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30 review for The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History With the President

  1. 5 out of 5

    Howard

    I read criticism by several reviewers on the Amazon website who thought that The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History With the President was disorganized and that essentially all Branch did was record the President’s wide-ranging thoughts and views – everything from brokering peace in the Middle East to how he played the 8th hole on a certain golf course. This is true. Others complained that Branch did not organize the book around certain themes and that, as a journalist and historian, he should have I read criticism by several reviewers on the Amazon website who thought that The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History With the President was disorganized and that essentially all Branch did was record the President’s wide-ranging thoughts and views – everything from brokering peace in the Middle East to how he played the 8th hole on a certain golf course. This is true. Others complained that Branch did not organize the book around certain themes and that, as a journalist and historian, he should have presented his interpretations and his evaluations of the President’s policies and actions, but he did not. This is true. But the critics miss the point. The book is not a biography or a history of the Clinton administration. It is a by-product of Taylor Branch’s attempts to help President Clinton keep an oral diary of his presidential years. And it is a fascinating book that demonstrates the personal strengths and weaknesses of a president who experienced failures, but also remarkable successes. I think Peaks and Valleys would have been an appropriate subtitle for the book. When reading Clinton’s far-ranging conversations, one can’t help but be struck by his intellectual capacity and, even more than that, his intellectual curiosity as well as the fact that he is blessed (cursed?) with an encyclopedic mind and a photographic memory. I don’t doubt that the man could engage in a discussion with just about any expert on any subject and hold his own. But when I read about presidents, I am always struck by how difficult the job is and the many complex issues, foreign and domestic, that they have to deal with every day. In reading about the events and issues during the first year of the Clinton administration (as well as charges of criminal misconduct that allegedly occurred before Clinton became president) it reinforces my belief that it is really a leap of faith to believe that anybody is capable of doing the job. And of course, it didn’t end with that first year. In fact, that was only the tip of the iceberg. President Clinton, like all men, has flaws. Many of his problems he brought on himself. How will history evaluate his presidency? That, of course, is yet to be determined, but I did come away from this book with a higher regard for his presidential record, but at the same time thinking how much greater it could have been, if only..... Reading this book and once again realizing the magnitude of the job forces me once more to have some compassion even for those presidents that I never liked or supported. It also reinforces my belief that a thick skin is one of the most important prerequisites for the job. I'm always amazed that anybody would seek the job. But, thankfully, people always line up, as they are now doing, in the hope of becoming the next president.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Evan Moore

    This has been on my to-read list for awhile. I was given a gift certificate for our anniversary by my lovely wife, went to my local used bookstore, and while browsing, saw this on the shelf. The fact that it was autographed sold me. I had been reading it off and on over the weekend, so I didn’t actually finish it in one day. What stands out to me in this book the most is the glimpses of Bill Clinton’s mind, predicting the future. The issues, the people, he was talking about throughout the Ninetie This has been on my to-read list for awhile. I was given a gift certificate for our anniversary by my lovely wife, went to my local used bookstore, and while browsing, saw this on the shelf. The fact that it was autographed sold me. I had been reading it off and on over the weekend, so I didn’t actually finish it in one day. What stands out to me in this book the most is the glimpses of Bill Clinton’s mind, predicting the future. The issues, the people, he was talking about throughout the Nineties, are just as relevant today. Struggles over democracy, peace, the economy, debates over journalism and how media had switched from informing to entertaining, all of these are playing out through the narrative. It is intriguing to note how much has changed, and again, how little. Clinton, for all his flaws-and he does have many-is a world-class political mind, able to combine politics and policy like no one else, and his discussions are rich with substance. The actual unedited transcripts must be amazing. The conversations with Branch capture the hectic whirlwind of the White House, dipping in and out of crisis after crisis, exploring the lulls between, the pageantry and politics, and people, of the Clinton Administration. If Bill Clinton is the central character, Taylor Branch is his supporting second, a relationship stretching back to 1972, on the ill-fated McGovern campaign (funny how fate works). Branch’s qualms over certain aspects of the project-how much of what he’s doing is acting as a friend, or as historian/sounding board, is he being objective enough, his actions as intermediary or guest-do show through, but he seems to be gaining confidence as he grows into his role as the President’s diarist. And we should be thankful that President Clinton had the foresight to record these tapes for posterity, so that future generations would have an impression that might otherwise be lost to the ages. One final thought. While much stood out in this book, including President Clinton’s discussion on the integration and disintegration of the modern world, one moment caught my attention, and filled me with emotion. I don’t know why, but I nearly cried on page 328, when Clinton discusses his trip to Belfast, Northern Ireland (Ch.20, Dec.28th, ‘95 meeting), and for some reason the whole segment, starting with crowds gathering, Catholics and Protestants mingling, “children pressed forward with petitions for peace,” made me want to tear up. It struck me as deeply human, and deeply powerful.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Cora

    THE CLINTON TAPES feels like extensive notes for a subsequent history of the Clinton administration, thanks largely to the circumstances under which it was produced: Taylor Branch, while writing his three volume history of the civil rights movement, agreed to discreetly interview Bill Clinton in order to record his more-or-less unguarded views for posterity. This eventually produced nearly a hundred tapes for the Clinton library, the transcripts of which remain sealed until the end of Hillary Cl THE CLINTON TAPES feels like extensive notes for a subsequent history of the Clinton administration, thanks largely to the circumstances under which it was produced: Taylor Branch, while writing his three volume history of the civil rights movement, agreed to discreetly interview Bill Clinton in order to record his more-or-less unguarded views for posterity. This eventually produced nearly a hundred tapes for the Clinton library, the transcripts of which remain sealed until the end of Hillary Clinton's career in politics. Branch based this volume on his own personal notes, which he recorded while driving back to his home in Baltimore after the interviews concluded. As an interviewer, Branch saw his role as permitting Bill Clinton to present himself as he wished, since history might find significance in what topics Clinton chose to discuss and what he chose to ignore. He also wrote THE CLINTON TAPES as a memoir, not a fully researched history of the administration, so he generally presents Clinton's view as best as he can reconstruct it from his notes rather than seeking to balance it with the views of other political figures from the era. Branch's notes are generally stronger on Clinton's psychology and his assessment of other historical figures than on the intricate policy details that Clinton reveled in. So largely what THE CLINTON TAPES is good for is a sympathetic portrait of Bill Clinton the man, and Branch is very good on that subject. Branch (as a personal friend of both Bill and Hillary Clinton) was privy to more personal access than many observers, and some of the more domestic moments reminded me that after all, Clinton was still a middle-aged dad who liked to play Oh, Hell or Hearts after dinner for hours while encouraging all manner of trash talk, who had embarrassing, daddish opinions on pop music (at one point comparing Joan Obsborne's "One of Us" to Bob Dylan), who was worried about his daughter going to college and worried about not smothering her while she was there. Clinton is very much the shrewd operator with the encyclopedic command of detail that he was reputed to be, and Branch often records him giving a run down of election results by county with ethnic breakdowns, or idly sketching out how to fix the mess of California regulation of electricity. What's probably more surprising, given his Slick Willie reputation, is how Clinton saw himself as a JFK-style idealist who was always being trivialized by observers while he tried to restore honor to public service. He also loved the game of politics, and respected those who felt a political need to trash him. (At one point, he even encouraged Pope John Paul II to attack him along with other world leaders on abandoning the poor.) Paradoxically, this came along with a pronounced tendency towards self-pity, which led him to spend hours complaining about how the press was undermining and trivializing him at every turn. The book is also worth reading for Clinton's stories and his insights into any number of other politicians, including a now famous anecdote about Boris Yeltsin slipping away from his handlers while drunk and wandering the streets of DC in his underwear trying to order a pizza. I also enjoyed the story about Clinton convening a meeting of sitting presidents, including Ford, Bush Sr., and Carter, and finding that the one thing they all shared was a boundless contempt for Ross Perot. I was also surprised to learn that Clinton had a tender regard for Richard Nixon, who got access to the White House for the first time in decades and served as a foreign policy back channel until his death in 1994. Another observation of his, made during the 2000 Republican convention, seems uncannily prescient: "Bush and Cheney were political twins. They both projected a cocksure manner with an economy of words. Like gunslingers in movies, they promised to cut through palaver and get things done. While submitting to democratic norms for the election season, they talked down to voters with a disguised autocratic streak. Clinton thought their governing approach would lean heavily to command over partnership." Obviously this book won't substitute for a full history of the Clinton administration, although to my knowledge nothing has come out yet with any real claim to being definitive. I think it's worth reading regardless, if you're interested in American politics, just because Clinton is an indelible character and this kind of perspective is all too rare. Maybe it's unfair to compare fact and fiction, but I found myself thinking how thin and two dimensional fictional politicians seemed compared to the raw complexity of the real thing. Give me Bill Clinton over Jed Bartlett any day of the week.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Million

    Fascinating look at what Bill Clinton was thinking and feeling while he was in office. Some real revelations here - like how he disliked Janet Reno, was very unhappy with how Gore ran his unsuccessful campaign in 2000, and his thoughts on the leaders in the Middle East. I think this gives us a small glance into the life of a president, and you get a whiff of just how exhausting -0 mentally and physically - that job has to be. How Clinton even had the energy for most of these sessions is remarkab Fascinating look at what Bill Clinton was thinking and feeling while he was in office. Some real revelations here - like how he disliked Janet Reno, was very unhappy with how Gore ran his unsuccessful campaign in 2000, and his thoughts on the leaders in the Middle East. I think this gives us a small glance into the life of a president, and you get a whiff of just how exhausting -0 mentally and physically - that job has to be. How Clinton even had the energy for most of these sessions is remarkable in itself given all of the things that he was dealing with. But I think that in some ways these sessions with Branch were therapeutic for him, allowing him to unburden himself and speak freely. I thought that overall Branch did a splendid job in communicating his hesitancy at so many things - when to interject a question to Clinton, when to make a suggestion on something, when to stop recording if someone called him, what to say in response to certain things that Clinton would say or do. I found myself many times thinking "I wouldn't know what to say or do either. You're in the presence of the President!" One thing I liked in particular is that Branch never seemed to lose his awe in being allowed such incredible access to the White House, and being privy to things that almost no one outside of the very top levels of government knew. Obviously, Clinton put great trust in him, and it is nice to see that over the sessions their relationship seems to get better and better. Some of the most interesting passages to me are when Branch talks about Clinton picking up and rearranging his books, or when Branch asks Clinton if he and his wife can stay over and Clinton was as gracious as he could be, or when Clinton takes Branch's son golfing. Reminders that the president, no matter who he is and what party he belongs to, is human. I do wish that Branch had structured the book better - I think that it would have been better for each session to have been a stand-alone chapter, with each topic within that session structured as an episode so that there would be a natural break from subject to subject.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Nickolette

    Economy, health care reform, tax politics, gay rights, ecology, social security, Newt Gingrich, Murdoch, China, gun control, birth control, Syria, North Korea, Osama bin Laden compared to a Bond villain, even judge Sotomayor gets mentioned. It is like during the 8 Bush years everything stopped and Obama picked up from where Clinton left. It is very rewarding to re-examine recent history and events I more or less remember and to share it today is symbolic. Taylor Branch, the author of The Clinton T Economy, health care reform, tax politics, gay rights, ecology, social security, Newt Gingrich, Murdoch, China, gun control, birth control, Syria, North Korea, Osama bin Laden compared to a Bond villain, even judge Sotomayor gets mentioned. It is like during the 8 Bush years everything stopped and Obama picked up from where Clinton left. It is very rewarding to re-examine recent history and events I more or less remember and to share it today is symbolic. Taylor Branch, the author of The Clinton Tapes, got the Pulitzer Prize for history for his work on Martin Luther King and today Americans celebrate the 50th anniversary of the I Have a Dream speech. To be honest when I picked up the The Clinton Tapes I was hoping to get an impartial account of Bill Clinton’s Presidency and I was surprised to learn in the course of the book that Clinton and Branch were old roommates. Clinton was already my favourite US president (or let’s say he is in my top 3) and I didn't need more convincing. After all he is the first US president I remember and I tend to romanticise a little. At the same time I didn't want to go to the other extreme and begin with Christopher Hitchens’s book on the Clintons. This one I’ll leave for desert. The Clinton Tapes may be not what I have hoped for – independent, balanced and critical analysis, but it is engaging and I deem it factual. However not even terribly revealing, and I understand it couldn't be, I got more from it than let’s say Mr Clinton’s own autobiography – My Life – which I am almost through with. I wish presidential autobiographies were more like what I imagine rock stars’ autobiographies are – less diplomatic, with a little more emotion, passion and edge. Something like “…and I told the motherfucker to piss off and I stand by my words.” http://slpssm.blogspot.com/2013/08/th...

  6. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

    This is a great biography (or memoir, if you will) on President Clinton and the Presidency in general. This work has captured what most presidential biographies (and autobiographies) only dream of: conveying to the reader what it is like to be the President at the time when the principal subject is the President. POTUS is not an easy job, even in peaceful times, and this book hammers that point home quite deftly. Particularly noteworthy is the incident during the first term when Pres. Clinton se This is a great biography (or memoir, if you will) on President Clinton and the Presidency in general. This work has captured what most presidential biographies (and autobiographies) only dream of: conveying to the reader what it is like to be the President at the time when the principal subject is the President. POTUS is not an easy job, even in peaceful times, and this book hammers that point home quite deftly. Particularly noteworthy is the incident during the first term when Pres. Clinton seemed to fall asleep in mid-sentence with his eyes rolling into his head. This book also has many fascinating tales on foreign policy during the Clinton years. I especially enjoyed the in-depth details about the U.S.'s dealings with Haiti in Pres. Clinton's first term. The enlightening details trail off after the second inauguration as the text seemed to get more breezy and quick in general. And though his deference on the Monica Lewinsky scandal is understandable (both for legal and personal reasons), you do kind of wish the author, Taylor Branch, had pressed the President for more on the matter. Bottom line, this is a fascinating book and one that should not be missed by any fans or researchers of U.S. and Presidential history.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    There's a great insight from Clinton about trying to forge peace near the end of the book - scabs vs. abscesses. A scab will heal if you don't pick it (Northern Ireland), an abscess needs to be drained (the Middle East). That's all I'll remember a week from now. The problem with the book is that it's based on tapes that Branch made after sitting down to record the eponymous tapes with Clinton. Far too often the summary of a meeting is "I wish I could remember" or "I can't do justice". It's fasci There's a great insight from Clinton about trying to forge peace near the end of the book - scabs vs. abscesses. A scab will heal if you don't pick it (Northern Ireland), an abscess needs to be drained (the Middle East). That's all I'll remember a week from now. The problem with the book is that it's based on tapes that Branch made after sitting down to record the eponymous tapes with Clinton. Far too often the summary of a meeting is "I wish I could remember" or "I can't do justice". It's fascinating that the tapes got made at all, but it's a magazine article level of fascination and the material really is too thin for a book of this length. It's the hardest slog I've had in a long while.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Bill F.

    I was a huge supporter of Bill Clinton when he ran for President in 1992. I volunteered for the campaign and even went to the inauguration [albeit about a quarter mile from where he delivered his address]. I continued to support him in 1996, although the drip-drip-drip of scandal over the first four years [Travelgate, Filegate, Whitewater, Vince Foster] gave me pause. Watching Chief of Staff Leon Panetta on election night, prior to Clinton's acceptance speech to the large crowd in Little Rock, I I was a huge supporter of Bill Clinton when he ran for President in 1992. I volunteered for the campaign and even went to the inauguration [albeit about a quarter mile from where he delivered his address]. I continued to support him in 1996, although the drip-drip-drip of scandal over the first four years [Travelgate, Filegate, Whitewater, Vince Foster] gave me pause. Watching Chief of Staff Leon Panetta on election night, prior to Clinton's acceptance speech to the large crowd in Little Rock, I was struck at the time by something Panetta said. He let on that was exhausted and needed a break. I got the definite feeling that he was essentially saying, "Look, somehow I made it through without this guy [Clinton] doing something enormously stupid, probably with a dame. I'm gettin' outta Dodge before Bubba gets caught." After Lewinsky, I was done with Clinton. Like most Americans, I felt lied to and I'd had enough of his nonsense. It was a grave disappointment. Over the years, my opinion of Clinton has softened a bit - although I still think he should've called his autobiography You Can't Call it Cheating, 'Cause She Reminds Me of You. I was very interested, then, when one of my favorite historians - Taylor Branch - announced that he and Clinton had discreetly conducted taped interviews throughout Clinton's presidency - from 1993-2001. There were 77 sessions in all, and Branch was coming out with a book on the experience. Branch had met both Clintons - Bill and Hillary - while working Texas for George McGovern's 1972 presidential campaign. After that debacle, Branch lost touch with the Clintons, although he followed his political career, and even traveled to Little Rock on election night to watch the President-elect's acceptance speech. Six days after Election Day 1992, then, Branch was stunned to read an interview with the President-elect in the Baltimore Sun. In the interview, Clinton was saying he was said that thousands of election night celebrants had come to Little Rock and gone without his knowledge. "He [Clinton] said, for instance, that Baltimore novelist Taylor Branch, a long-time friend, had come and gone 'and I never saw him'." Then, shortly after Thanksgiving, Branch was caught off guard when he was contacted by the transition office of President-elect Clinton and told that the President-elect wished to see Branch and his wife, Christy. The meeting took place at a reception on December 7, 1992, held at the home of Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham. When the Clintons arrived, they struck up a conversation with Branch as if they'd just seen him the day before, as opposed to 20 years earlier. From that encounter came a request in early 1993 from the transition office asking Branch if he would come to Washington to assist with the final preparations on the Inaugural Address. Branch and his wife attended the Inauguration [their seats were a helluva lot better than mine] and even spent some time with the Clintons back at the White House that evening. Now officially an FOB [Friend of Bill], Branch was contacted again in June 1993 by the White House Social Office inviting he and Christy to a large formal dinner at the White House. There, an usher told them that the Clintons wished to see them upstairs. Branch figured there would be a smaller group to which they were being invited, so he was surprised to find the President alone. Clinton wasted no time, telling Branch he needed "an Arthur Schlesinger" to help him. He wanted to put an in-house scholar on staff, as JFK did with Schlesinger. Branch demurred, as he was still in the middle of writing his Civil Rights Era trilogy/Martin Luther King biography [Parting the Waters, Pillar of Fire and At Canaan's Edge]. He agreed, however, to help Clinton work on coming up with a system to keep an accurate historical record. Over the summer, Clinton and Branch finalized the decision to hold taped interview sessions - monthly, if possible. The first was held October 17, 1993, the last on January 8, 2001. The arrangement had to be kept secret, as by that point Whitewater was heating up and anything Clinton touched was liable to be subpoenaed. Clinton would not be able to be candid on the tapes if he thought they would be released while he was still President. The only people who knew of the project where Clinton, Hillary, Taylor, Christy, Chelsea Clinton, Clinton's social secretary and Clinton's lawyer, David Kendall. It was agreed that Clinton would keep possession of the tapes, with Branch taking notes and dictating those notes into a summary, which he then provided to Clinton. It was agreed that any issue that might fall within the realm of a special prosecutor would be recorded on separate tapes in the event that Kendall needed to comply with any court order dealing with Clinton's words/thoughts/notes on Whitewater. After 77 sessions, Clinton used the tapes in the writing of his autobiography, My Life. There is an arrangement for them to be stored at the Clinton Presidential Library for eventual release. Branch himself is anxious to hear them, as he never has and wants to see how accurate he was in recapturing the sessions in his notes. The Clinton Tapes - Wrestling History, then, is not a transcript of those tapes. Instead, it is the story of how they came about, what it was like during eight years of recordings, and a recreation of the conversations from the notes Branch took. Ordinarily, I'd be weary of such a book. Without the actual tapes, one could argue, how could an author possibly write a book called The Clinton Tapes? Well, if the author was anyone other than Taylor Branch, I'd agree. Branch, however, is one of the most gifted historians of our era. He bona fides are beyond reproach - as anyone who has read his trilogy can attest. So, I decided to give Clinton another chance. As you can imagine, the book presents a positive side of Clinton. Branch, after all, is a friend. But there are other sides of Clinton presented as well. The President comes off as....well, human. In a positive way [not in the way of, 'well, if you could get a blow-job from an intern, wouldn't you?!' kind of human]. The result is an engaging, brilliant piece of contemporary history. While certainly historians will treasure the tapes themselves when they are eventually released, in the meantime we have Branch's book to analyze the Clinton years. Clinton is funny, angry, tired, wired, frantic, and mellow. The goal - to capture the history of his presidency "at the time" - is achieved brilliantly. Branch is particularly gifted in his writing on the Lewinsky scandal. For his part, Branch - prior to Clinton's admission - did not believe the story. He felt that there were probably transgressions in Clinton's marriage in the past, but that none of these had occurred since being elected President. In hindsight - after Clinton's admission - he was able to see small changes in Clinton's behavior at the time, but nothing that would have led him to believe Clinton had had an affair. Reading about that experience alone is worth the price of the book. Finally, there is a story at the end of the book that - having read the whole book - I think captures Clinton perhaps as close as possible to his "true" self. It is July 6, 2004, and Clinton's My Life has been published. Clinton invited Branch to a party celebrating the event. Getting Branch alone, Clinton turned very solemn and said, "I have something for you." It was an envelope with a check for $50,000, made out to Branch. Clinton continued: "Now, I'm giving out bonuses to everybody who was involved in the book, and there couldn't have been a book without you. I couldn't get you to ghostwrite it for me. You've turned down money, but I want you to have this. I'm the same person I was when you and I were in Texas together and neither one of us had a pot to piss in. And you've spent all this time writing about Martin Luther King, and sometimes I wish I had done that myself. But you still don't have a pot to piss in. I've never had any money, and now I do, and frankly the only reason I want some is to share it with people who are my friends and are doing good." I still think what Clinton did in the Lewinsky case was a fiasco. I still think he harmed the presidency and his country. But he had a more-than-willing-partner in that: the Republicans and the Right, who were clearly out to get him from Day 1. By bringing the impeachment charges on the Lewinsky issue, Republicans severely hampered Clinton's abilities to govern. The 9/11 Report, in fact, notes that one of the best chances to get Osama bin Laden was scrapped because Clinton feared it would be viewed as a political wag-the-dog move. All that being said, Branch's book has given me a greater appreciate for all that Clinton did. It reminded me what it was that so attracted me to him as a candidate 18 years ago. It also shed some light on the President's relationship with Hillary. At the time, I believed that Hillary had known all along that Clinton had had an affair with Lewinsky and that she and Bill simply had an 'arrangement'. Branch's writings make it clear that, in fact, Hillary was stunned, deeply hurt and changed by the event. As were we all. For those who hate Clinton, Branch's book will not change their minds. But for those - like me - who grew ambivalent about the 42nd President of the United States after scandal, after scandal, the book is a great way to get reacquainted with the Comeback Kid from Arkansas.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Rick

    Shortly after Bill Clinton won the 1992 Presidential election he renewed contact with Taylor Branch, a writer who had just published Parting the Waters, the first volume of his three-volume history subtitled America in the King Years. The new president and the writer had known each other in the early 70s but had fallen out of touch. Branch was asked to participate in a unique project that would become part of the Clinton Presidential Library and a resource for Clinton’s memoirs: a periodic audio Shortly after Bill Clinton won the 1992 Presidential election he renewed contact with Taylor Branch, a writer who had just published Parting the Waters, the first volume of his three-volume history subtitled America in the King Years. The new president and the writer had known each other in the early 70s but had fallen out of touch. Branch was asked to participate in a unique project that would become part of the Clinton Presidential Library and a resource for Clinton’s memoirs: a periodic audio diary of a sort. Every few weeks throughout both Clinton terms Branch would be summoned to the White House and would arrive with a tape recorder and a list of topics and questions related to the presidential events between sessions and Branch would query and Clinton would narrate the details of who, what, when, and why of each topic. The Clinton Tapes was published in 2009 and is the behind-the-scenes story of the tapings, not an edited transcript, offering an inside view of President Clinton with some cameos from Mrs. Clinton and Chelsea and other family members and administration colleagues. Branch is discrete about this secret project throughout the eight years of its lifetime and took seriously his role as prompter in chief for Clinton. However, the line is not always respected and Branch’s pre-White House related connections to Haiti result in him being enlisted as an emissary with Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and often the President turns Branch into, if not an adviser, than at least an unofficial but handy sounding board on appointments or strategy. And Branch’s wife will eventually become a speechwriter for the First Lady. But nonetheless Branch tries to limit his role as it relates to the oral history project to someone whose gets the President to talk about important events and the key players involved in those events, whether they be heads of state, Congressional leaders, administration officials. Some things don’t get remarked upon. The First Lady’s brother and mother are suddenly present when Branch comes to meet the President in the latter years of the second term, playing cards and word games, watching sports and award shows. They weren’t consistently there before and their consistent presence comes in the wake of the explosion of the Lewinsky affair and seems to coincide with trips by the First Lady. My guess is that Mrs. Clinton insisted on this because of the betrayal of trust by her spouse. He would be babysat. Another matter Branch presents is the growing awareness of the threat represented by Osama Bin Laden and what impact, if any, the transition of power had on the terrorist success of 9/11 goes without any comment. But readers will wonder. This is not to imply that a continued Clinton presidency or a new Gore administration would have put the jigsaw puzzle of clues and noise that preceded 9/11 together in a way the new Bush administration did not. Just that smooth transitions of power are one of the glories of our republic, but they do interrupt continuity to some degree, and perhaps in this case contributed to the Bush administration’s failure to respond with focused urgency to the threat noise it received in that transitional year. Just another potential risk that comes with aspects of our democracy, and its mitigation should be a critical part of the transitions of all administrations. Branch openly muses about the project’s integrity—is he interfering with the President’s thoughts, provoking reactions instead of thought, over-extending the limited opportunities, would Whitewater jeopardize the history project? Clinton suffers from insomnia, which is how he does so much work, reads so much, and occasionally found himself too alone for his own good, but it also obviously responsible for the opportunities to make the 79 cassettes of first person testimony. The tapes aided Clinton’s writing of his memoirs and will be (or are) available at the Clinton Presidential Library. There are interesting takes on many individuals (from Gephardt to Gore to Gingrich and Dole; not to mention Arafat, Yeltsin, Kohl, Peres, Sharon, Rabin, Reno, Albright, Jackson, and many others) and events (peace in Northern Ireland, Russia’s flirtation with democracy, budget negotiations, tensions between India and Pakistan, North and South Korea, gun control efforts, welfare and crime bills, Bosnia and Kosovo, the Mideast, South Korean democracy, and Japan’s economic woes, to name a few). Branch is a superb writer and makes the whole account of the taping interesting on its own terms. The Clintons come off as very real people, flawed but human, and struggling to succeed against obstacles of circumstances, choices made by opponents, and choices made by themselves. The fact that Branch was managing this assignment from the President, being summoned on short notice to recording sessions, as he was working on the second and third volumes of his monumental work on the civil rights movement is beyond impressive. I enjoyed it even as I started reading thinking Secretary Clinton would win this November and finished its second half after she didn’t win. It was interesting to see how choices made by her husband would handicap her candidacy years later, from agreeing to a special prosecutor to look into Whitewater allegations without any limits to the inquiry (Mrs. Clinton was opposed to both parts of that) and his affair with Monica Lewinsky. The demonization of Mrs. Clinton began, though it didn’t end, there, as did the anti-government obstructionism that plagued the Obama administration. The book does touch on the 2000 election and includes a post-election argument between Gore and Clinton that was an exercise in futile finger pointing. In reality, it’s hard to know for sure if a less-personally flawed President Clinton would have altered either result in 2000 or 2016. Sixteen years ago I felt sure that had Clinton’s gifts for strategy and campaigning been deployed instead of shunned it would have made enough of a difference to tip the scales for Gore. However, that wasn’t the case in 2016 when the Obamas and President Clinton enthusiastically campaigning for Secretary Clinton without tipping a close election to her Electoral College favor. What is clear is President Clinton was a gifted politician with the talents and instincts to survive his worst flaws while his Vice-President and First Lady did not enjoy the same level of gift for politics, for governing yes, but not the charisma and personality to overcome the worst that others throw at them. Their worst flaws couldn’t touch President Clinton’s but he survived, even thrived, their campaigns came up just a little short.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Clint

    Not what I expected but somewhat interesting nonetheless. Taylor Branch, author of M.L. King/civil rights/1960s trilogy, agreed to be a diary-ist for his old friend, now-President Clinton, while he was in the White House. Clinton then would use his recollections as told to Branch to help write his memoirs and other books. But with Clinton's permission and after Clinton's memoir was published, Branch decided to write about the sessions. Much of what comes across in this audio CD was already known Not what I expected but somewhat interesting nonetheless. Taylor Branch, author of M.L. King/civil rights/1960s trilogy, agreed to be a diary-ist for his old friend, now-President Clinton, while he was in the White House. Clinton then would use his recollections as told to Branch to help write his memoirs and other books. But with Clinton's permission and after Clinton's memoir was published, Branch decided to write about the sessions. Much of what comes across in this audio CD was already known — Clinton is smart, is a policy wonk, is highly partisan, doesn't take criticism well. But what's interesting is you get a somewhat behind-the-scenes look at life in the Clinton White House and a few unguarded thoughts: The president never warmed to Attorney General Janet Reno, his top vice presidential pick for Vice President Al Gore in 2000 was Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski (!), he and Gore had it out a bit about the 2000 election before they left office, and Clinton seemed less bothered about the politics of things (even when they didn't go his way) as opposed to the partisanship of things. Now Branch, as an old friend and fellow lib, wasn't going to put too much damaging in his tome, so you don't have Clinton talking about the whys of Lewinsky (except he'd had a number of people close to him die recently), and you only have his side of an issue on which Republicans opposed him. But it serves as a good slice-of-life of the Clinton White House and the world during his time in office.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ernst

    This is not an easy book to review, or to read for that matter. I started reading this book about three years ago and finally managed to finish it. This is not to say that the book is not interesting or valuable. So here is the story: President Bill Clinton embarking on his presidency reconnected with his old friend from the days of the Civil Rights Movement and author and MLK expert Taylor Branch and invites him to facilitate an oral history project, recording interviews, in which the president c This is not an easy book to review, or to read for that matter. I started reading this book about three years ago and finally managed to finish it. This is not to say that the book is not interesting or valuable. So here is the story: President Bill Clinton embarking on his presidency reconnected with his old friend from the days of the Civil Rights Movement and author and MLK expert Taylor Branch and invites him to facilitate an oral history project, recording interviews, in which the president could mull over the current events and his thoughts on them and keep them as notes to himself and to history. The tapes stayed with President Clinton and are probably available through the Clinton Library. However Taylor Branch also recorded his thoughts on the interviews, the topics discussed and the topics shunned and the presidency in general. These notes form this book. So they are a pretty comprehensive, rather personal, and purely subjective account off the beaten track. So for anybody interested in US presidential history, the Clinton years or the Washington political machine, this is pretty much a must. But a page turner it is not. The book is voluminous (otherwise comprehensive would have been difficult) and detailed, which makes it interesting but also a piece of work to read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Phillip

    Despite its length (though it's heavy pages, so not as long as it appears...), this was a breezy (in a good way) read of the Clinton presidency as told by President Clinton himself. I actually think I did learn a lot - much, though not all of course, of the discussions are on foreign policy. This reflects the real job of the modern presidency, much of which doesn't make the news. There were several incidents in the Clinton terms, both scandal and non-scandal, that it was interesting to see the a Despite its length (though it's heavy pages, so not as long as it appears...), this was a breezy (in a good way) read of the Clinton presidency as told by President Clinton himself. I actually think I did learn a lot - much, though not all of course, of the discussions are on foreign policy. This reflects the real job of the modern presidency, much of which doesn't make the news. There were several incidents in the Clinton terms, both scandal and non-scandal, that it was interesting to see the actual man's reactions to -- things that seemed like a big deal to the media that he wasn't concerned about. I think it does reflect that media stories are not always real stories. That said, the actual real scandals of Bill Clinton are interesting to see reflected. Both the "record keeper" and Clinton are obviously biased sources, but primary ones, so there's obviously perspectives to take into account. But I think this would be a good read for any student of the presidency, history, or US government.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Tom Lawler

    This book was a GRIIIIINNNNNND to get through. I'm sure it could have been edited to be 200-300 pages shorter. A couple things that I didn't like.... -The author insists on adding himself to the story. All of his anecdotes about going to the White House to interview the President, chatting with White House functionaries, listening to Clinton take phone calls, etc. are simply not interesting at all. -The book is arranged chronologically which isn't terrible, but consequently each chapter doesn't rev This book was a GRIIIIINNNNNND to get through. I'm sure it could have been edited to be 200-300 pages shorter. A couple things that I didn't like.... -The author insists on adding himself to the story. All of his anecdotes about going to the White House to interview the President, chatting with White House functionaries, listening to Clinton take phone calls, etc. are simply not interesting at all. -The book is arranged chronologically which isn't terrible, but consequently each chapter doesn't revolve around a central event or issue. Too many topics are superficially covered in each chapter. But I did learn some stuff about important events from the 90s, which is what I was hoping for. You also get a sense for the type of person Clinton was...congenial and mostly thoughtful towards other people, with an impressive intellect.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Hamish

    At times a slog, but often fascinating, I feel like I actually know Clinton a little bit now. The parts about actual ordinary life in the WH really are my cup of tea. Too much of a history lesson at times, and the VERY important stuff sort of gets glossed over. I doubt how much of these conversations he's actually recalled. Seems cruel for Clinton to laud over him the transcripts of their conversations in the end but then have to cobble this book together. But I guess the book is actually about At times a slog, but often fascinating, I feel like I actually know Clinton a little bit now. The parts about actual ordinary life in the WH really are my cup of tea. Too much of a history lesson at times, and the VERY important stuff sort of gets glossed over. I doubt how much of these conversations he's actually recalled. Seems cruel for Clinton to laud over him the transcripts of their conversations in the end but then have to cobble this book together. But I guess the book is actually about Branch's experience, not the other side of it.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Blog on Books

    With former President Clinton in the news lately, we thought it would be a good time to look at the most recent book covering his White House years, `The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President' by Taylor Branch. The first thing that bears mention, is that this is not a book of transcripts of secret (or not so secret) White House tapes made in the Oval Office a la Nixon or even LBJ. The book is rather the recollections of Pulitzer Prize winning author, Taylor Branch (`Parting the Wat With former President Clinton in the news lately, we thought it would be a good time to look at the most recent book covering his White House years, `The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President' by Taylor Branch. The first thing that bears mention, is that this is not a book of transcripts of secret (or not so secret) White House tapes made in the Oval Office a la Nixon or even LBJ. The book is rather the recollections of Pulitzer Prize winning author, Taylor Branch (`Parting the Waters' about the rise of Martin Luther King) who was hired by Clinton to conduct a series of late-night interviews with the then president to chronicle his years in the White House; tapes that Clinton himself, has held onto for his own posterity, library, book, etc... While not nearly a direct transcript, Branch's deckle edged book is based on a series of detailed recollections from his discussions with Clinton that revel the president's insider views and opinions on all the major issues of his two-term presidency. The range of topics is wide, moving adroitly from issues of a domestic nature (health care, gays in the military, campaign finance reform, the environment, the media and his major work on behalf of the economy and the balanced budget amendment) to foreign affairs (the middle east peace process, Bosnia, Somalia, Iraq, Haiti, etc.) to politics (the mid-term elections, the contest with Bob Dole in 1996 and some harsh words reserved for Al Gore in the wake of the 2000 debacle, as well as relations with the House and Senate Republicans and their pestiferous leader, Newt Gingrich). Some of the best and worst moments are those reserved exclusively for the Clintons, where Branch's affinity for his former campaign worker friend (they knew each other from George McGovern's presidential run 20 years earlier) show a certain favoritism for giving the Clinton's at least the benefit of the doubt. Subjects like Whitewater, Vince Foster, Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky are tempered by the more personal stories involving Clinton's golf game, Hillary's various social issues as well as the close relationship of both parents with daughter Chelsea. In all, what emerges from The Clinton Tapes is an intimate look at a man who is a deep analytical thinker, a leader that is well schooled on his job and who considers the down-the-line implications of every move much like an experienced chessman. Once Clinton finally decides to release the tapes, we should have a window into even more of the nuances of the issues chronicled here, but until then, The Clinton Tapes serves as a rare window into a complex and issue filled eight-year term at the top. Also available as an audio book.

  16. 4 out of 5

    David Fox

    Clinton: Details of a Presidency If, as the maxim goes, the "devil is in the details" then Branch's tome is a testament to that claim. Branch does what few presidential memoirs achieve - provides the reader with the indelible sense of being a fly on the wall during momentous occasions. And then again this is not a typical memoir, definitely not a biography. Branch had been enlisted by President Clinton on a secret mission. He was asked to help the President assemble a oral record of the President Clinton: Details of a Presidency If, as the maxim goes, the "devil is in the details" then Branch's tome is a testament to that claim. Branch does what few presidential memoirs achieve - provides the reader with the indelible sense of being a fly on the wall during momentous occasions. And then again this is not a typical memoir, definitely not a biography. Branch had been enlisted by President Clinton on a secret mission. He was asked to help the President assemble a oral record of the President's thoughts, impressions & feelings. So, over nearly 80 separate sessions during the course of his 8 years in office Branch met with Clinton to ask him questions & record what he had to say. Without revealing the details of those voluminous tapes this book relates the process while summarizing some of the more salient bits discussed. Noteworthy then is the sheer scope of relevant data that is offered up. We are privy to the back & forth political machinations that embroiled the fierce negotiations between the Israelis, Palestinians & Syrians as they struggled to fashion a peace accord.And even though we know all too well the resolution to this series of unsuccessful negotiations, the tension is palpable with each futile, but grasping stretch for a solution. We are present to witness the President's painful recollections of his regrets over the Lewinsky scandal & how they seriously influenced the outcome of the Bush/Gore election tussle. And there are the moments when it all comes together & we see how Bosnia & Kosovo were saved from even more death & destruction than already bestowed upon them. By the time you reach the book's conclusion, you realize that Branch has wisely not judged one way or the other the wisdom of President Clinton's choices or beliefs. Much like conducting an autopsy (though not nearly as gruesome),he just lays bare what he finds. It is still up to each of us, on our own, to wrestle with the validity of what President Clinton had to say.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Dan Petegorsky

    Taylor Branch is a fine historian, but this is not a history. He and Clinton called their monthly-ish taped conversations over the course of his presidency an oral history project, but in this particular project Clinton was the sole informant, and Branch’s book is not a transcript of the tapes but a contemporaneous record of his own recollections of the conversations after each one took place. The book does have its amusing moments (many of which have already been revealed in reviews and intervie Taylor Branch is a fine historian, but this is not a history. He and Clinton called their monthly-ish taped conversations over the course of his presidency an oral history project, but in this particular project Clinton was the sole informant, and Branch’s book is not a transcript of the tapes but a contemporaneous record of his own recollections of the conversations after each one took place. The book does have its amusing moments (many of which have already been revealed in reviews and interviews), as well as its icky ones (e.g., Clinton reading Bob Packwood’s diaries). Mostly, though, it amounts to a Presidential mood ring, a barometer of how Clinton was weathering the events that swept across the country’s and world’s landscape during his time in office. In that sense, for me the most valuable aspect of reading it was the opportunity to revisit/rethink those events, some of which have an eerie resonance today: the emergence of the extreme/violent right wing, culminating in the Oklahoma City bombing; the setbacks to the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations with the election of Benjamin Netanyahu, etc. There are, though, some key gaps: very, very little is said, for example, about the Rwandan genocide. We’re never again likely to get the kind of historical treasure trove represented by the Nixon tapes or Johnson’s phone recordings. The Clinton tapes themselves may become useful as raw material for a history (though, as Branch laments, they did not become so for Clinton himself, whose memoirs were very, very rushed in covering his own presidency); this volume is mildly entertaining, but not especially illuminating. And be forewarned: the Audible version is to be avoided. Branch himself reads it, and his delivery is, to put it charitably, soporific.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    Expertly written, Taylor Branch’s memoir of his taping sessions with the president is fascinating history in its own right. It took me longer to read than I had originally anticipated; as a journal of his experiences, the only intact narrative thread is chronological. Subjects veer off and disappear to be replaced at random with new (and often entirely unrelated) segues and fleeting impressions. It’s something of a revelation that this kind of patchwork journalism does, in fact, leave the reader Expertly written, Taylor Branch’s memoir of his taping sessions with the president is fascinating history in its own right. It took me longer to read than I had originally anticipated; as a journal of his experiences, the only intact narrative thread is chronological. Subjects veer off and disappear to be replaced at random with new (and often entirely unrelated) segues and fleeting impressions. It’s something of a revelation that this kind of patchwork journalism does, in fact, leave the reader with a clear and vibrant portrait of both Clinton and his presidency. While the gossipy anecdotes are sure to provide fodder for cocktail conversation, the substance of the book can be found principally in the extended descriptions of Clinton’s forays in international diplomacy. Governing, in some respects, is much more about politics than we often realize; a reality at odds with the conventional view that the “permanent campaign” pitfalls of a 24-hour news environment have corrupted the political process. In other words, the sympathetic view of Clinton presented in this book is a natural consequence of high political stakes being met by a first-class political mind. For those who might think that Taylor Branch is too sympathetic to Clinton to be able to write about him objectively, I suggest that they read his civil rights trilogy. He’s too smart to allow himself to be cast as a blatantly sycophantic propagandist; he acquits himself here with grace, intelligence and an appropriate level of deference.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rena Jane

    Amazing perspective on Bill Clinton, by his friend, and one of the most integrity-driven writers of our time. His three-part series on Martin Luther King, Jr. is a must read. And now, this very candid, and respectful book on former President Clinton. He pulls no punches about Whitewater, or Lewinsky. Makes me really wonder the motivation of today's journalists, beyond selling papers and magazines. How often the truth gets twisted up in political agendas, and an effort to titillate readers, rathe Amazing perspective on Bill Clinton, by his friend, and one of the most integrity-driven writers of our time. His three-part series on Martin Luther King, Jr. is a must read. And now, this very candid, and respectful book on former President Clinton. He pulls no punches about Whitewater, or Lewinsky. Makes me really wonder the motivation of today's journalists, beyond selling papers and magazines. How often the truth gets twisted up in political agendas, and an effort to titillate readers, rather than to actually inform. Seeing how carefully, thoroughly and relentlessly Clinton studied the issues of his presidency, and how really hands-on he was in his decision-making, I respect him even more than I did at the time. I always felt bad about his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky, and felt the media made way, way too much of it. And reading Taylor Branch's description of it, I am even more convinced that this was driven by yellow journalism, and Republican greed. If Branch's book is given any credibility, perhaps future generations will appreciate Bill Clinton for the thoughtful, caring President he was.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Robin

    This is a very illuminating view of Clinton. One does feel like you get a unfettered view of his personality and his temperament. I am enjoying listening to an era I remember very well, yet I am reminded just how much of these events one can forget about. I hardly remember Bosnia but certainly Clinton does. What a mess our world is. Clinton did wrestle with the world during his presidency. He was quite an admirable person until he fell off the wall with Monica Lewinsky. He would sleep as little This is a very illuminating view of Clinton. One does feel like you get a unfettered view of his personality and his temperament. I am enjoying listening to an era I remember very well, yet I am reminded just how much of these events one can forget about. I hardly remember Bosnia but certainly Clinton does. What a mess our world is. Clinton did wrestle with the world during his presidency. He was quite an admirable person until he fell off the wall with Monica Lewinsky. He would sleep as little as he could get away with because it appears he did not want to miss anything. He devoured the job. He was a master at political strategy, yet he could not solve the Israel/Palestinian conflict--understandable with Arafat and Sharon. No wonder. These two selfish stage stealers frustrated Clinton to no end. He had the economy pumping along at an incredible rate. I remember when he had to leave the presidency. I was very fearful for what would happen next and, lo and behold, did I have it right on that one. Enjoyable for politically interested persons. P.S. Hilary is amazing.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lynne

    This book is so long that I found myself skimming a lot of the time until I found an issue I wanted to read about. I was interested to find how much importance Clinton ascribed to the threats of bin Laden and how hard he tried to run him down and kill him. I liked reading that Clinton estimated that at the rate he was paying down the national debt, we would be debt-free by 2010. How sad. At the end of the book, after his presidency, he bemoans Bush's giant tax cut, knowing it's going to spell th This book is so long that I found myself skimming a lot of the time until I found an issue I wanted to read about. I was interested to find how much importance Clinton ascribed to the threats of bin Laden and how hard he tried to run him down and kill him. I liked reading that Clinton estimated that at the rate he was paying down the national debt, we would be debt-free by 2010. How sad. At the end of the book, after his presidency, he bemoans Bush's giant tax cut, knowing it's going to spell the end of his deficit reductions. I was fascinated by his confession to Branch, after the impeachment proceedings, that the Lewinski affair probably happened because he "cracked." He cited the deaths of his mother, Vince Foster, and other traumas, and told Branch he might have blown something up, but instead, he did this. Much of the interest is watching Branch arrive for each session, assess the President's mood, watch his interactions with his family, etc. In that sense, it's like being a spy at the White House.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jacob

    The author was Clinton's 'oral historian' during his time in the White House. Branch pretty regularly visited Clinton and recorded interviews about current events for Clinton's library. This book is not based on those tapes, which remain in Clinton's possession, but on Branch's notes of the conversations. It's pretty much all in here except for any details of the special prosecutor investigations. Clinton & Branch talk about the investigation, but due to nervousness about discovery of the tapes The author was Clinton's 'oral historian' during his time in the White House. Branch pretty regularly visited Clinton and recorded interviews about current events for Clinton's library. This book is not based on those tapes, which remain in Clinton's possession, but on Branch's notes of the conversations. It's pretty much all in here except for any details of the special prosecutor investigations. Clinton & Branch talk about the investigation, but due to nervousness about discovery of the tapes in an investigation did not go into detail. That's actually fine (to me) as I was more interested in his work as a president (budget, domestic & international affairs, dealing with the Republicans, etc.) We all know Clinton was a great politician. What comes through in the book is how insightful and broad his thinking is. Politics is a people activity, and Clinton was able to look deeply into motivations of those people as well as the long term societal impacts. A long read, but worthwhile if you're interested in the topic.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    I should have paid attention to previous reviewers. Don't waste your time! I should have paid attention to previous reviewers. Don't waste your time!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Hubert Han

    This is the highest office of the land at its rawest - at least to the public - resulting in the foremost emotions, concerns, and thoughts of a serving president being transmitted through a mere secondary prism (the author; as opposed to the myriad of media commentators, political analysts etc who tend to cloud political drama). I found Clinton's deft and unequivocal judgments on domestic politics intriguing; even more so how he was so often consumed by foreign affairs and how a Middle Eastern p This is the highest office of the land at its rawest - at least to the public - resulting in the foremost emotions, concerns, and thoughts of a serving president being transmitted through a mere secondary prism (the author; as opposed to the myriad of media commentators, political analysts etc who tend to cloud political drama). I found Clinton's deft and unequivocal judgments on domestic politics intriguing; even more so how he was so often consumed by foreign affairs and how a Middle Eastern peace deal was manifestly achievable at the very tail end of his term (its ultimate failure is perhaps a reflection of how such breakthroughs are dependent on the stars being perfectly aligned). There is little coherence in the text but this is more an accurate reflection of the issues in any president's in-tray than the fault of the author. If only all presidents had kept such intimate contemporary reflections of their time in office!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Denis Kaufman

    Just finished the book. As the author says in his Afterword, it is somewhere between history, politics, and journalism. As history it leaves you wanting more. As politics, it is delightful. As journalism, it is far easier -- and more objective -- on Clinton than much of what passed for journalism through the 90s. A constant theme is the way journalists got it wrong while covering the Clinton White House. Rather than actually do their craft too many journalists grubbed for leaks and and stories f Just finished the book. As the author says in his Afterword, it is somewhere between history, politics, and journalism. As history it leaves you wanting more. As politics, it is delightful. As journalism, it is far easier -- and more objective -- on Clinton than much of what passed for journalism through the 90s. A constant theme is the way journalists got it wrong while covering the Clinton White House. Rather than actually do their craft too many journalists grubbed for leaks and and stories from Clinton's enemies. Or they were drawn to sensationalized news events to the exclusion of looking at what was happening in the country and around the world. At the point where the strategy of cynicism was almost exhausted, Clinton validated all the whispering, the rumor-mongering, etc with Monica Lewinsky. Read the book if you want another perspective on the 1990s.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Libby

    It was eerie to read this as Haiti, health care reform, Republican advances in mid-term elections, vitriolic anti-government rhetoric and so many other things were back in the news and on the political and social radars... The book was a long read, but I appreciated the straightforward, behind-the-scenes detail about Clinton's thought process and political style. What impressed me most was how strategic he was in all battles, and his "sixth sense" for discerning what would matter ultimately to v It was eerie to read this as Haiti, health care reform, Republican advances in mid-term elections, vitriolic anti-government rhetoric and so many other things were back in the news and on the political and social radars... The book was a long read, but I appreciated the straightforward, behind-the-scenes detail about Clinton's thought process and political style. What impressed me most was how strategic he was in all battles, and his "sixth sense" for discerning what would matter ultimately to voters -- despite what his own advisers, opponents and the media proclaimed. The book offers such a breezy, personal account of conversations between Branch and Clinton about important events and people; it is definitely necessary to follow up with more substantial political and historical accounts if you are interested in digging deeper.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Bruce

    In the afterward of "The Clinton Tapes," Branch refers to the book as a preview of what's on the tapes recorded during his 79 oral history sessions with Bill Clinton, nearly all during his presidency. And, as such, this book offers some pretty remarkable views--Clinton wrestling with the Middle East peace process, fuming about Ken Starr, reconciling with Al Gore after the 2000 elections. But, as a piece of writing, it's pretty disappointing from a writer as gifted as Branch. If you're fascinated In the afterward of "The Clinton Tapes," Branch refers to the book as a preview of what's on the tapes recorded during his 79 oral history sessions with Bill Clinton, nearly all during his presidency. And, as such, this book offers some pretty remarkable views--Clinton wrestling with the Middle East peace process, fuming about Ken Starr, reconciling with Al Gore after the 2000 elections. But, as a piece of writing, it's pretty disappointing from a writer as gifted as Branch. If you're fascinated with history or Clinton or the White House, or a Branch completist (guilty on the last point), read this. If not, your time would be much better spent with "Parting the Waters" or some other book in Branch's King-years trilogy.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Thom

    There was plenty I had already forgotten about the 90's which this book reminded me of. There's so much spin and BS thrown around political figures that books like this are refreshing - more straightforward talk. This type of book isn't constructed to grab your attention, though. It's sequential and rambles because it's more like a diary. As such, it combined discussions of serious topics of the day as well as little everyday exchanges which show Bill and Hillary's "regular people" side: everyday There was plenty I had already forgotten about the 90's which this book reminded me of. There's so much spin and BS thrown around political figures that books like this are refreshing - more straightforward talk. This type of book isn't constructed to grab your attention, though. It's sequential and rambles because it's more like a diary. As such, it combined discussions of serious topics of the day as well as little everyday exchanges which show Bill and Hillary's "regular people" side: everyday family/parenthood and friends conversation. Personally, this book was also fun as another notch on my recent List Of or theme of Presidential reviews: dvds and books about Kennedy, Ford, Nixon (watched the Nixon/Frost Ron Howard movie) and now Clinton.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Redwood

    This book provides fascinating insights into Clinton's own views on his presidency as it unfolded. The range and import of issues he was dealing with on a daily basis was daunting, and the book reminds you of the sharpness and depth of his intellect. It also conveys the machiavellian world of politics very well, and the thickness of skin required to exist in it. The human side comes over very strongly, as Taylor Branch weaves in Clinton's personal reactions to events around him and describes fam This book provides fascinating insights into Clinton's own views on his presidency as it unfolded. The range and import of issues he was dealing with on a daily basis was daunting, and the book reminds you of the sharpness and depth of his intellect. It also conveys the machiavellian world of politics very well, and the thickness of skin required to exist in it. The human side comes over very strongly, as Taylor Branch weaves in Clinton's personal reactions to events around him and describes family interactions between Cinton, HIllary and Chelsea. A long read, with much detail that cannot be skipped through too quickly without missing intriguing tidbits, and very interesting.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ben

    This really is an example of what could have been. Something like 77 separate taping sessions with the President where he spoke candidly on a variety of issues. But you never hear that voice in it because this is solely done from Branch's dictation notes, which gives the book a weird summarized quality. It also abounds with phrases like "I only regret my notetaking was not fast enough to catch all the brilliant and eloquent things Clinton said." All in all, it has some interesting moments about This really is an example of what could have been. Something like 77 separate taping sessions with the President where he spoke candidly on a variety of issues. But you never hear that voice in it because this is solely done from Branch's dictation notes, which gives the book a weird summarized quality. It also abounds with phrases like "I only regret my notetaking was not fast enough to catch all the brilliant and eloquent things Clinton said." All in all, it has some interesting moments about Clinton's mood and behavior, but at 660+ pages, I'd call it a bit of a disappointment.

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