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My Life Hardcover – Bargain Price, June 1, 2004
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It shows us the progress of a remarkable American, who, through his own enormous energies and efforts, made the unlikely journey from Hope, Arkansas, to the White House a journey fueled by an impassioned interest in the political process which manifested itself at every stage of his life: in college, working as an intern for Senator William Fulbright; at Oxford, becoming part of the Vietnam War protest movement; at Yale Law School, campaigning on the grassroots level for Democratic candidates; back in Arkansas, running for Congress, attorney general, and governor.
We see his career shaped by his resolute determination to improve the life of his fellow citizens, an unfaltering commitment to civil rights, and an exceptional understanding of the practicalities of political life.
We come to understand the emotional pressures of his youth born after his father s death; caught in the dysfunctional relationship between his feisty, nurturing mother and his abusive stepfather, whom he never ceased to love and whose name he took; drawn to the brilliant, compelling Hillary Rodham, whom he was determined to marry; passionately devoted, from her infancy, to their daughter, Chelsea, and to the entire experience of fatherhood; slowly and painfully beginning to comprehend how his early denial of pain led him at times into damaging patterns of behavior.
President Clinton s book is also the fullest, most concretely detailed, most nuanced account of a presidency ever written encompassing not only the high points and crises but the way the presidency actually works: the day-to-day bombardment of problems, personalities, conflicts, setbacks, achievements.
It is a testament to the positive impact on America and on the world of his work and his ideals.
It is the gripping account of a president under concerted and unrelenting assault orchestrated by his enemies on the Far Right, and how he survived and prevailed.
It is a treasury of moments caught alive, among them:
The ten-year-old boy watching the national political conventions on his family s new (and first) television set.
The young candidate looking for votes in the Arkansas hills and the local seer who tells him, Anybody who would campaign at a beer joint in Joiner at midnight on Saturday night deserves to carry one box. . . . You ll win here. But it ll be the only damn place you win in this county. (He was right on both counts.)
The roller-coaster ride of the 1992 campaign.
The extraordinarily frank exchanges with Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole.
The delicate manipulation needed to convince Rabin and Arafat to shake hands for the camera while keeping Arafat from kissing Rabin.
The cost, both public and private, of the scandal that threatened the presidency.
Here is the life of a great national and international figure, revealed with all his talents and contradictions, told openly, directly, in his own completely recognizable voice. A unique book by a unique American.
Clinton approaches the story of his youth with gusto, sharing tales of giant watermelons, nine-pound tumors, a charging ram, famous mobsters and jazz musicians, and a BB gun standoff. He offers an equally energetic portrait of American history, pop culture, and the evolving political landscape, covering the historical events that shaped his early years (namely the deaths of Martin Luther King Jr. and JFK) and the events that shaped his presidency (Waco, Bosnia, Somalia). What makes My Life remarkable as a political memoir is how thoroughly it is infused with Clinton's unassuming, charmingly pithy voice:
I learned a lot from the stories my uncle, aunts, and grandparents told me: that no one is perfect but most people are good; that people can't be judged only by their worst or weakest moments; that harsh judgments can make hypocrites of us all; that a lot of life is just showing up and hanging on; that laughter is often the best, and sometimes the only, response to pain.
However, that same voice might tire readers as Clinton applies his penchant for minute details to a distractible laundry list of events, from his youth through the years of his presidency. Not wanting to forget a single detail that might help account for his actions, Clinton overdoes it--do we really need to know the name of his childhood barber? But when Clinton sticks to the meat of his story--recollections about Mother, his abusive stepfather, Hillary, the campaign trail, and Kenneth Starr--the veracity of emotion and Kitchen Confidential-type revelations about "what it is like to be President" make My Life impossible to put down.
To Clinton, "politics is a contact sport," and while he claims that My Life is not intended to make excuses or assign blame, it does portray him as a fighter whose strategy is to "take the first hit, then counterpunch as hard as I could." While My Life is primarily a stroll through Clinton's memories, it is also a scathing rebuke--a retaliation against his detractors, including Kenneth Starr, whose "mindless search for scandal" protected the guilty while "persecuting the innocent" and distracted his Administration from pressing international matters (including strikes on al Qaeda). Counterpunch indeed.
At its core, My Life is a charming and intriguing if flawed book by an equally intriguing and flawed man who had his worst failures and humiliations made public. Ultimately, the man who left office in the shadow of scandal offers an honest and open account of his life, allowing readers to witness his struggle to "drain the most out of every moment" while maintaining the character with which he was raised. It is a remarkably intimate, persuasive look at the boy he was, the President he became, and man he is today. --Daphne Durham
From Publishers Weekly
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- Publisher : Knopf; 1st Edition (June 1, 2004)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 1008 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0375414576
- ISBN-13 : 978-0375414572
- Item Weight : 3.45 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.3 x 2.2 x 9.2 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #308,828 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Complaint: It's boring.
Rebuttal: Boring is subjective. It took me two weeks to read this book, and I had to struggle through some parts. I mean I was bored. But there were reasons for that, and maybe the fault did not lay with the material. For example:
1) The book got boring when Bill started talking about the economy. I was mouthing words in my mind without understanding them. Slowing down and rereading helped.
2) "My Life" comprises a host of characters. Bill should've included an alphabetical list of characters with their titles, positions, and relations. He didn't, and consequently I often ran into a name I had forgotten. The name had no meaning, and when a word has no meaning, you have boredom. The index was helpful, but an additional list of characters would've made the book less boring.
3) Sometimes I didn't have enough sleep. Drowsy reading got magically interesting after a cup of tea.
Complaint: It's bloated with minutiae.
Rebuttal: Look, I'm no more interested in John Doe's high school activities than you are. But this book is about a U.S. president, for goodness sake, and one of the best at that! I was interested in these minutiae, and so should you be. That is unless you're really only interested in that hot date you have lined up, and you just want to hurry up and finish the book so you can brag that you have read it. Trust me: Take your time with "My Life." It may take a couple of weeks, or one or two months, but it's easy to read, it's very informative, and it's very probably the only way you'll ever become president. Relax and let Bill be your guide.
Complaint: This book is not the best book about the Clinton presidency. "He had to gloss over a lot of the things that happened while he was president....I'd recommend either Living History by Hillary Clinton or Madame Secretary by Madeline Albright. Skip this one."
Rebuttal: 1) If you were to write a book giving in-depth information about every important event in World War II, you might write the longest book ever written. The same is true about Clinton's eight years as president. Sure, the books you mentioned probably tell of some things that Bill omitted, but he mentions the major events, and though I haven't read either of those books, I'll bet they omit some things about his presidency that he doesn't omit.
2) "My Life" is chock-full of interesting and VERY interesting anecdotes. He relates details about Hillary and Chelsea. He writes of his travels--to every state in the Union and to areas all around the world, including Antarctica. He tells of his relations with important leaders, from Arafat to Yeltsin. He plays his sax at the good times; he cries at the tragedies. He plays hearts with his aides. He gives a good chronicle of his adventures with Whitewater, Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky, and Ken Starr. He battles Republicans who are jealous that he's reducing the deficit they had so neatly stacked up. He is given a book of Yeats's plays from U-2's Bono, who helps Bill's push for debt relief. And on, and on.... This is a good book.
Complaint: I wanted to read about the Clinton presidency, but he doesn't start talking about it until after I've struggled through hundreds of pages of irrelevant material.
Rebuttal: 1) "My Life" is about Clinton's life--through May 2004--not just his presidency.
2) It's impossible to have full knowledge of a presidency if you don't know the person who is president.
Complaint: "My Life" is a self-important, arrogant narrative of braggadocio.
Rebuttal: He criticizes himself fairly. Besides, when you write or talk about yourself, and if you have achieved genuinely significant accomplishments, it isn't easy to describe those accomplishments without appearing to be arrogant and self-important. But it's more important to tell the truth than to avoid telling it because of humility.
Complaint: "...worst book I have ever read....some boring guys' diary....A waste of time! TOTALLY HORRIBLE, BORING, BLAND...."
Rebuttal: How many books have you read? Surely you haven't read the "Holy Bible," at least not the part where it says, "Thou shalt not lie."
Complaint: "...Everything juicy that he exposes has been exposed in the newspaper and I read it before.... This book is a bore....Not much on the human side of him is ever revealed. Not one conversation between him and Hillary or Chelsea is ever recalled. A whitewash or expurgated version of I don't know what."
Rebuttal: It's true Bill doesn't quote any conversations he had with Hillary or Chelsea, though I don't know if that would've been appropriate. After all, Hillary is still a major political figure, and Chelsea is still alive. Bill did read to Chelsea when she was a girl. He does write about Hillary's decision to change her name. He does describe a bedtime confession to Hillary regarding Monica Lewinsky. Also he writes of moments of depression in his youth as well as during the time he was being pummeled because of his indiscretion with Monica. But if his autobiography is boring because it's not pornographic, that's not Bill's fault.
Complaint: "Don't waste your money!"
Rebuttal: I was rewarded and fulfilled by "My Life." It was a worthy expenditure.
Complaint: "...a near endless series of events rehashed from his diaries."
Rebuttal: He may have used diaries and other personal records, but the narrative proceeds smoothly and is easy to read. True, sometimes he says, "On Tuesday we...," or "...on the thirteenth I had to...," and I had to flip back a few pages to remember the month and year. He should've mentioned the month and year more often. Also, a chronology would've been helpful.
Complaint: "My Life" is just a diatribe against the Republican Party.
Rebuttal: Untrue. "My Life" is an autobiography. On many occasions he castigates Republicans, but he doesn't just call them bad names; he lists specific reasons for his castigations. Also, he writes about a number of Republicans that he was friendly with and with whom, to some extent, he agreed. Besides, though there are exceptions, Republicans ARE a bad choice for your vote. If you want our country and human civilization to progress, if you believe in a government by the people and for the people, and if you believe in preservation of nature and in values of free thought, free religion, free speech, racial equality, peace, law & order, happiness, and prosperity for ALL human beings, then you should vote Democratic.
Complaint: "It's just a shame he doesn't bring any depth to them [characters and events] by describing more personalities of people, more background into events and more color to situations."
Rebuttal: 1) This is not a serious problem for most readers of this book. You're asking for more detail about personalities and events whereas the more common complaint is that the book has too much detail. Still your complaint is reasonable. Bill often says a few words about the characters, and the events speak for themselves. For example when Bill wrote about the forced relocations and atrocities against the Kosovars, he doesn't describe Kosovar psychology or the architecture of Kosovar homes. In a book focusing on Kosovo, that degree of description would've been okay. But for "My Life," far too many characters and events come into play for that kind of detail.
2) One person is described fairly well. That's Bill himself. To understand much of this description, you need to read between the lines. I think I did, and my reading has let me know him. Though he has his faults--I strongly disagree with him about God and family life--he is a much better human being than most.
It is a long read but it is best to look at it like a series of books. He does a great job. I've highlighted so many things in this book (kindle is awesome, get one!). Clinton was the man. Wish he could run again. I didn't like all of what Clinton did as President but now I see that he had to play the sick game of politics for a greater good. Politics is a nasty business and you see that in this book but you also see how Clinton would dance around to get what he wanted.
This is a must read if you are a Clinton fan.
This is a must read if you are going into politics regardless of your party because you'll learn a lot.
This is a must read for any fan of history because his life was living history and you get to see it first hand and he explains things well enough for those of us who were too young to remember things or too busy with being a kid.
This is a must read for whoever is smart enough to fix this current economy.
Someday I would like to meet President Bill Clinton and thank him for what he did for America, remind him of what he couldn't/didn't do for America and then thank him for this book.
He played the system to help make it a little better for the little guys and now you can read how he did it.
And another thing! I can't help but notice how a lot of the players back then are still in our systems and how even the small timers at the time that Clinton would introduce us to in this book are around today and are now major players. Maybe that is part of what is wrong with our system today, all the hang arounds that become corrupted over time..
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Inevitably, we must turn to the Lewinsky scandal. It's covered here and Clinton - to his credit - does not seek to absolve himself in any way. There are no lacquered platitudes either. In fact, in the relevant passages on, respectively, Whitewater, Lewinsky, Kenneth Starr and the impeachment and Senate trial, Clinton coldly and painfully identifies his mistakes and weaknesses and he is honest in that respect, though he also cannot help falling into apotropaic and conspiratorial attacks on his critics. In the end my view is that he should have taken hemlock: that would have created a legacy infinitely more consequential than the transient popularity he obsessively courted. By not doing so, by clinging to office despite these personal indiscretions, Clinton set a bad example and arguably reflected, even contributed to, the moral degeneration in society. Clinton never really addresses this problem directly, namely how he can expect to call himself a leader and a man of example when he cannot even take proper responsibility for his own actions. Nevertheless, I cannot help also feeling sympathy for him, given the identified faults were more of the personal and private kind. Only the most hard-hearted person would want to condemn a public figure too vigorously in such circumstances, though as President he should have realised that his private affairs were - temporarily at least - also public and if he was not morally fit for the office, he should not have assumed the office.
One further impression I gained from this book about (or, rather, that this book confirmed about) Clinton is this kind of vagueness that he has. It's difficult to pin down, but there is a similarity here with Blair. On the one hand he is a thoughtful and intelligent man, but on the other hand he doesn't really give the impression of someone who has any kind of anchoring narrative about him. Whereas Blair was morally certain but politically vague (adopting a missionary zeal in office that cost many their lives), I think Clinton was morally hazy but did at least attempt to develop a consistent and coherent political philosophy for the Democratic Party that moved it away somewhat from New Dealism but which retained the Party's progressive instincts. One of the many greatly useful things about this book is the way that Clinton explains much of his thinking within the context of that kind of middle-class-friendly political philosophy, and by extension, the way he critiques Reagan-Bush economic policy. He purports to do so with rigour and certainty, but for me it's too much of a reminder of the Continental-style, CSD-type of social-democratic thinking that began on the British Left during the late 1970s in response to Bolshevism and the New Right, only with a distinctly American character (i.e. 'progressive' rather than 'social democratic'). Really, deep-down Clinton doesn't know what he thinks, but he'll think it anyway as long as it'll gain votes.
I like the format of the book. Refreshingly, Clinton eschews the modern trend towards thematic writing and just tells us his story chronologically. It's well-written, entertaining and meaningful, with very varied judgements about the characters met along the way. Predictably, it's also a very self-absorbed prose in which Clinton is at the centre of events. This ego-centric outlook reaches its zenith in the latter chapters in which Clinton tells us his story as President and becomes an increasingly sad figure, obsessed with his own political legacy. Apropos, perhaps it would have been better for America if they had elected as president someone less self-absorbed than Clinton while sharing some of his generous political instincts. Clinton had many of the qualities that would make a fine president - he had an overarching vision, he evinced optimism and he had inside him a genuinely good heart and a generous spirit - but he lacked the courage of his own convictions; was if anything too keen to gain office; was too much a creature of transient public sentiment rather than being a leader of public opinion; was too preoccupied with the feelings and whims of 'soccer moms' in focus groups; too much in awe of rich men; too ready to engage in moral grandstanding rather than adopt firm, permanent principles; too easily led by politically-correct thinking on racial issues; and - above all else - too reliant on professional political strategists and their eccentric trajections, when he should have decided what he really stood for, stood for it and stood by it.
In the end, I think Clinton was a very important president, but only because of what he presided-over, not because he did anything of significance: he was essentially a marionette who achieved nothing of note in his own right. Of course you could argue that a wise president will, under certain circumstances, choose to do essentially nothing and just preside, but Clinton set out to be an activist president and so in that respect he failed abjectly. I think history will most likely remember him as one of those hazy but charismatic managerial figures that electoral politics pivots into office from time-to-time and who is sensitive to the Zeitgeist. His various deeds and doings, such that they were, amounted to mere epiphenomena, the result of and a reflection of wider social, cultural and financial movements in American society. If anything, an apt analogy for the Clinton presidency would be the 'Cohabitation' period of the French presidency of François Mitterrand (during 1986 to 1988). This book shows that even at the height of the impeachment controversy, Clinton was unquestionably adept in the art of ministerial 'cohabitation', somehow keeping the peace and maintaining a bipartisan relationship with Republicans and conservative Democrats in Congress. This feat required not just considerable skill but also a nuanced understanding of the constitutional locus of the presidency. So, Clinton was no dilettante and to be fair he was much more than just a vacillator or the compromising figure of the 'triangulation' strategy. He was a man of substance and ideals and in a sense his lack of any substantive legacy is deeply tragic and contradictory. He had it in him to be great. This is a man who could have been better, could have been stronger, could have stood for more, if only, at the relevant time, he had found the will and the courage and overcome his personal demons. I think this book is really the story of that sad, bitter failure. It's essential reading if you are interested in politics and government.