The Survivor is the rare book with positive recommendations from both liberal historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. and Brit Hume of the Fox News Channel. The author, John F. Harris--who covered the Clinton presidency as a political reporter at The Washington Post for six years--finds the perfect balance for his subject, writing with point-blank frankness about Clinton's impressive strengths and many weaknesses and painting an utterly fair portrait of one of the most charismatic and enigmatic political figures of the last 50 years. Harris at times is harsher to Clinton than many of the president's critics were and at other times, as in the case of his impeachment, is far kinder. He occasionally editorializes on the motivations of the Clintons, that ultimate power couple: why their marriage was not (despite public opinion) a sham based on political opportunity; how Bill's upbringing contributed to his willingness to take risks (sometimes to his great harm); and how "permanent Washington," including the presidential press corps, was determined to teach these Arkansas outsiders a lesson in the administration's rocky early days.
Harris peppers the book with both fact and anecdote, moving swiftly from subject to subject. The Survivor shows Clinton's growth as a leader throughout the eight years of his presidency, and how his personal failings almost brought them to a close. Far from being a milquetoast summary of events, The Survivor is a gripping read set behind the scenes in the West Wing. Harris has crafted a brilliant book with writerly style and with an eye on history. The Survivor is one of the best political titles of the year, and--like its subject matter--may be appreciated even more as time goes on. --Jennifer Buckendorff
From Publishers Weekly
In clear, workmanlike prose, veteran Washington Post reporter Harris traces the emotional highs and lows of a presidency with an excess of both. The book takes off after the disastrous (for Democrats) midterm elections of 1994, in part because of the arrival on-scene of a volatile Newt Gingrich and consultant Dick Morris, who is portrayed as quite sleazy. As the political wars over Whitewater and Lewinsky heat up, Harris's behind-the-scenes reporting pays dividends: he finds Gingrich boasting to Clinton, "Mr. President, we are going to run you out of town" and Clinton angrily denouncing the 1998 impeachment attempt as "a fucking coup d'état!" to a blank-faced, unsympathetic Al Gore. According to Harris, "the stereotype of Clinton as a supremely guileful and deceptive politician was essentially wrong." Instead, he views Clinton as an insecure, needy man whose frequent shifts in direction and self-destructive behavior reflected not cunning but utter lack of self-control. He also sees Clinton as growing in strength, self-confidence and wisdom over his eight years in office, and praises his courage in responding to the humanitarian crisis in Kosovo. On terrorism, Harris offers a mixed verdict, crediting Clinton with recognizing the growing threat posed by al-Qaeda and expanding U.S. efforts against it while acknowledging the inadequacy of those efforts. 16 pages of photos not seen by PW.
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