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Bill Clinton: Mastering the Presidency Hardcover – July 10, 2007

3.9 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This second volume of the author's biography casts Clinton's first term as a Miltonian epic of fall and redemption. The years 1993–1994, culminating in the Democrats' loss of Congress in midterm elections, are Paradise Lost: a disastrous failure caused by a weak White House chief of staff (Mack McLarty), Clinton's own promiscuous openness to ideas and indecisiveness and, most of all, co-president Hillary's baleful influence. 1995–1996 are Paradise Regained: a new chief of staff (Leon Panetta) restores order, Hillary learns her place and Clinton grows a spine, comforts the nation after the Oklahoma City bombing, humiliates Newt Gingrich and wins reelection. (Alas, enter Monica Lewinsky, a luscious fruit in the Garden of Eden, eager to be plucked.) Hamilton styles this arc, with many military metaphors, as a study of Clinton's maturing capacity for command as he grows from arch-baby boomer to undisputed leader of his country. Unfortunately, this focus on character often overshadows the substance of policy (the treatment of Hillary's byzantine health-care plan is especially sketchy) and is not entirely convincing, since the early, feckless Clinton seems to have accomplished more than the determinedly presidential later Clinton, with his third way politics of triangulation. At the celebratory end of Hamilton's account, Clinton's comeback is a merely personal triumph, devoid of political significance. (July)
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From Booklist

In the wake of the almost simultaneous publication of two biographies of Hillary Clinton (Gerth and Van Natta's Her Way and Bernstein's Woman in Charge), it is interesting to once again view the first Clinton administration with the focus on the president, not the first lady. Hamilton, in this sequel to Bill Clinton: An American Journey (2003), examines the forty-second president's first term. By no means unsympathetic to Clinton, Hamilton views his subject as a man with a big heart and a big brain but also with a shocking inability to make decisions or manage personnel. Hamilton's strength is in making the most of the many secondary sources he relies upon, but he also draws material from some out-of-the-ordinary interviews, including one with Cliff Jackson, a Clinton rival and eventual enemy who helped bring Troopergate (the scandal over Clinton's extramarital affairs in Arkansas) to light. The only instance of using overtly slanted sources comes in the opening chapter, when Hamilton relates Gary Aldrich's version of an incident focusing on a foulmouthed first lady (Aldrich has been widely discredited and was not used by either Bernstein or Gerth and Van Natta). That lapse aside, this volume provides a straightforward and effective recounting of the ups and downs of a presidency shaped as much by personality as by policy. Cooper, Ilene

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 784 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs (July 10, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586485164
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586485160
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #637,449 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Loyd Eskildson HALL OF FAME on August 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Nigel Hamilton chronicles the first Clinton term, covering all the (mostly) bad and good, including his reinvention after the 1994 mid-term elections. Its amazing that despite Bill and Hillary making so many major mistakes, Bill came back to win a second term (and make his biggest mistake of all - Monica).

Hamilton has no reservation in identifying Clinton's transition into the Presidency as the worst ever - beginning with his failure to appoint an effective chief of staff. (This is a topic Hamilton repeatedly returns to, contributing to Clinton's early lack of focus and being victimized by weak members of his administration. It does not get resolved until almost two years later.) It is also interesting (and scary) to read of Hillary's temper tantrums, beginning even prior to the Inauguration - concerning her wanting to take over the traditional V.P. office in the West Wing. Her decision-making also was a problem - eg. her choice for Attorney General (Zoe Baird) and for Attorney General in charge of civil rights (Lani Guinier) - despite warnings to the contrary, both nominations went forward and both went down in flames.

Then there was Clinton's early move to permit gays in the military (backed down, looking indecisive), Hillary's locking correspondents out of access to the White House press office, Hillary being appointed to reform health care in 131 days (she acerbated the problem with secrecy and refusing to even talk to industry insiders), the Waco fiasco, LAX "Hairgate,), Hillary's "Travelgate," the Vince Foster suicide (followed by Hillary's orders to remove her personal papers prior to any investigation), Black Hawk down in Somalia (Clinton expanded the mission while troops were cut 90% and Defense Sec.
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Format: Hardcover
In the dozen or so books that I have read about Bill Clinton including his autobiography Nigel Hamilton's books always stand our. These are among the most balanced and well thought out books written on the presidency of Clinton. Hamilton takes time for painstaking research of not only presidential archives but newspapers and voluminous secondary sources. This book which follows Clinton's rise to the presidency and his time as governor focuses on the first term in office. It accurately and effectively assess the first years where Clinton learned how to be president. The book encompasses several areas from the scandals, the role of Hillary in the White House and of course domestic and foreign affairs.

The start of his first term can only be described in one word: disaster. Clinton was unable to effectively set up a transition team which would plague him through his early years in office when many of his candidates particularly in the justice department would have to resign over various scandals. Clinton himself was plagued by the scandals of Troopergate and Paula Jones while fending off his wife's scandals in Whitewater and Travelgate. These early years and political naiveté of the president were mastered by the end. As Hamilton points out and Clinton admits in his autobiography the stonewalling tactics that were used in these early scandals only fanned the flames quicker and in many cases particularly with Whitewater dragged the case along further than necessary. These scandals followed several legislative failures and executive failures from universal healthcare reform to gays in the military. Despite this those first two years were not entirely dark.
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Format: Hardcover
There are two things that stood out in this book that need to be said. This author did not have very kind words about the republicans or conservatives of the time and it did seemed bias BUT the author was by no means throwing rose pedals at Bill Clinton's feet. I feel it was pretty fair and I am a republican. It was strange, the worst person (in my opinion) to have been revealed is Hillary Clinton. I know that's not earth shattering but that is the reason I don't think this book just loves Clinton and hates republicans. I think if you read this book with an open mind, you will learn a lot about the times we lived in then and learn about a president who struggled through his first 6 years. Well worth your time.
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Hamilton's biography doesn't shy away from giving some early criticism to President Clinton, but eventually the praise can be laid on a bit too thick.

Having read Joe Klein's The Natural, a journalistic and short biography, which covers Clinton's personal flaws in an unbiased and critical way, it gives the ability to discern that Clinton is unabashedly human. Klein flawlessly points out when this works, and when it didn't and doesn't force a particular opinion down one's throat. Hamilton's slant is not always correct, or modern, and would be my main criticism of the biography.

Like the poorly organised start to Clinton's first term, it is retold in a poorly organised manner too. It read as an account of other people's verbatim quotes (often journalists) which just compounded as dribs and drabs stitched together to create a laboured point. The point being so clear, it seems as an early excuse for the rest of the book's sympathy.

As Clinton made changes in the administration and pulled himself together, so does the ease of read and enjoyment. As the subject matter improves (whether you like it or not) Hamilton's sympathetic slant creeps into the story. As a Briton, with no partisan baggage, Hamilton can tend to be hypercritical of the misguided Republicans, while basically leaving out all discussion of perpetually ineffective Democrats. While Hamilton's non-partisan, international perspective is a breath of fresh air; it tends to feel as if it lacks a balanced domestic review of a President, reviews that feel most balanced when delivered by the ones who made him President.
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