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A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Story of the Sex Scandal That Nearly Brought Down a President Paperback – October 13, 2000

3.6 out of 5 stars 143 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

What--another 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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone; 1st Touchstone ed edition (October 13, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743204131
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743204132
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (143 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #250,142 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jeffrey Toobin is a staff writer at The New Yorker, senior legal analyst at CNN, and the bestselling author of The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court, The Nine, Too Close to Call, A Vast Conspiracy, The Run of His Life and Opening Arguments. A magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School, he lives with his family in New York.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on January 12, 2000
Format: Hardcover
In spite of all the accusations that Toobin is a DNC lackey and a Clinton apologist (even in the New York Times), I am hard pressed to see where he grants the president any leeway. As an attorney, he carefully distinguishes between legal and ethical questions; as a journalist, he is scrupulous about stating (and hedging) facts. His account is entirely credible, and it appears that he is critical about his sources.
It gets less than a perfect score because Mr. Toobin too often succumbs to the temptation of his own moralizing and gossip, even beyond valid criticism of questionable legal practices here and there. The facts about the individuals speak for themselves.
Undoubtedly, Clinton-haters will also hate this book, since it doesn't support their views. Toobin's main point - that there are political operatives in this country who do not respect the democratic process and instead seek redress in the legal system - is amply demonstrated in the Clinton/Lewinsky/Jones/Whitewater fiasco. This is the real news in this affair, not that presidents have uncontrollable egos (and libidos).
I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the whole chain of events and is unafraid of being disgusted even more by everybody.
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By A Customer on January 17, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Before I read this book, I thought the president should have resigned. After I read this book I still thought the president should have resigned. However, the author doesn't share that view. In some ways he is an apologist for the Clintons and that is rather crudely evident. However, I had no idea how unsavory were the forces aligned against him. Toobin gives us a view into a very unsavory and I think immoral group of characters who in some ways were every bit as wrong and immoral as Clinton. Even though I found myself cringing at times with his defense of the president (and don't doubt it, he defends him) I was cringing at those points in the book which did show that a rag-tag bunch of shady characters was trying to overtrow an election through the judicial process. That is evident from some of the insider-perspectives Toobin gives his readers. It's scary to think that one day, a group like this will succeed against a president I really like.
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By A Customer on January 8, 2000
Format: Hardcover
... but Toobin has shown me how much I missed in the mainstream media, and even in the "off the beaten path" outlets like Salon. I had vowed never to read another impeachment book (burned out on the topic). I'm delighted I broke that vow. This book is filled with telling details and revealing connections among the many players (you just think you already know about them). As a fellow author I am in awe of Toobin's fine investigative skills, grasp of the big picture, and inviting writing style. I heartily recommend this title to anyone who wants to know what forces converged to create the impeachment mess. No one is let off the hook. The one thing I would have suggested, had I been Toobin's editor: delete the unnecessary put downs to specific individuals when relating factual information. It tells us more about Toobin's attitude toward the individuals than it does about the people themselves. A couple of examples: Toobin seems unable to resist making mean-spirited remarks about Paula Corbin Jones's hair bows and curls, and Monica Lewinsky's intellectual powers. I have no reason to question his accuracy; only his need to include such pointless observations.
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Format: Hardcover
Unlike many authors, for whom the Clinton scandals have merely provided an opportunity for self-righteous moralizing, tabloid gossip, or both, Toobin sees those events in historical, political context, as the culmination of twenty years of effort on the part of reformers to hijack the legal system in the service of social change. He depicts Bill Clinton's impeachment as Watergate replayed as farce, in which, employing the very same laws and institutions that had been championed by liberals in the name of social reform, a far right that had been stymied by the judicially-created reforms of the civil rights and women's movements, and defeated by the courts during Nixon's impeachment, struck back against baby-boomer Clinton and his administration by means of a sex scandal.
Toobin sets forth his theory through media reports, personal interviews and the legislative record, arguing factually and persuasively for a "vast conspiracy" far vaster and, at the same time, less consensual, than that envisioned by Hillay Clinton, an unwitting collaboration of right and left that ultimately discredited both, while diminishing the American people's respect for all three sectors of government. He misses none of his story's ironies, depicting the ineptness of the special prosecutor-who-was-not-a-prosecutor, the confusion and outrage of liberal Democrats as the very same tools that they had employed in the interest of social justice were coopted by the right, and the the almost Shakespearian psychodrama of flawed character, bad motives and bad luck that transformed a few tacky back-room sexual encounters into a national political crisis.
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