memory are the basis of this 700 plus-page book. Clinton or his library will probably eventually release the President's tapes, but as of this date, they are still secret although the President told his old friend that he used much of the material in them for his own memoir and was delighted to have it.
The book includes a very detailed 38-page index that makes this material much more accessible to the reader. Unlike other recent memoirs by major political players this book doesn't ignore negative events in the life of the book's main character. Monica Lewinsky, Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones et al are listed in the index dozens of times with lots of cross-references. It's easy to locate the material that most interests the reader or researcher. That makes this book a particularly good reference book. Ever since this reviewer took a speed-reading class in high school, rapid consumption of the printed word has been the norm. However, this book isn't all unfamiliar territory. Because this reader and most of the first readers of this volume will have lived through much of this very recent history and already have a decent knowledge of the events in it, it's difficult to speed read this book. The reader constantly comes across details of the story that cause the reader to have to slow down, pause and carefully consider how these new insights on the events differ from the reader's own knowledge and understanding of the events as gathered from the news media. It's a real pleasure to actually hear a first-hand account of the details of President Clinton discussing how he came to a particular decision and why it had to be that way. Whatever the interested reader's own political party, beliefs and personal opinions of William Jefferson Clinton they can't help but be impressed with this book. It's amazing how a person's opinions can change when they learn all the options and politics that led to a certain decision. That goes for decisions about last minute pardons, signing off on the Special Prosecutor's deal that would enable him to avoid confessing any guilt and only surrender his license to practice law in Arkansas for five years and bring the endless ordeal of investigations to a final conclusion. It also allowed the Clintons to start paying off the millions of dollars in legal bills that those never-ending investigations had run up.
This book is packed with fresh material about the not-so secret events of Clinton's two terms as President of the United States. It's filled with the way Clinton liked to talk and express things in his natural southern folksy way.
This reviewer particularly enjoyed the end of the book where Al Gore also sat in for a recorded discussion with his boss and Branch. There is lot of fascinating information that resulted from that candid discussion and remarkably; this reviewer's opinion of both politicians was much improved because of it.
It was also enlightening to learn that while Clinton had thought he'd miss being in the Oval Office, he was surprised and relieved to be out of the pressure cooker of the Presidency. He'd thought he would play a lot of golf after he left the White House only to discover that while he enjoyed the escape from the constant pressure and stress while serving as President, he didn't care that much for golf once he was out of office. He preferred other mentally stimulating activities such as reading more. This book, the author's taped recollections and of course the secret tapes that Clinton still retains, are already very important and interesting history. This is a terrific read or if the reader prefers, an extremely helpful reference book to dip into whenever additional information is needed about any Clinton action, policy or his feelings about it. Naturally there are some touching family incidents described in the volume as well.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A terrific eight-year conversation, October 10, 2009
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President Clinton had not been in office long before he summoned Taylor Branch, an original "FOB" (friend of Bill) and noted Martin Luther King scholar, to begin a series of taped conversations as Clinton's own presidency progressed. The result of these hours of dialogue forms the basis and narrative of Branch's book, "The Clinton Tapes", resurrecting the author's recollections of these discussions. It was an immense undertaking and is full of historical reward.

We learn so much about Bill Clinton, the man and the president, that would otherwise not be known, until or unless the tapes, (which President Clinton has) are released for public consumption. What is perhaps not so surprising is that many major current events change so quickly. Reflecting on the early years of the Clinton presidency, who remembers now so much focus on Haiti and President Jean-Bertrand Aristide? Even the war in Kosovo and other former Yugoslav republics are now in the background of many of our thoughts. Of course, the Middle East, the Korean peninsula, India and Pakistan are still "current", but many of the players have changed. Yasir Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin and Jordan's King Hussein are all gone now, but Clinton's examination of them makes it seem like just yesterday. We get to see a president who is utterly engaged in peace processes around the world with a deep understanding of the conflicts that arose during that time.

We also witness a personal side of Bill Clinton that is remarkable. He is often so dead tired that Taylor Branch finds him nodding off during their meetings. The president loves basketball and his own golf game, but isn't particularly knowledgeable about baseball. More than occasionally he seems to suffer from some physical injury or allergies depending on the day and season. Clinton dislikes the media intensely (as do most presidents) and through Branch's remembrances Clinton remains very close to Hillary and Chelsea. But there's humor, too...Clinton's own comparison of being president and running a cemetery is very funny, and Arafat's self-deprecating joke is hysterical! A more poignant and steamed up Bill Clinton, however, has a candid conversation toward the final chapters with outgoing vice president Al Gore regarding the reasons for Gore's loss of the White House. Those few pages are among the best in the book.

A significant question that any reader might have is this: "as a friend of the president, was Taylor Branch too close for impartial recall?" I suspect the answer is yes AND no, as Branch ponders that proximity throughout the book. If there is one downside to "The Clinton Tapes" it is on that very point...the author injects himself a little too much sometimes into the narrative. That said, this historic book covers the Clinton presidency at every level and most likely will be the best look at the White House from 1993-2001 from an outsider's point of view. I highly recommend it.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Provocative reading, October 14, 2009
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Taylor Branch served as a diarist for Bill Clinton while he was Presdient, meeting with him at various times, to record his thoughts and impressions of current events, politicians, etc. These tapes he then gave to the President, but made his own tapes on the drive back home of what he remembered being said that day. This book is based from the latter tapes.

The book provides many fascinating details and insights from a very astute and intelligent man during his tenure in office as President of the United States. Even better is that this information is not colored by hindsight from thoughts taken years later-like, his impressions of Yeltsin or Assad while he was dealing with them and not after their death, or his thinking about Whitewater as the investigation progresses at various stages and not after he left office and was exonerated.

Whatever your feelings are about Bill Clinton, this book will give you a better idea of the vissitudes that a President faces and in this book, how he handled them.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new genre of literature; astute and complex, October 19, 2009
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Taylor Branch is a noted historian and Pulitizer Prize winner for one of the three massive and excellent books he wrote concerning the late Rev. Nartin Luther King, Jr., and the civil rights movement. As he explains early in the book, scholars have been grappling with how to render an impartial version of the history of presidencies, now that huge libraries are being built to contain the plethora of items that touch upon every Prresident: legislation, correspondence, electronic taping, gifts, memorabilia, etc.

Reagan was aware of this issue and appointed an official biographer early in his tenure and Edmund Morris, a noted historian himself, was given unprecedented access to the President and his White House. His resulting work failed, however, for many reasons, most notably that he was unable to retain the journalistic distance needed to create a proper history.

President Clinton and Branch knew one another during the McGovern campaign in 1972, sharing an apartment in Texas to help run that area of the operation. When he was elected, being aware of the historical issues I've noted, Clinton contacted Branch and asked him for a recommendation on how the needs of history could be met. What they settled upon has been described in many places, so I'll save some time.

This is what Branch created based on his observations of the process he and the President underwent. As in any good history, there is distance and criticism, as well as nearly overwhelming detail. "Wrestling History" is a great title, as a comparison between it and Clinton's own autobiography finds many differences and I think the interested reader will enjoy both, as they reveal different facets of the same President and the semi-universe of a modern presidency.

What I gleaned the most from Branch's book was, somewhat surprisingly, how big a role politics -- the horse-trading, the pork-barrelling, peevishness, etc. -- shapes a President's (or Congress') accomplishments. Perhaps I'm naive, but I'd like to think that occasionally Washington operates on a "need to help" basis, and thus this book can be quite disillusioning. It's particularly good reading right now as we watch the pols toss around universal health care one more time.

Branch belabors his efforts to remain honest and impartial, regardless of the consequences. For that reason I suspect it will not be popular, but will have earned its place in history.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Captivating Memoir of a Presidency and a Decade, November 6, 2009
Expertly written, Taylor Branch's memoir of his taping sessions with the president is fascinating history in its own right. It took me longer to read than I had originally anticipated; as a journal of his experiences, the only intact narrative thread is chronological. Subjects veer off and disappear to be replaced at random with new (and often entirely unrelated) segues and fleeting impressions. It's something of a revelation that this kind of patchwork journalism does, in fact, leave the reader with a clear and vibrant portrait of both Clinton and his presidency.

While the gossipy anecdotes are sure to provide fodder for cocktail conversation, the substance of the book can be found principally in the extended descriptions of Clinton's forays in international diplomacy. Governing, in some respects, is much more about politics than we often realize; a reality at odds with the conventional view that the "permanent campaign" pitfalls of a 24-hour news environment have corrupted the political process. In other words, the sympathetic view of Clinton presented in this book is a natural consequence of high political stakes being met by a first-class political mind.

For those who might think that Taylor Branch is too sympathetic to Clinton to be able to write about him objectively, I suggest that they read his civil rights trilogy. He's too smart to allow himself to be cast as a blatantly sycophantic propagandist; he acquits himself here with grace, intelligence and an appropriate level of deference.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Like eating two day old left overs!, November 28, 2009
I have to say this book was a major disappointment. Taylor Branch was a glorified court reporter who dutifully reported on anything Clinton said without offering any insights or questions which may have lead to the end of his special relationship with the President. This book offers nothing that has already been offered up in Bill Clinton's own memoirs and, in many cases, sounds like a reheat of everything he said in that.

I loved parting the waters and know that Taylor Branch can offer canny and intelligent insight on a topic and that is why this book is such a disappointment. He really causes one to wonder what he was really trying to do?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Reveals Major Shortcomings of TV News, January 3, 2010
It goes without saying that TV news is on the bottom rung of informative news sources. Reading a newspaper simply by virtue of the length of it's articles outclass a minute or two of filmed sound bites. Magazines and even internet news is more substantial. Read enough sources and you should get balanced coverage.

Think back to the soundtrack of the eight years of the Clinton administration. If you have read any of the books by Clinton's reasonably intelligent friends or enemies, they don't resemble the TV coverage at all. The TV image of the dumb Southern Bubba who ate cheeseburgers all day, waffled over every policy, embezzled bank funds, screwed every female and was impeached is hugely superficial.

I didn't vote for Clinton either time, but we have all noticed this image problem with virtually every politician or public person who rises to some level of fame. The need to sell creates an industry cycle: raise them up and tear them down. All media people need an "angle" and TV most of all to flesh out their short snippets. They latch on to caricatures the way 19th century cartoonists did and it blinds them to everyday texture.

This book isn't the whole story. It doesn't apologize, vindicate or aggrandize Clinton. But it sure is texture.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Clinton Tapes, March 12, 2010
With former President Clinton in the news lately, we thought it would be a good time to look at the most recent book covering his White House years, `The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President' by Taylor Branch.

The first thing that bears mention, is that this is not a book of transcripts of secret (or not so secret) White House tapes made in the Oval Office a la Nixon or even LBJ. The book is rather the recollections of Pulitzer Prize winning author, Taylor Branch (`Parting the Waters' about the rise of Martin Luther King) who was hired by Clinton to conduct a series of late-night interviews with the then president to chronicle his years in the White House; tapes that Clinton himself, has held onto for his own posterity, library, book, etc...

While not nearly a direct transcript, Branch's deckle edged book is based on a series of detailed recollections from his discussions with Clinton that revel the president's insider views and opinions on all the major issues of his two-term presidency. The range of topics is wide, moving adroitly from issues of a domestic nature (health care, gays in the military, campaign finance reform, the environment, the media and his major work on behalf of the economy and the balanced budget amendment) to foreign affairs (the middle east peace process, Bosnia, Somalia, Iraq, Haiti, etc.) to politics (the mid-term elections, the contest with Bob Dole in 1996 and some harsh words reserved for Al Gore in the wake of the 2000 debacle, as well as relations with the House and Senate Republicans and their pestiferous leader, Newt Gingrich).

Some of the best and worst moments are those reserved exclusively for the Clintons, where Branch's affinity for his former campaign worker friend (they knew each other from George McGovern's presidential run 20 years earlier) show a certain favoritism for giving the Clintons at least the benefit of the doubt. Subjects like Whitewater, Vince Foster, Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky are tempered by the more personal stories involving Clinton's golf game, Hillary's various social issues as well as the close relationship of both parents with daughter Chelsea.

In all, what emerges from The Clinton Tapes is an intimate look at a man who is a deep analytical thinker, a leader that is well schooled on his job and who considers the down-the-line implications of every move much like an experienced chessman. Once Clinton finally decides to release the tapes, we should have a window into even more of the nuances of the issues chronicled here, but until then, The Clinton Tapes serves as a rare window into a complex and issue filled eight-year term at the top.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Clinton Tapes, March 4, 2010
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P. Brown (San Antonio, TX USA) - See all my reviews
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I orginally checked this book out at my branch library. I liked it so well I wanted to have it in my personal library. It is more than just the scandalous books published or the one-sided books written by liberals published. on Clinton. I felt even though the author was a friend of Clinton he seemed to try to be objecctive. I especially liked the part on Haiti and it's never ending problems which Clinton was so frustrated in trying to solve. No one will solve Haiti's problems in the foreseeable future because of its culture, graft and politics.

My husband and I were stationed in Puerto Rico 1957-1960 and the problems were just as bad then as now. The U.S. Army did have a presence in Haiti but it was very low key and only a few people knew about it on our post.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Compelling - Branch Proves Again Why He is One of the Very Best Historians!, November 17, 2009
"Taylor Branch proved he is one of our best historians with his series about the civil rights movement which included Parting the Waters. If you have not read any of Branch's books you have missed one of our best. What do you say about President Bill Clinton that has not already been said? A lot, if Clinton believes in you, which Clinton does with Branch and because of this confidence Branch shares details about Clinton that are compelling."
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The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President
The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President by Taylor Branch (Hardcover - September 29, 2009)
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