A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton

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9780375407666: A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton

Carl Bernstein’s stunning portrait of Hillary Rodham Clinton shows us, as nothing else has, the true trajectory of her life and career with its zigzag bursts of risks taken and safety sought. Marshaling all the skills and energy that propelled his history-making Pulitzer Prize reporting on Watergate, Bernstein gives us the most detailed, sophisticated, comprehensive, and revealing account we have had of the complex human being and political meteor who has already helped define one presidency and may well become, herself, the woman in charge of another.

We see the shaping of Hillary as a self-described “mind conservative and heart liberal” —her ostensibly idyllic Midwestern girlhood (her mother a nurturer, but her father a disciplinarian, harsher than she has acknowledged); her early development of deep religious feelings; her curiosity fueled by dedicated teachers, by exposure to Martin Luther King Jr., by the ferment of the sixties, and, above all, by a desire to change the world. At Wellesley, we watch Hillary, a Republican turned Democrat, thriving in the new sky’s-the-limit freedom for women, already perceived as a spokeswoman for her generation, her commencement speech celebrated in Life magazine. And the book takes us to Yale Law School as Hillary meets and falls in love with Bill Clinton and cancels her dream to go her own way, to New York or Washington, tying her fortune, instead, to his in Arkansas.

Bernstein clarifies the often amazing dynamic of their marriage, shows us the extent to which Hillary has been instrumental in the triumphs and troubles of Bill Clinton’s governorship and presidency, and sheds light on her own political brilliance and her blind spots—especially her suspicion and mishandling of the press and her overt hostility to the opposition that clouded her entry into the capital. He untangles her relationship to Whitewater, Troopergate, and Travelgate. He leads us to understand the failure of her health care initiative.

In the emotional and political chaos of the Lewinsky affair we see Hillary, despite her immense hurt and anger, standing by her husband—evoking a rising wave of sympathy from a public previously cool to her. It helps carry her into the Senate, where she applies the political lessons she has learned. It is now her time. As she decides to run for president, her husband now her valued aide, she has one more chance to fulfill her ambition for herself—to change the world.

In his preparation for A Woman in Charge, Bernstein reexamined everything pertinent written about and by Hillary Clinton. He interviewed some two hundred of her colleagues, friends, and enemies and was allowed unique access to the candid record of the 1992 presidential campaign kept by Hillary’s best friend, Diane Blair.

He has given us a book that enables us, at last, to address the questions Americans are insistently—even obsessively—asking about Hillary Clinton: What is her character? What is her political philosophy? Who is she? What can we expect of her?

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Read an excerpt from A Woman in Charge
A Woman in Charge is Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Carl Bernstein's illuminating account of Hillary Rodham Clinton, revealing the complex of motivations and machinations behind her extraordinary life and career. Drawing on over 200 interviews with Clinton associates (both colleagues and adversaries), as well as major pieces written by and about the former First Lady, Bernstein has constructed an indelible portrait of perhaps the most polarizing figure in American politics, from her midwestern roots to her own presidential ambitions; but don't take our word for it--read an excerpt from the first chapter and decide for yourself.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Chapter One: Formation

I adored [my father] when I was a little girl. I would eagerly watch for him from a window and run down the street to meet him on his way home after work. With his encouragement and coaching, I played baseball, football and basketball. I tried to bring home good grades to win his approval.
–Living History

Hillary Rodham’s childhood was not the suburban idyll suggested by the shaded front porch and gently sloping lawn of what was once the family home at 235 Wisner Street in Park Ridge, Illinois. In this leafy environment of postwar promise and prosperity, the Rodhams were distinctly a family of odd ducks, isolated from their neighbors by the difficult character of her father, Hugh Rodham, a sour, unfulfilled man whose children suffered his relentless, demeaning sarcasm and misanthropic inclination, endured his embarrassing parsimony, and silently accepted his humiliation and verbal abuse of their mother.

Yet as harsh, provocative, and abusive as Rodham was, he and his wife, the former Dorothy Howell, imparted to their children a pervasive sense of family and love for one another that in Hillary’s case is of singular importance. When Bill Clinton and Hillary honeymooned in Acapulco in 1975, her parents and her two brothers, Hughie (Hugh Jr.) and Tony, stayed in the same hotel as the bride and groom.

Dorothy and Hugh Rodham, despite the debilitating pathology and undertow of tension in their marriage (discerned readily by visitors to their home), were assertive parents who, at mid-century, intended to convey to their children an inheritance secured by old-fashioned values and verities. They believed (and preached, in their different traditions) that with discipline, hard work, encouragement (often delivered in an unconventional manner), and enough education at home, school, and church, a child could pursue almost any dream. In the case of their only daughter, Hillary Diane, born October 26, 1947, this would pay enormous dividends, sending her into the world beyond Park Ridge with a steadiness and sense of purpose that eluded her two younger brothers. But it came at a price: Hugh imposed a patriarchal unpleasantness and ritual authoritarianism on his household, mitigated only by the distinctly modern notion that Hillary would not be limited in opportunity or skills by the fact that she was a girl.

Hugh Rodham, the son of Welsh immigrants, was sullen, tight-fisted, contrarian, and given to exaggeration about his own accomplishments. Appearances of a sort were important to him: he always drove a new Lincoln or Cadillac. But he wouldn’t hesitate to spit tobacco juice through an open window. He chewed his cud habitually, voted a straight Republican ticket, and was infuriatingly slow to praise his children. "He was rougher than a corncob and gruff as could be," an acquaintance once said. Nurturance and praise were left largely to his wife, whose intelligence and abilities he mocked and whose gentler nature he often trampled. "Don’t let the doorknob hit you in the ass on your way out," he frequently said at the dinner table when she’d get angry and threaten to leave. She never left, but some friends and relatives were perplexed at Dorothy’s decision to stay married when her husband’s abuse seemed so unbearable.

"She would never say, That’s it. I’ve had it," said Betsy Ebeling,* Hillary’s closest childhood friend, who witnessed many contentious scenes at the Rodham dinner table. Sometimes the doorknob remark would break the tension and everybody would laugh. But not always. By the time Hillary had reached her teens, her father seemed defined by his mean edges–he had almost no recognizable enthusiasms or pretense to lightness as he descended into continuous bullying, ill-humor, complaint, and dejection.



About the Author:

Carl Bernstein shared a Pulitzer Prize with Bob Woodward for his coverage of Watergate for The Washington Post. He is the author, with Woodward, of All the President’s Men and The Final Days, and, with Marco Politi, of His Holiness: John Paul II and the History of Our Time. He is also the author of Loyalties, a memoir about his parents during McCarthy–era Washington. He has written for Vanity Fair (he is also a contributing editor), Time, USA Today, Rolling Stone, and The New Republic. He was a Washington bureau chief and correspondent for ABC News. He lives with his wife, Christine, in New York.

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