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Bill Clinton wanted Taylor to be his "Arthur Schlesinger" but settled for another arrangement when Branch declined. Instead, Branch interviewed the President 78 times between 1993 and 2001 for roughly two hours each time.The President's side of those conversations formed the basis of his own memoir, though many argue they are underused. But Branch immediately after each session recorded his take not only on the content of their conversations, but on Clinton's demeanor, moods, puzzlements and the homely aspects of his and his family's life in the West Wing. So Hillary and Chelsea and a few others play feature roles.Because the mission was confidential, Branch encountered mostly the permanent, anonymous staff at the official residencethe ushers and butlerswho guided him to await Clinton in various rendezvous spots. Several taped sessions took place in the family den next to the President's bedroom, on a table next to Hillary's collection of ornamental frogs, or in the upstairs Solarium. Most took place in the President's private office, The Treaty Room, beneath a portrait of Lincoln with his generals. Branch highlights major events from Clinton's two terms, including war in Bosnia, the anti-deficit crusade, health reform failure, anti-terrorist strikes, peace initiatives, the 1996 re-election campaign, and Whitewater investigations culminating in his 1999 impeachment trial. Branch compares Clinton's diary version with public accounts then and since. Other people and subjects: Boris Yeltsin, Newt Gingrich, Al Gore's reforms. Clinton complained of press mistreatment chronically. He displayed detachment and bursts of eloquence. Branch's main job was to prod him, and Clinton was on the whole forthcoming. It is a rare look at the pressures of a job that Branch watched age this relatively young president.Branch reports that the President asked his advice on some topics, and they argued twice to the point of strain. He says he had to remind himself that a buddy of yesteryear was now President of the United States, though Clinton seldom invoked the distinction.Branch's diary notes keep a running evaluation of Clinton and of his work. Was he candid? Were his own questions thorough and objective? What would future scholars and readers think of the oral histories? Why labor to humanize the legacy of a president whose sex life glared on the national stage?The Bill Clinton diaries are a unique historical treasure, holding stories of revelation and impact. There has never been a book quite like thisas a president, in office, tries to remember, explain, contemplate and manage his actions and their legacy.
Simon & Schuster
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'Taylor Branch's latest book has made me whistle more than any comparable piece of work for a very long time, and not just because of its many remarkable disclosures.' --Christopher Hitchens, Newsweek, 'A remarkable portrait of White House life. . . . An important work about American political life. . . . Branch is an historian by trade, and an excellent one. . . . To the extent that Branch's portrait of the president rescues politics from ignominy, he has done a real public service; that he has done this while vividly portraying an exuberant American original is cause for joy. . . . Revealing and often delightful.' --Joe Klein, The New York Times Book Review, 'By turns intimate and dispassionately historical . . . this book will be a boon to historians. The casual reader might delight more in Branch's glimpses of an unguarded president.' --Gilbert Cruz, Time, 'I have seldom read a more compelling account of a leader in power. . . . An unexpected treasure-trove. Here is Clinton out of hours and off his guard. . . . The story behind this book reads like the plot of a Hollywood movie.' --Robert Harris, The Sunday Times (London)