three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
18-Sept-Oct-2005
user_rating: 
0

Bill Clinton in the White House

A-SurvivorWashington Post correspondent Harris, who covered President Clinton for six of his eight years in office, set out to write the first comprehensive, nonpartisan overview of this presidency and document its inner workings. Harris paints Clinton not as the guileful Machiavelli that his detractors dubbed "Slick Willie," but rather as an insecure, erratic man lacking in self-control and eager for approval in the hostile climate of official Washington, preferring conciliation over clarity and unable to rise above his own destructive appetites. This synthesis of the dominant themes, events, and personalities of the Clinton years aims to be an authoritative and lasting work on the Clinton presidency.
Random House. 544 pages. $29.95. ISBN: 0375508473

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"This is surely the most careful documentation of how the Clinton mind worked, and of how the Clinton White House worked, and of why so much seemed not to work in that time. … There will be more Clinton histories and biographies in the years to come, but the chief virtue of this one is twofold: First, it was written by a reporter who depends in part on his own notes from the period. Second, no future account of these years will be written without constant reference to this one."
David M. Shribman

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"In vivid detail, Harris leads us through the ups and downs of a presidency that seemed to end soon after it began, only to adapt and at times soar in the face of adversity. … Most compelling is Harris’s analysis of the relationships and behind-the-scenes details that add flesh and nuance—or even contradiction—to real-time news accounts." Linda Feldmann

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"[O]ver the course of 500 pages, Harris … documents the history of a president who, however frustrating he may have been in style and method, usually made the right choices in the end—even when he felt that he was hurting himself politically. … This is a complex, interesting and subtle book about a complex, interesting and subtle man." Alan Ehrenhalt

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Of all the Clinton books to date, this is the best of breed. … If you want to get an idea what Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton might be like as president, read this book." Ken Bode

Baltimore Sun 3 of 5 Stars
"Harris is no Clinton apologist. He sees the many flaws. But he makes a powerful argument that Clinton also made many right choices on the economy, social policy, and in foreign affairs."
Larry Williams

New York Times 3 of 5 Stars
"What The Survivor does do is provide a sober, fair-minded and highly readable account of Mr. Clinton’s tenure in the White House, fleshing out earlier accounts with detailed and sometimes revealing interviews with former Clinton advisers and cabinet members. … He suggests that the book on Mr. Clinton’s legacy is not yet closed—that the ‘cycles of decline and revival’ his reputation has already undergone since leaving office will be affected by one as yet unknown factor: Hillary Rodham Clinton’s political future." Michiko Kakutani

Providence Journal 3 of 5 Stars
"There is so much nostalgia for Bill Clinton that perhaps we need this book … to remind us not just about the many crises he survived, but about the missed opportunities. It is painful reading." Donald D. Breed

Critical Summary

Harris admirably supports his contentions with evidence and shows readers the tension between Bill Clinton’s light and dark sides. His treatment of Hillary Rodham Clinton, from her imperious role as "Deputy President" to her rivalry with Al Gore to her beleaguered marriage, is especially revelatory in light of her 2008 presidential ambitions. In its evenhanded approach, The Survivor is like a Rorschach inkblot that elicits each reviewer’s individual opinion of Clinton and his presidency. Whatever the reviewers’ own biases, President Clinton emerges as a complex, almost tragic figure, constantly battling his own worst impulses—and above all, as a resilient survivor who is at his best when under siege.