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Chances of a Lifetime

Christopher, Warren

39 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 0684830248 / ISBN 13: 9780684830247
Published by Scribner, New York, 2001
Condition: Very good Hardcover
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25 cm, 320 pages. Illus., bibliography, index. Signed by the author. Bookseller Inventory # 25673

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Chances of a Lifetime

Publisher: Scribner, New York

Publication Date: 2001

Binding: Hardcover

Book Condition: Very good

Dust Jacket Condition: very good

Signed: Signed by Author(s)

About this title


An engaging autobiography chronicles how Christopher left a private law firm to heed the call to public service, choosing to face new challenges as diverse as advising a president on whether to dispatch troops to investigating a major city's police force gone bad. 50,000 first printing.


There are no earthshaking surprises in this memoir by Warren Christopher, the first secretary of state in the Clinton administration. No revelations, for example, about what Syrian strongman Hafez Assad really said to him behind closed doors. Yet it is an engaging account of how a boy born in rural South Dakota came to occupy the corridors of power in Washington, D.C. Before rising to secretary of state in 1993, Christopher served at high levels under Presidents Johnson and Carter. Along the way, he earned a reputation for buttoned-down decorum. Clinton once called him "the only man ever to eat presidential M&M's on Air Force One with a knife and fork." Christopher doesn't reveal much about his personal life on the pages, but he does impart lessons learned from a life in public office: "Silence, once associated with discretion, begets confidence as well as confidences. I learned that people also tend to read wisdom from silence--even when silence means only that you know nothing about what they are talking about."

Christopher was involved in many important events during his career, from race riots in the 1960s (when he was a Department of Justice official) to the Iran hostage crisis in 1979 and1980 (when he did his first stint at State). About this latter episode, he writes: "Never before nor since has any foreign policy problem engaged me so intensively for so long. One of the most interesting sections of Chances of a Lifetime describes the extraordinary security measures Christopher learned to live with when he became secretary of state. He couldn't visit a friend's house without it undergoing a sweep several hours beforehand. Dinner at a restaurant involved reserving an extra table for a pair of agents who would do nothing but drink iced tea and watch for trouble. For a morning jog in Israel, "agents arranged for me to run at sunrise inside a deserted soccer stadium." Christopher came under intense scrutiny, too. He relates, for instance, the minor flap over choosing to edit a speech in which he referred to American Chinese relations as a "cooperation" rather than a "partnership."

Regrettably, the book does not include much discussion of Christopher's role in Democratic politics since leaving the Clinton administration; among other things, he led Al Gore's effort to challenge the Florida vote count in 2000. Yet Chances of a Lifetime is full of crisp and straightforward prose about an important public figure; it's required reading for foreign-policy aficionados, and anybody else interested in Washington's ladder of success. --John J. Miller

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