book about the messes Bill Clinton got himself into? Well, yes, but with a difference: Jeffrey Toobin's A Vast Conspiracy
is the first to provide readers with comprehensive behind-the-scenes details of the machinations of independent counsel Kenneth Starr's team of prosecutors, lawyers for Monica Lewinsky and Paula Jones, and
congressional members as the president's "inappropriate relationship" snowballed into the country's first impeachment proceedings in over a century.
Toobin's narrative is one of the most levelheaded versions of the 1998 scandal yet published, although he has very few kind words for anybody involved. "No other major political controversy in American history produced as few heroes as this one," he notes, and "in spite of his consistently reprehensible behavior, Clinton was, by comparison, the good guy in this struggle." While debunking Hillary Rodham Clinton's claims that she and her husband were the victims of a "vast right-wing conspiracy" (a claim that ignores Clinton's responsibility for his actions), Toobin does demonstrate how lawyers for Paula Jones collaborated with Linda Tripp and Lucianne Goldberg to build the most damaging case possible against the president. (He also suggests, not without cause, that Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff worked more closely with Tripp and Goldberg than he reported in his own book, Uncovering Clinton.)
While for the most part discreetly judgmental, A Vast Conspiracy sometimes borders on cruel in its descriptions of Monica Lewinsky: after describing a 45-minute discussion between Clinton and his sometime sex partner, Toobin comments, "An actual conversation with Lewinsky may have been the thing that cured the president of his infatuation," and then later, "There were few better measures of Tripp's dedication to her book research and Clinton-hating than the simple fact that she tolerated Lewinsky's inane chatter for so long." Yet his portrayal of Lewinsky as "a genuine, if occasional, sexual partner as well as an obsessed, unhinged fan" is, thanks to his rich storytelling abilities, compelling. (Whether it's true remains to be seen; some readers of his previous book, The Run of His Life, believe that Toobin's portrayal of O.J. Simpson seriously underestimated the suspected killer.) And, although it will no doubt get overlooked amidst all the salacious details of the case, Toobin makes a good argument for how the whole brouhaha was an inevitable result of several decades of "legal activism," in which lawsuits were used to achieve broad political changes. Between Richard Posner's musings on the legal aspects of the impeachment hearings in An Affair of State and Toobin's narrative reconstruction of the events leading up to the impeachment, we have the beginnings of a calm consideration of just what exactly happened to American politics during Clinton's second term. --Ron Hogan
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Thomas Powers The New York Times Book Review An admirably clear, vigorously written, plain-spoken and common-sensical book.
Anthony Lewis The New York Review of Books A superb work of factual and legal analysis....Few novels are as gripping.
People A story as taut and surprising as any thriller....Unimpeachable page-turner.
David Kaiser The Boston Globe An irresistibly readable new overview of the whole ugly case.
The Economist A good read...a brave book.
Floyd Abrams The New York Observer A superlatively researched and written book.
Wayne Woodlief Boston Herald A richly detailed narrative...[and] a fascinating read.
Michael Coffey Publishers Weekly Toobin has risen to the challenge of rendering the chaos of the impeachment, what led up to it and its denouement, in a sharp prose style and in a manner that makes sense of a disastrous phase of American political history.
Sherryl Connelly Daily News Compulsively readable....A Vast Conspiracy delivers new information, provides arresting perspective and is a helluva read for all that.
Chicago Sun-Times A rich and readable reprise of the Clinton scandals by the New Yorker writer who shows brilliantly how the American legal system spun out of control.