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A Complicated Man: The Life of Bill Clinton as Told by Those Who Know Him Hardcover – October 19, 2010

4.4 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Oral historian and journalist Takiff (Brave Men, Gentle Heroes) offers a wealth of perspective to counter-or at least complicate-the prevailing, and simplistic, image many people hold of America's 42nd president, despite two prosperous terms and a decade of post-White House foreign relations work. Somewhat predictably, Takiff begins with Clinton's birth to a recently widowed mother in Hope, Ark. and ends, more or less, with wife Hillary Rodham Clinton's failure to win the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. Throughout, Clinton's life is addressed by those who knew him, loved him, or, in some cases, loathed him. Chapters are introduced with snippets of conversation and deepened by excerpts of interviews, many of which Takiff conducted himself, with a wide range of people, from unknown residents of Hope to Bob Dole, Michael Dukakis, Tom Brokaw, Clinton staff members Leon Panetta, Dan Glickman, and Charlene Barshefsky, and many others. The author places everything in context and provides sufficient history to tell the full story, resulting in a book that reads like a conversation between 150 people gathered to reminisce about a complicated man.
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Scholar and oral historian Takiff admits up front that this book won’t settle arguments about what kind of man former president Clinton is, whether liberal or conservative, brilliant or idiotic, empathetic or self-serving. What Takiff delivers is an astonishing collection of 171 interviews with Clinton’s friends, foes, admirers, and detractors as well as reporters and political analysts, collectively offering an intimate portrait of Clinton. The material is arranged chronologically to detail Clinton’s career from Hope, Arkansas, to Washington, D.C. Interspersed throughout are notes that provide context and clarity. Some interviews have a chatty, colorful, and personal feel, recalling little, telling moments in Clinton’s life and the larger moments—deciding what to do about the Vietnam draft, entering law school, getting married, and launching a political career and destroying it with an affair with a young intern. Others are more ponderous and analytical but still offer a personal perspective on a very complicated man, a liberal who enacted welfare reform and produced a budget surplus but failed to deliver on universal health care or come to the aid of Kosovo. Photographs enhance this astonishing look at a very complicated man indeed. Even readers who have glutted themselves on other Clinton books will enjoy the intimate feel of this one. --Vanessa Bush
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; F First Edition edition (October 19, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030012130X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300121308
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,016,520 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Richard of Connecticut VINE VOICE on November 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I loved it. I couldn't put it done. I didn't want to put it down. Let me help you decide if you want to read A Complicated Man. The book is 496 pages long of which 434 are dedicated to narrative. It is beautifully written in chronological order from the beginning of his life, to his post administration period. It even includes a few pages about Hillary running for President. There were over 171 individuals interviewed for this oral biography.

The accomplished author Michael Takiff takes us on a whirlwind tour of Bill Clinton's life concentrating on his Presidency since that is what most readers will find the most interesting. It is possible to move through different sections of the book without starting at the beginning. What happens is that the author will cover a period, and weave the interviews into the chapter setting. This avoids the author inflicting us with his own personal biases except at certain endpoints at the conclusion of each chapter. You will appreciate the effort Takiff took to keep this book interesting.

As we know and the author points out, the Clinton Presidency was sandwiched between the end of the cold war and prior to the War on Terror. As such President Clinton did not have the opportunity to achieve the greatness that is usually accorded a President who must deal with war, and its aftermath. Takiff is completely accurate in naming this book, A Complicated Man. If there is any term particularly appropriate for this President it is that he is complex, and difficult to wrap your hands around from an historian's standpoint. This is a man who desperately wanted to be President of the United States since childhood, and then blew himself up voluntarily.
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This was disappointing to me as I had hoped to learn more of Clinton as a human being, not a politician. The work is a compilation of hundreds of statements by many different associates, friends, and neighbors, each statement dealing with a specific incident in Clinton's life and how he dealt with it. The problem is the lion's share of these incidents are plucked from his political career, not his personal life. I wanted to know who Bill Clinton is -- the real, down to earth Bill Clinton away from the cameras and advisors, the media and political cronies. What's he like when it's just him and his buddies? What kind of entertainment does he enjoy? Does he have hobbies, etc.? But, then, his political life is his life. And if you want more of that then this will be a winner! Just don't expect to learn much you don't already know.
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Clinton is described and fleshed out by all those who've encountered him, including many brilliant journalists and politicians.
He is unique, brilliant and probably unlike many great presidents from his background and genuine love of people, a mix of highbrow and lowbrow.
I particularly liked someone saying he was the smartest person he ever met who really cared about people.
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I've intended to review this book since I picked it up and read it several years ago. I've returned to this engaging book frequently to refresh my understanding of what his presidency was like. Given the present line up of Dem presidential candidates,and the likelihood that Hillary will get the nod, I've again returned to this book and to my intended review. This book deserves more attention then it received. If you're interested in Bill (and Hillary) and want a substantive discussion as to who he ( and they) are, this is a good place to start. Without repeating what other reviews have stated and a quick review of the excerpts disclose, it is an oral history/ narrative discussion of who he is from a number of points of view. These include Republicans, other Dems, members and nonmembers of the administration, and political leaders from outside of the US. There were many insights new to me and much that is familiar to those who may have followed the Clintons closely.
This book was published by Yale University Press and is peer reviewed; it is not the usual partisan screed.
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"A Complicated Man", an engrossing read, is a major addition to Clinton lore. Seeing Clinton through the eyes of those who have interacted with him, we get a complete and penetrating view of this iconic figure. I give it a minimum of five stars.
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As one of those millions of Americans who continues to be intrigued by our 42nd President, I found Michael Takiff's compelling account of Bill Clinton's life to be exceptionally well-written, thought-provoking, and insightful. Having read many books about Clinton by researchers who hate him or love him, it was refreshing to get an unbiased version of our President's triumphs and foibles. Bill Clinton is, and will continue to be, a complicated man--most people achieving greatness are, and Michael Takiff has intelligently captured the essence of Bill Clinton, the man. This fascinating biography has earned five stars from me--it's a mesmerizing, page-turning book that helps answer some of our questions about the life and times of the man who was our President during what some Americans consider to be the Golden Age.
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