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The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House Hardcover – May 31, 2005

4.4 out of 5 stars 73 customer reviews

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The Survivor is the rare book with positive recommendations from both liberal historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. and Brit Hume of the Fox News Channel. The author, John F. Harris--who covered the Clinton presidency as a political reporter at The Washington Post for six years--finds the perfect balance for his subject, writing with point-blank frankness about Clinton's impressive strengths and many weaknesses and painting an utterly fair portrait of one of the most charismatic and enigmatic political figures of the last 50 years. Harris at times is harsher to Clinton than many of the president's critics were and at other times, as in the case of his impeachment, is far kinder. He occasionally editorializes on the motivations of the Clintons, that ultimate power couple: why their marriage was not (despite public opinion) a sham based on political opportunity; how Bill's upbringing contributed to his willingness to take risks (sometimes to his great harm); and how "permanent Washington," including the presidential press corps, was determined to teach these Arkansas outsiders a lesson in the administration's rocky early days.

Harris peppers the book with both fact and anecdote, moving swiftly from subject to subject. The Survivor shows Clinton's growth as a leader throughout the eight years of his presidency, and how his personal failings almost brought them to a close. Far from being a milquetoast summary of events, The Survivor is a gripping read set behind the scenes in the West Wing. Harris has crafted a brilliant book with writerly style and with an eye on history. The Survivor is one of the best political titles of the year, and--like its subject matter--may be appreciated even more as time goes on. --Jennifer Buckendorff

From Publishers Weekly

In clear, workmanlike prose, veteran Washington Post reporter Harris traces the emotional highs and lows of a presidency with an excess of both. The book takes off after the disastrous (for Democrats) midterm elections of 1994, in part because of the arrival on-scene of a volatile Newt Gingrich and consultant Dick Morris, who is portrayed as quite sleazy. As the political wars over Whitewater and Lewinsky heat up, Harris's behind-the-scenes reporting pays dividends: he finds Gingrich boasting to Clinton, "Mr. President, we are going to run you out of town" and Clinton angrily denouncing the 1998 impeachment attempt as "a fucking coup d'état!" to a blank-faced, unsympathetic Al Gore. According to Harris, "the stereotype of Clinton as a supremely guileful and deceptive politician was essentially wrong." Instead, he views Clinton as an insecure, needy man whose frequent shifts in direction and self-destructive behavior reflected not cunning but utter lack of self-control. He also sees Clinton as growing in strength, self-confidence and wisdom over his eight years in office, and praises his courage in responding to the humanitarian crisis in Kosovo. On terrorism, Harris offers a mixed verdict, crediting Clinton with recognizing the growing threat posed by al-Qaeda and expanding U.S. efforts against it while acknowledging the inadequacy of those efforts. 16 pages of photos not seen by PW.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (May 31, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375508473
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375508479
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.5 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #944,326 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The reader could fill a bookcase with all the literature written about Bill and Hillary Clinton. Starting with their respective autobiographies -- "My Life" (2004) and "Living History" (2003) -- and adding "The Clinton Wars" by Sidney Blumenthal (2003), "The Hunting Of The President" by Conason & Lyons (2000) and "Clinton: The President They Deserve" (1996) among others, the reader is faced with books that tend to be either praising or condemning the Clintons.

John Harris has written one of the few even-handed approaches toward Bill Clinton. Covering the politics of the 1990's for the Washington Post, he portrays Bill Clinton as a brilliant, undisciplined President who could could have been so much more. He describes his successes (Kosovo and welfare reform) and his failures (health care reform and the impeachment process). His greatest success may have have been outlasting his numerous enemies (hence the title of this book).

Mr. Harris has uncovered little original research about Clinton's Presidency but he synthesises all that has been published into a readable, coherent and balanced look at the man and his personal/political choices while in office. Mr. Clinton comes off as a tragic figure whose ambitious policy agenda came unravelled through his own hubris and the determined oppositon of Congressional Republicans. If there is one book that the reader wants to consult about the domestic and foreign policies of the prior decade, this is that book.
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Format: Hardcover
Ever since Bill Clinton appeared on the national stage people, whether they liked him or not found him fascinating. It is my perception that many Democrats bemoaning the loss of the past two presidential elections look back on the Clinton presidency wistfully while the former president's detractors, while still keeping a third eye out for the possibility of another Clinton in the White House, can't stop themselves from keeping up with Bill as if they were rubber necking a bad car accident. Love him or hate him (I don't know many that felt luke warm about him) people were and continue to be mesmerized by him. It is my prediction that generations will continue this peculiar love affair.

Books have come out about him that are distinctly for and against - obviously mindful of the power he still wields and the possibility that the man may someday be "first gentleman".

This book however is slightly different in that respect. Although I do not think the book is completely objective the author strives to be objective and it shows. Given the obvious power of the personality of Bill Clinton as well as the various controversies that swirled about him we are a little too close in time for anyone to be completely objective. Never the less seems to be the closest thing we have yet to a picture of what the
Clinton White House was really like.

I will reiterate that I do believe the author does his best to be objective. I think the best way to describe the author's ultimate view of Clinton is that he strongly ambivalent about the man.
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Format: Hardcover
I am somewhat apolitical for the most part..more interested in history than in ideology. I approach books such as this with caution. First and foremost, I do not feel that a serious analysis can be written of any event until quite a number of years have passed and we can see what the results of a particular person or event had over the long haul. Secondly, I absolutely have no use for "hate" biographies or biographies written by authors who have some sort of personal or political axe to grind. That is simple bad scholarship and goodness knows we have enough of that crap lurking around us. That being said, I must admit to have been very pleasantly surprised with this offering. I felt the author did a very good job of giving us a ballanced view of the Clinton years in power. Now, this book, as others have so well pointed out, is not a deep book, it is rather, a primer and should be read as such. Over the next 20 years or so I have no doubt that some wonderful works will be written on the Clinton's and the Clinton years. This work is a good start. It gives a good ballanced overview and is a wonderful starting place. I gets you ready for what I am sure will come. You will be disappointed if you are looking for a juicy gossipy read or a Bill and Hilary basher. The author is quite good about giving both sides of each issue, both personal and politically. He examins both the dark side and the light (such as we know of it today). Recommend you read this one, but do recommend you not stop with this one.
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Format: Hardcover
Bill Clinton is a lightning rod figure. In the America of 2005 in which ideology is too often put above rationality, reading an objective study of an emotional icon is refreshing. Clinton's warts are exposed clearly and at some length. But I think any open-minded reader will leave this book with greater respect for the man -- human though he is -- as an increasingly thoughtful and deeply caring human being.

I will come back to this review page in a few days and I know I will see vile hatred spewed out by those who have not read the book. A brief note to them: if your dismissal of the book is based on your dislike of its subject and you have not read the book, then reflect for a moment on how weak your position is and spend the money and effort to find out the whole story.
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