two-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
12-Sept-Oct-2004
user_rating: 
0
A-MyLifeIn this candid, comprehensive autobiography, William Jefferson Clinton—42nd president of the United States—shares his memories of, well, everything: his poor childhood in Arkansas, his abusive stepfather, his desire to serve the public, Hillary and Chelsea, Kenneth Starr, health reform, Waco, Bosnia, and the Middle East. Somewhere in the middle, there’s a childhood barber, a BB gun standoff, and a tomato-eating contest. My Life is both a therapeutic examination of Clinton’s successes and failures and a grand journey through America’s cultural terrain. "I always tried," Clinton writes, "to keep things moving in the right direction, to give more people a chance to live their dreams, to lift people’s spirits, and to bring them together."
Knopf. 957 pages. $35.
ISBN: 0375414576

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
… the richest American presidential autobiography—no other book tells us as vividly or fully what it is like to be president of the United States for eight years." Larry McMurtry

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[T]his record-setting best-seller isn’t just a blockbuster. It’s a filibuster. … a panoramic, richly informative account of the first president in years to embody the myth of America as a country where anyone can grow up to be president—and, if we’re not careful, the last." David Kipen

Seattle Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"…My Life may be uneven, but it’s consistently fascinating, with more detail than a Breughel canvas. … My Life, too, reads like a double book: the opening chapters telling in colorful detail about his childhood, and the majority of the book reading like an expanded diary that recounts his later political successes and failures month by month." Melinda Bargreen

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
"His life is too fascinating, his mind too brilliant, his desire to charm too strong to permit him to produce a boring book. … But in his rush to meet his publication deadline, Clinton seems to have sacrificed a more thoughtful historical analysis in favor of pouring every meeting, meal and travelogue into print." Walter Isaacson

Boston Globe 2 of 5 Stars
"Regrettably, Clinton’s oratorical talents don’t readily translate to his writing skills. … This is a book that in many ways mirrors the best and worst of a complicated leader, a lightning rod of his time." Michael D. Langan

Los Angeles Times 2 of 5 Stars
"There are flashes of incisive brilliance and numbing stretches of tedious self-absorption." Tim Rutten

New York Times 1 of 5 Stars
"… sloppy, self-indulgent and often eye-crossingly dull—the sound of one man prattling away, not for the reader, but for himself and some distant recording angel of history. … For the most part, the self-portrait that emerges from this book is not all that different a Bill Clinton from the one the public has already come to know: tireless, driven, boyish, self-absorbed and optimistic, someone riven by contradictions but adept at compartmentalizing different parts of his life." Michiko Kakutani

Wall Street Journal 0.5 of 5 Stars
"If you read only one book on Mr. Clinton up close and personal, I’d make it Monica’s, the only one… in which Bill displays any of his much vaunted passion …. Mr. Clinton’s book is a double flop: Either stake your claim to join the guys on Mount Rushmore or embrace your destiny as a guy who rushes to mount more." Mark Steyn

Critical Summary

"It sure is a good story," Clinton writes in his prologue. Really, it is. You just need to wade through the myriad names, dates, and details of this "big puffy plum cake of an autobiography" to make sense of his panoramic story (New York Times Book Review). As The New York Times points out, My Life is "part policy primer, part 12-step confessional, part stump speech and part presidential archive." Despite his serious lack of focus, Clinton is characteristically charming and fascinating throughout. Critics agree that the best parts center on his poignant descriptions of his Arkansas childhood, sympathetic look at his alcoholic stepfather, and controversial treatment of the "character issue." As for Monica? You’ll just have to wait and see.

The Critics Compared

AS-UlyssessGrantPersonal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant | Ulysses S. Grant (1885-86): "My family is American, and has been for generations, in all its branches, direct and collateral." Thus opens Grant’s two-volume memoir, edited by Mark Twain during the last months of the president’s life. Considered one of the best military memoirs and autobiographies of an American president.