The Clinton tapes : wrestling history with the president /

While still a sitting president, Bill Clinton initiated a project to preserve for historians an unfiltered record of presidential experience. Clinton talks intimately over seven years to his long-time friend, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, about what it's like to be president, highlighting...

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Main Author: Branch, Taylor.
Format: Book
Published:New York : Simon & Schuster, 2009.
Edition:1st Simon & Schuster hardcover ed.
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Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A history of the Bill Clinton years based on taped interviews with the president while he was in office. Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist Branch (At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 19651968, 2006, etc.) approaches the story of Clinton's administration from a unique angle. As a longtime friend of the family, in 1993 the author agreed to assist in recording what was, in effect, Clinton's secret diary. In 79 informal sessions, held sporadically until 2001, Clinton talked spontaneously about recent events, aiming to create an unfiltered, on-the-spot record of events for future historians. The interviews cover a lot of ground: the president's failed health-care reform, the conflict in Bosnia, the Whitewater controversy, the 1996 reelection campaign and much more. Because Branch is very much Clinton's friend, however, he doesn't get below the president's well-polished surface when it comes to uncomfortable topics. For example, the president was standoffish on the subject of Monica Lewinsky, and Branch was simply too polite to press him on it. The few unguarded episodesincluding the time Clinton dozed off in the middle of a taping session due to his exhaustion in the wake of the Democrats' crushing defeat in the 1994 Congressional elections, or when he recalled his final visit with his beloved mother, shortly before her deathare the most riveting aspects of the book. But there aren't many surprises hereClinton, after all, used the tapes as reference material for his 2004 memoirand Branch's interest in minutiae, such as descriptions of delays he faced when he went to visit the president, slow the narrative. Presidential history buffs will certainly appreciate the you-are-there, nuts-and-bolts account of the Clinton administration, but Branch fails to capture an honest portrait of a man who may be, ultimately, unknowable. A one-of-a-kindthough not particularly revealingperspective on the Clinton presidency. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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