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In secret, often late-night sessions, Pulitzer Prize winner Branch (America in the King Years) met with Bill Clinton almost 80 times during his presidency to tape record Clinton's ruminations across a variety of topics. The author would direct the discussions by asking poignant questions and would follow up by recording his own take on the conversations. Branch now presents the results of this collaboration (with Clinton also having used his recorded thoughts for his own memoir, My Life). Covered here, in what the author acknowledges is neither history nor autobiography, are all the major topics-e.g., foreign policy, NAFTA, sex scandals, and Whitewater-along with many personal and political anecdotes. Branch excellently captures Clinton's emotions, notably frustration with speaker of the house Newt Gingrich and the Republican Congress, and anger over his impeachment and with the media's emphasizing the salacious details of the Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky matters. Especially revealing is Clinton's speaking of a bitter argument with Vice President Al Gore over the reasons Gore lost the 2000 election. VERDICT Branch's lucid writing and keen interviewing skills keep this book from being a disjointed series of ramblings. The unique format of presidential recollections and the author's follow-up form a narrative that will fascinate informed readers and American presidency scholars. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 1/09.]-Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.
Bill Clinton finds a genial Boswell for this absorbing inside account of his White House years. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Branch (Parting the Waters) met regularly with Clinton as interlocutor for a taped "diary" of reflections, distilling from the rambling conversations illuminating commentaries on major issues, including the failed health-care reform, budget battles with congressional Republicans, scandals and impeachment, and foreign policy crises. They depict Clinton as both a principled man and a born operator-Branch wonderfully captures the shrewd political calculations Clinton elaborates to justify his triangulations-with a restless intellect that revels in the details of everything from Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to the Hubble Space Telescope. (The book also offers a warm portrait of the first family, with young Chelsea forever rushing in for help with homework.) Branch, who worked on presidential speeches and was paid $50,000 by Clinton for the project, often seems less than objective; he treads lightly around Whitewater and the Monica Lewinsky scandal, for example. Still, browsers and scholars will find perceptive insights on Clinton's policies and magnetic personality. (Sept.) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.