Comprehensive, detailed and surprisingly easy to read, this biography of Hillary Clinton should be read by anyone who has a vote in any of the upcoming Democratic primaries and, if she wins that party's nomination, anyone planning to vote in 2008. Sure, many people claim to already know all they need to about Mrs. Clinton, but reading this book you really start to understand her. And whether you love her or hate her, your opinion just might be changed.
An amazingly interesting book, "A Woman in Charge" is divided into three sections. The first 70 pages cover Clinton's childhood in Chicago and college years. The next 100 recount her years in Arkansas. The remaining 350 focus on Hillary's experience as First Lady, with just a few devoted to her time as a senator.
From a young child's love of earning Girl Scout merit badges, to a 14-year-old Goldwater Girl's trip to see Martin Luther King, to a modern senator's remarkably unique reason for voting for authorized force against Iraq (she said it would make "war less likely"), there's never a dull moment. And thanks to interviews with more than 200 Clinton associates and more than 500 footnotes, every sentence rings true.
The book doesn't offer any juicy gossip, but does have lots of intimate behind-the-scenes detail. Hillary's first college boyfriend supplies Bernstein with the letters she wrote to him (what a jerk!), in which the 18-year-old freshman describes herself as "a progressive, an ethical Christian and a political activist" who is nevertheless "outrageous... as outrageous as a moral Methodist can get." Later on, Bernstein reveals that Bill Clinton asked Hillary to marry him many times before she finally said yes, and that once in Arkansas he told her he had fallen in love with another woman and wanted a divorce, which she refused. Toward the end of the book, the author recounts a moment during the peak of the Lewinsky crisis, when Stevie Wonder met Hillary at a White House dinner and insisted on taking her to a private room to perform a song he had written for her -- about forgiveness.
What impressed me most about "A Woman in Charge" is how well it is written. Though every chapter is meticulously well documented, each explains its often-complex story in a clear and engaging style. You can picture yourself in the Yale dorm room when, in 1968, the politically active junior hears of Martin Luther King's assassination and pounds the wall, screaming "I can't stand it anymore! I can't take it!" And you can't help but cringe when you read of Hillary's first meeting with Virginia Cassidy Blythe Clinton Dwire -- Bill's mom -- after the charismatic woman with the "white-striped hair and fondness for fast men, fast horses, red lipstick and false eyelashes" had driven up to New Haven from Arkansas in 1972: "Virginia thought Hillary was a fright," Bernstein writes, "her hair badly cut (she had chopped it herself that semester, to save money), no makeup, and jeans, her preferred posture tending toward a hippie slouch."
Equally compelling are the White House chapters, as Bernstein explains how Hillary's own overzealous promotion of her 1993 health-care plan ironically caused it to fail, but how her similar devotion to defending Bill against impeachment charges caused that fight to succeed.
"A Woman in Charge" includes eight pages of black-and-white photos, mostly from Clinton's years as First Lady. Under the book jacket is a plain gray cover.
All in all, what emerges is a sympathetic portrait of an extremely bright and talented American woman who has overcome a lot to get where she is -- but can nevertheless be cold, calculating and, worst of all, sometimes completely clueless on how to get things done. Bernstein shows how Hillary has learned from many of her mistakes and excelled in the Senate, but in the process has formed such a "protective shell" around her true character that she may, or may not, have what it takes to win the nomination, get elected, and be a great President.
Carl Bernstein, top-notch investigative reporter and prolific writers in our time, has tackled many tough subjects in his time, starting with bringing down an American president. His new subject, Senator Hillary Clinton, is yet another tough subject that he attempts, not to bring down, to bring "to light" in his new biography "A Woman in Charge". The overall result is entertaining and enlightening.
Need I bother to try to introduce one of the most controversial figures in American History, at least in the 20th and 21st centuries? Many people have their well-formed (if not well informed) opinions about Hillary, based on her history, her time in the White House as First Lady, and her life after. Certainly, this book is not going to sway those that support her, and those that hate her, into a new direction. I don't believe that Bernstein's intended audience was either group.
I believe, with this book, he was aiming for those Americans (and there are many) who claim not to know much about the illusive senator from New York. And now that she's put her face out there as a possible candidate for election, I believe this population will benefit the most from reading this book.
Bernstein's coverage of her life is complete, and focuses mainly on the time in the 90's as she became her most controversial. The Hillary that emerges from this book is certianly a complex woman, but one of strong opinion and certain mind. I was intrigued by her internal strength of character, as portrayed by Bernstein, after the entire Monica affair swept the White House. Of course, that may be the part of the book that most interests us, a greedy public hungry for the inside scoop of what really went on. You won't find that here, but you'll find a resolute Hillary, battered by the news, and yet surprisingly resilient. I can't imagine anyone doing anything else during that tumultuous time than what she did.
In short, Bernstein's Hillary has added to my depth of knowledge of Hillary, and provided an slight insight into her persona. While I do believe it impossible for one person to truly grasp the content of anyone's character in just one book (look at how many books are written about Lincoln, still today!), I believe Bernstein got close to the real Hillary, or the Hillary that I prefer to see.
I would recommend before you make any judgements on anyone's character, you spend a little time reading about that person before you make your informed opinion. A Woman in Charge would be a good addition to your bank of knowledge.
on July 26, 2007
A Woman in Charge is a wonderfully written book. As a good journalist Carl Bernstein wrote a story that was absolutely fascinating about the most dynamic and important couple in recent US history. In reading this book I understood the true nature of the partnership between Hillary and Bill. I also understood at least from Bernstein's point of view how the relations in a marriage can shape history. Unfortunately because the book does stops really with the White House years we do not get his assessment of how Hillary has changed. I read this book in the hope it would help me make up my mind on who to vote for and because it did not cover the Senate years it did not help.
There are several fascinating insights in the book. The first for me was how even early on Hillary had the ability to attract people to her. In high school and college and finally law school she clearly stood out as an extraordinary person. People were drawn to her because of her intellect and ability to get things done.
Second as she grew she sincerely felt herself to be a partner in a venture whether in Arkansas or in Washington. Bill was the front man and the dreamer. She was behind the scene with the ability to get things done. She was a person who saw a goal, was convinced she knew how to achieve it and then would stop at nothing to achieve it. In short she was a dangerous person, not unlike our current president.
Third and more hopeful she seems to have the ability to learn from her mistakes and to grow. It is a shame that Bernstein does not spend more time on her Senate career.
The most interesting point was the dynamics between Bill and Hllary. I got the feeling that Bill is a force of nature. Brillant but undisciplined but totally charming. HIllary could not control him but worked at it never endingly and accepted her role. He also was attached to her in an interesting way that is hard to understand. They really were joined together and were not really independent.
The last point is the problem with books that are based upon interviews. It is so difficult to know how credible the book is when you do not know all the sources.
In summary it is a great story about a remarkable woman. It is a well done effort and very enjoyable.
on February 2, 2016
In this 2016 election, it is very important to read this book, "A Woman in Charge..." by Carl Bernstein, especially if your vision of Hillary Clinton is colored by 40 years of political attacks from Clinton enemies. All of Hillary's adult life, she has fought for civil rights, children's rights and women's rights. Even in the southern state of Arkansas in the 70's, she was instrumental in getting the first rape crisis center in Fayetteville and the first legal aid center at the University of Arkansas. She and her husband had a vision for the Democratic Party, to have it be inclusive of all Americans, no matter social status, race, ethnicity, religion, etc. And they realized that vision. From that time on, any time Bill ran for office, the Clinton enemy attack machine was in full force, and a large focus of that attack was on Hillary: she's too liberal, she's too aggressive, she's a radical feminist, she's a corporate sellout.... What she is and what she's learned is that her goals have to be tempered with practicality and pragmatism. She reads the landscape: seeing the obstacles, recognizing which ones are malevolent and taking expedient action accordingly. Bernstein's book lays it all out, dirty laundry and all. To me, the biggest mistakes she (and Bill) have made were in "circling the wagons", protecting self instead of trying to be forthcoming. And that led to political mountains made out of molehills and a tarnished perception of Hillary Clinton. Bernstein has written a must read book if one wants to try to understand Hillary Clinton.
on June 13, 2007
Hillary Clinton biographies have a strange bit of currency right now. They are important for revealing both a life led, and a life that may, quite literally, lead. After all, most important biographies emerge only after their subjects have made their marks. To be sure, Hillary Clinton has made a mark, but with her Presidential campaign gathering steam, the most important Hillary tomes may lie decades in the future. And that future may be influenced by this very three-dimensional, one-dimensional character.
Consequently, anyone reading Bernstein's impressive, even-handed account of Hillary's life should do so with one prevailing question in mind: Would she make a good President? Well, for starters, let's discuss three of her "least" appealing traits, which according to Bernstein are a) her demand for absolute loyalty b) her first-strike mentality, and c) her "truth trimming". Now...it seems to me we've just been through eight years of all of that, and the results haven't exactly been terrific, n'est-ce pas?
As for the first unappealing trait, Bernstein notes that, during their time in the White House, Bill surrounded himself with a wide coterie of political persuasions and philosophies, while Hillary constructed a soi-disant "Hillaryland" inhabited by sycophants and yes-men. Indeed, her inveterate belief in only one answer (her own) even colored she and her husband's short stints as teachers at the same law school. Bill's class was marked by creative problem solving and was rarely limited by conventional textbooks; whereas Professor Hillary saw only one truth and made damned well certain her students formed opinions through the same colored glasses.
As for the second unappealing trait--the first strike mentality--one episode from Bernstein's book is especially illuminating. As her health care reform effort struggled, Hillary and Bill met with the eminently thoughtful and well-regarded Democratic Senators Bill Bradley and Patrick Moynihan. Hillary told the two Senators that part of her plan to push health care through the Congress was to "demonize" her opponents. Bradley and Moynihan were shocked by the carelessness with which she announced her intentions, as if this were nothing new, just part of the game. Said Bradley: "That was it for me in terms of Hillary Clinton. You don't tell members of the Senate you're going to demonize them. It was obviously so basic to who she is. The arrogance. The assumption that people with questions are enemies. The disdain. The hypocrisy."
The third unappealing trait--her truth trimming--is one that is perhaps both excused by the fact she is a politician, and inexcusable because she is, ostensibly, a public servant. It is a frequently observed shame that those entrusted with the public's best interest are often those with the least interest in any but their own. And Hillary's patterns of prevarications are no different. The road to the Whitewater Scandal is described in considerable detail, and while its tale of corruption may be hopelessly murky, perhaps the only clarity that emerges is Hillary's problem with the truth. As David Geffen famously announced months ago: "Everybody in politics lies, but they [the Clintons] do it with such ease, it's troubling."
So I'll ask: We've had a White House teeming with sycophants for eight years, committed to a noxious first-strike mentality (most recently on display during the immigration battle), and one that has struggled with handling the truth on some pretty fundamental issues (like, um, war.). Do we want another eight years of the same, regardless of party or persuasion?
While the preceding paints a picture conservatives would very much like Americans to hang over their hearths, Bernstein takes care to present Hillary Clinton the sinner in the context of, first and foremost, Hillary Clinton the saint. As I read about this woman, I moved from seething anger to great sorrow and then back again like the desultory opinion polls that hounded her husband's Presidency. In one scene, Hillary plays the role of draconian Cruella (see her merciless treatment of former best bud Vince Foster before his suicide), and in the other, she attends private women's prayer groups, speaks movingly of human rights abuses in China, and dons bullet proof vests to protect herself from right-wing extremists' death threats. The vast right wing conspiracy of which she is so fond of speaking may not be fueled by simple hate, but it certainly has approximated something close to it, and regardless of its ultimate animus, the VRWC certainly is vast, conservative, and well-orchestrated.
Unfortunately, Hillary Clinton has been subjected to a great amount of unfair criticism, and her ability to absorb her husband's persistent philandering is shocking in its strength. At various points in the book, I shook my head and wondered: How much emotional pain and hurt can one person take, and why, why oh why, would she open up her life to the relentless attacks yet again?
That is a question with no easy answer, for as Bernstein notes, her youthful idealism for progressive causes largely died with the failure of her health care plan. The young woman who once railed against the power of corporations now regularly consorts with them. The young woman who once mocked the country song "Stand by your man" stood by hers through a list of marital indiscretions so large that Bill Clinton's chief of staff one remarked it would take a warehouse, not a filing cabinet to contain all the women's names. And most tragically of all, this young woman who once found power only in ideas, now seems to have an idea only for power.
on September 30, 2007
I definitely recommend this book if you are wanting to get better acquainted with the character of Hillary Clinton. The author was unbiased and sought to display her from every angle, the good and the bad. I came away with a greater sense of what makes her tick; an understanding of what keeps her and hubby together.
He does a great job by giving quotes and portraying their personal feelings in various situations that lets one see what makes her stay. Her and Bill are co-dependent. Neither would have reached their height without the other. One's weakness is made up in the other's strength and vice versa. Both had such a passion to leave a mark on this world for the good, to help the down and out, to make this a better place for all to live. In spite of the sexual weaknesses and some of the perhaps shady decisions she made in her law practice, they both wanted to make a difference. This is what was a magnet, attracting them to each other. Clinton did no more than Kennedy, he just got caught with his pants down while he was in office, not after the fact. While it is immoral, there are a lot of lessons to be learned about our society in general. It really makes us stop and look at the values and norms we are dealing with today. The book goes into great detail about the politics which I do think was necessary to fully understand the person; however, it seems a little wordy at times, making the reading a little slow. But I would definitely recommend.
What do you most want to know about Hillary Clinton? If it's why she stayed in her marriage to the wandering Bill, you'll probably find A Woman in Charge will satisfy your curiosity.
If your question is what kind of a president she might make, you could feel pretty clueless after reading this book. The only substantive issue since 1994 that's addressed here is her thinking about voting for the Iraq War. Democrats will probably draw the happy conclusion from A Woman in Charge that she's learned from all of her mistakes and will be virtually perfect in staying in tune with the voters and Congress. Republicans will be concerned that she will be the aggressive opponent who successfully fought off an impeachment vote and spend all of her time painting Republicans as the enemy. Both views are probably off the mark, but you won't know that from reading this book.
Carl Bernstein's view of Hillary Clinton is that her faith, her father, and her husband shaped her more than she shaped herself. A Woman in Charge portrays a sincere Methodist who feels called to make a public contribution, a docile daughter who was mistreated by her father, and a woman who put her commitment to her husband, her marriage, and her child above her self interest. Mr. Bernstein sees Hillary as a woman who would have become the best of her generation if she had stuck to hanging out with good role models and well-behaving people. He seems vaguely annoyed that falling in love with Bill Clinton caused Hillary's pathway to veer into Arkansas and highly partisan sniping. Her career since 2000 is briefly described as going back to learning the ropes the right way after having lost her original sense of purpose . . . in other words, she's running her life based on old habits and a desire to win rather than bright-eyed idealism. In a sense, you might say that this biography casts her life as a sort of tragedy for her and the nation.
Mr. Bernstein also wants to inflate her story to a bigger size than it is. Rather than seeing the defeat of health care reform as yet another Democratic failure in a series of many failures over decades, Mr. Bernstein transforms the defeat into the end of the Democratic Party and almost seems to hint that she single-handedly created the George W. Bush presidency through her efforts to defend Bill while he was president. I think his sense of drama is misplaced. Hillary Clinton was an activist First Lady, but she certainly wasn't the wheel around which all politics rotated from 1993-2000.
What does the title of the book refer to? After Bill was no longer president, Mr. Bernstein argues that Hillary could set her own course without being limited by directions and issues that Bill creates.
It's a curious choice of titles given that the book devotes almost no attention to her post White House life. You could almost argue that the title is a spin tactic of the sort that politicians and their handlers are so fond of using with journalists.
Although I haven't read any other biographies of Hillary Clinton, I suspect that this book will be far from the definitive story. I suspect that a trained historian could do a better job than a journalist could. Hillary Clinton is too polarizing a figure for a journalist to perceive from an objective distance.
on October 14, 2007
While the book was compelling in it's detail I kept waiting for that "aha!" moment when I would truely understand Hilary. Perhaps Hilary's need to protect her privacy, while understandable, will never alow us to really know who she is. Clearly this book, creates a picture of a woman who has been through a great deal of pain, much of it is of her own choosing. It begs the question--has she learned anything form these experiences, other than to hide who she is? Her goals have been high minded and her methods have been high handed. It appears that, in the senate, where she was not "in charge" she has done good work. If she becomes president she will certainly know the teritory. However, my question is whether she will be expansive and creative enough in her thinking to adapt to new situations as they arise. One small note is that the school (Maine South) and the neighborhood was hardly as diverse as the author described. As a graduate of Maine East, a few years behind her I can tell you that Maine South from which she graduated was clearly seen as the" Wasp/Rich Kid's " school. Having said all that it was still an enjoyable read.
on September 5, 2007
This biography was worth reading but quite a slog. Bernstein's book is good because it is chock full of content but it suffers terribly from lack of editing. (Have publishing houses abdicated their editing responsibilities when authors are famous? How sad...) Bernstein needed a strong editor to call out: Enough already! We get the picture!
That said, the book is most helpful when Bernstein does what he knows best: reporting. The scores of quotes from those who have lived and worked and battled with Hillary Clinton over the years, paint a fascinating picture of the woman from school years at least through her husband's presidency. For that reason alone the book was hard to put down. And for that painstaking work the author deserves praise - he has done the public a service in digging into Hillary Clinton's life as much, seemingly, as is possible given her impenetrable reserve. As other reviewers noted, though, the real portrait unfortunately ends before her years in the Senate. We get only a glimpse of lessons learned and - perhaps - a much more mature Hillary Clinton emerging as a Senator.
Apart from its unnecessary length the book falters most when Bernstein attempts to editorialize and psychologise. Instead I waited in vain for some straightforward concluding thoughts - what one would expect to read in a final chapter or two - that never materialized.
It is surprising how many reviewers believe Bernstein's writing showed a favorable bias toward Clinton. I'm a Democrat but haven't made up my mind about her. I read this wanting to learn about the woman. With that context, the book struck me as overly derogatory, in a very petty way and with really sexist overtones. I do not believe Bernstein intended either slant (I assume he is a Democrat), but it certainly came across that way. He wrote as though he was an 80 year old man describing these "liberated" new-fangled women, with Hillary being the scariest sort because she is so much more energetic and effective in national politics than most men.
I do not believe Bernstein or any other man (or a lot of women, for that matter) would have written this biography with such piling on of venom and condescension if Hillary was male. There would have been a great deal of lauding of her strength and effective action despite some pesky character flaws. Bold thinker! Audacious mover and shaker! You can even see it comparing the portraits of Bill and Hillary in this book: yes they are different personalities, but Bill Clinton comes off so much better even though he has screwed up so much more. Maybe it is just that Carl likes Bill and he doesn't really like Hillary much - that is the feel I got, and maybe that is what people in general think of the two of them.
But I think there is more there that is sexist in nature, and it is not just Bernstein's description of her personality. It's the way he describes her. It is as though he is plain frightened of her. In that perhaps he reveals much more than he intended with this book.
On the other hand, I think Bernstein glosses over the worst of her behavior, namely her actions attempting to ruin the characters of the women with whom her husband had sexual liaisons. That behavior is execrable, the worst kind of sexism itself, and it gives the lie to any of Hillary Clinton's claims to be part of a liberated "sisterhood". It's what makes her foes' description of her as a feminazi, so terribly funny. She is a feminist about like Margaret Thatcher was a feminist. Not so's you'd notice. Her laser-like ambitions for herself and her husband are what drive her: the book reveals that, more than anything else, her ambitions are her ethics.
But the biography hints at her awakening, perhaps, in this arena as well. When she learns of Bill's lying about Lewinsky, her eyes appear to open to the truly responsible party - at least somewhat. Did she realize at that point how wrong she had been about all the other "other" women? Has her religiosity led her to ask for forgiveness for what she did to their reputations in the name of ambition for her husband and herself? I hope so.
I look forward to learning (in a more current biography?) more about Hillary Clinton's Senate years and her behavior these days, to see if the maturation process really has taken hold. She clearly learns from her mistakes. Does she grow ethically more mature as well?
on July 13, 2007
I have read 8 other biographies of Hillary Clinton and her own memoir. This book was, by far, the best of them all. While many of the incidents discussed have been done before, none were done more clearly and placed in context as well as Mr. Bernstein has done. His organization was masterful. It is so hard when many things seem to happen concurrently to make sense of it all in a logical, readable way. This book really helped me sort out my feelings about Mrs. Clinton like no other.