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 Memoir Review    

 

 

My Life
By Bill Clinton
Knopf, 2004
Hardcover, $35.00 (957 pages)
ISBN: 0-375-41457-6
 
 

How a reader responds to Bill Clinton's My Life is likely to be influenced by how the reader responds to Bill Clinton and/or feels about his presidency.  

To his credit, Clinton maintains a "zone of privacy" about his wife and daughter; is generous to everyone who offered him help during his years as Governor of Arkansas and President of the United States; and rarely chides his political enemies. Most of the "revelations" in the book (his banishment to the couch after his admission that he had not been totally honest with his wife or the country about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, the weekly eight hour sessions of therapy to delve into the roots of his familial problems, and the silence he learned to maintain as a child living in a household with an alcoholic and abusive stepfather) have been the focus of interviews with Dan Rather, Oprah Winfrey, Larry King, and others during his recent book tour. 

At its' best, My Life illuminates the daily workings of the job of being president. Clinton surrounded himself with intelligent people who challenged him to work harder and who had the intention of bringing out the best in one another. His administration was keenly aware of the problems of their generation -- they came of age during the Civil Rights Movement, felt the need to question the war in Vietnam, and understood the necessity for the Womens' Rights Movement -- and many of their goals were idealistic and humanitarian. 

Bill Clinton knows how to tell a story and he tells his own with intelligence, grace, and self-deprecating humor. In many ways, Bill Clinton's story is "the American Story." His father died before his birth; his mother had to work to support the family; and his loving, but strict, grandparents helped raise him insuring he never felt a lack of love. He grew up in small towns in Arkansas where he witnessed how poor people both white and black -- were treated. Internalizing his grandfather's quiet and determined efforts to offer his black customers equal service in his general store and watching his mother "make up" her face and go to work every day despite her grief, taught Clinton a work ethic that carried him through even his darkest days.  

In looking at Bill Clinton's personal life and marriage -- and certainly few politicians' marriages have been scrutinized more closely -- he's had to balance the problems most baby boomers and members of the "sandwich generation" have faced or are facing. He knew he wanted to be a good father and that parenting would be the most important job he'd ever have. He wanted to be a good husband, yet he came of age and married at a time when men and women were rethinking the institution and gender roles. During his first term as President, his father-in-law and his much beloved mother died, teaching him, again, the necessity for family time. 

My Life is filled with humorous family anecdotes and lively personal history, intelligent and articulate political observations and commentary, insightful looks in the Clinton presidency and the internal workings of the White House, and infectious optimism. 

 
Pam Kingsbury
Southern Scribe Reviews

 

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