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The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President Hardcover – Bargain Price, September 29, 2009

4.1 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Hardcover, Bargain Price, September 29, 2009
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Bill Clinton finds a genial Boswell for this absorbing inside account of his White House years. Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Branch (Parting the Waters) met regularly with Clinton as interlocutor for a taped diary of reflections, distilling from the rambling conversations illuminating commentaries on major issues, including the failed health-care reform, budget battles with congressional Republicans, scandals and impeachment, and foreign policy crises. They depict Clinton as both a principled man and a born operator—Branch wonderfully captures the shrewd political calculations Clinton elaborates to justify his triangulations—with a restless intellect that revels in the details of everything from Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to the Hubble Space Telescope. (The book also offers a warm portrait of the first family, with young Chelsea forever rushing in for help with homework.) Branch, who worked on presidential speeches and was paid $50,000 by Clinton for the project, often seems less than objective; he treads lightly around Whitewater and the Monica Lewinsky scandal, for example. Still, browsers and scholars will find perceptive insights on Clinton's policies and magnetic personality. (Sept.)
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“I have seldom read a more compelling account of a leader in power. . . . An unexpected treasure-trove. Here is Clinton out of hours and off his guard. . . . The story behind this book reads like the plot of a Hollywood movie.”

--Robert Harris, The Sunday Times (London)

“A remarkable portrait of White House life. . . . An important work about American political life. . . . Branch is an historian by trade, and an excellent one. . . . To the extent that Branch’s portrait of the president rescues politics from ignominy, he has done a real public service; that he has done this while vividly portraying an exuberant American original is cause for joy. . . . Revealing and often delightful.”

--Joe Klein, The New York Times Book Review

“By turns intimate and dispassionately historical . . . this book will be a boon to historians. The casual reader might delight more in Branch’s glimpses of an unguarded president.”

--Gilbert Cruz, Time

“Taylor Branch’s latest book has made me whistle more than any comparable piece of work for a very long time, and not just because of its many remarkable disclosures.”

--Christopher Hitchens, Newsweek


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Book Club Edition edition (September 29, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416543333
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416543336
  • ASIN: B003D7JVJ8
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 2.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,032,676 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By James R. Holland VINE VOICE on September 29, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Taylor Branch and Bill Clinton were comrades-in-arms in the Texas Campaign of George McGovern for President. Twenty years later after he took office, Clinton invited his old friend in to offer him an important job. He wanted Branch to be his White House historian, his "Arthur Schlesinger." That plan didn't work out, but the two old friends did decide to make some "living history," no holds-barred contemporary tape recordings of the events of Bill Clinton's Presidency as they occurred.
Taylor made two duplicate tape recordings of each of 79 two-hour interviews conducted over a period between 1993 and 2001. In order to insure that the President felt like he could talk candidly about even the most delicate subjects, it was agreed that Clinton would keep both tape recordings of each interview in his personal possession. Clinton put both of the only copies into "what he called `a good hiding place'--his sock drawer" in the dressing room next to his and Hillary's White House bedroom.
This book is not a transcription of those secret tapes. It is the author's recollections and notes of each of those two-hour "shooting the bull" confabs. After turning over the recordings to Clinton for safe storage in his super-secret hiding place, Taylor Branch would drive himself home. During the hour it usually took him to reach his driveway when driving home late at night and early in the morning, he would make another tape recording of his impressions and recollections of what was said during the earlier White House interviews. These "driving home tape recordings," his notes and memory are the basis of this 700 plus-page book.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
President Clinton had not been in office long before he summoned Taylor Branch, an original "FOB" (friend of Bill) and noted Martin Luther King scholar, to begin a series of taped conversations as Clinton's own presidency progressed. The result of these hours of dialogue forms the basis and narrative of Branch's book, "The Clinton Tapes", resurrecting the author's recollections of these discussions. It was an immense undertaking and is full of historical reward.

We learn so much about Bill Clinton, the man and the president, that would otherwise not be known, until or unless the tapes, (which President Clinton has) are released for public consumption. What is perhaps not so surprising is that many major current events change so quickly. Reflecting on the early years of the Clinton presidency, who remembers now so much focus on Haiti and President Jean-Bertrand Aristide? Even the war in Kosovo and other former Yugoslav republics are now in the background of many of our thoughts. Of course, the Middle East, the Korean peninsula, India and Pakistan are still "current", but many of the players have changed. Yasir Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin and Jordan's King Hussein are all gone now, but Clinton's examination of them makes it seem like just yesterday. We get to see a president who is utterly engaged in peace processes around the world with a deep understanding of the conflicts that arose during that time.

We also witness a personal side of Bill Clinton that is remarkable. He is often so dead tired that Taylor Branch finds him nodding off during their meetings. The president loves basketball and his own golf game, but isn't particularly knowledgeable about baseball. More than occasionally he seems to suffer from some physical injury or allergies depending on the day and season.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Taylor Branch is a noted historian and Pulitizer Prize winner for one of the three massive and excellent books he wrote concerning the late Rev. Nartin Luther King, Jr., and the civil rights movement. As he explains early in the book, scholars have been grappling with how to render an impartial version of the history of presidencies, now that huge libraries are being built to contain the plethora of items that touch upon every Prresident: legislation, correspondence, electronic taping, gifts, memorabilia, etc.

Reagan was aware of this issue and appointed an official biographer early in his tenure and Edmund Morris, a noted historian himself, was given unprecedented access to the President and his White House. His resulting work failed, however, for many reasons, most notably that he was unable to retain the journalistic distance needed to create a proper history.

President Clinton and Branch knew one another during the McGovern campaign in 1972, sharing an apartment in Texas to help run that area of the operation. When he was elected, being aware of the historical issues I've noted, Clinton contacted Branch and asked him for a recommendation on how the needs of history could be met. What they settled upon has been described in many places, so I'll save some time.

This is what Branch created based on his observations of the process he and the President underwent. As in any good history, there is distance and criticism, as well as nearly overwhelming detail. "Wrestling History" is a great title, as a comparison between it and Clinton's own autobiography finds many differences and I think the interested reader will enjoy both, as they reveal different facets of the same President and the semi-universe of a modern presidency.
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