The definitive account of one of the most accomplished, controversial, and polarizing figures in American history
Bill Clinton is the most arresting leader of his generation. He transformed American politics, and his eight years as president spawned arguments that continue to resonate. For all that has been written about this singular personality–including Clinton’s own massive autobiography–there has been no comprehensive, nonpartisan overview of the Clinton presidency.
Few writers are as qualified and equipped to tackle this vast subject as the award-winning veteran Washington Post correspondent John F. Harris, who covered Clinton for six of his eight years in office–as long as any reporter for a major newspaper. In The Survivor, Harris frames the historical debate about President William Jefferson Clinton, by revealing the inner workings of the Clinton White House and providing the first objective analysis of Clinton’s leadership and its consequences.
Harris shows Clinton entering the Oval Office in 1993 primed to make history. But with the Cold War recently concluded and the country coming off a nearly uninterrupted generation of Republican presidents, the new president’s entry into this maelstrom of events was tumultuous. His troubles were exacerbated by the habits, personal contacts, and the management style, he had developed in his years as governor of Arkansas. Clinton’s enthusiasm and temper were legendary, and he and Hillary Rodham Clinton–whose ambitions and ordeals also fill these pages–arrived filled with mistrust about many of the characters who greeted them in the “permanent Washington” that often holds the reins in the nation’s capital.
Showing surprising doggedness and a deep-set desire to govern from the middle, Clinton repeatedly rose to the challenges; eventually winning over (or running over) political adversaries on both sides of the aisle–sometimes facing as much skepticism from fellow Democrats as from his Republican foes. But as Harris shows in his accounts of political debacles such as the attempted overhaul of health care, Clinton’s frustrations in the war against terrorism, and the numerous personal controversies that time and again threatened to consume his presidency, Bill Clinton could never manage to outrun his tendency to favor conciliation over clarity, or his own destructive appetites.
The Survivor is the best kind of history, a book filled with major revelations–the tense dynamic of the Clinton inner circle and Clinton’s professional symbiosis with Al Gore to the imprint of Clinton’s immense personality on domestic and foreign affairs–as well as the minor details that leaven all great political narratives. This long-awaited synthesis of the dominant themes, events, and personalities of the Clinton years will stand as the authoritative and lasting work on the Clinton Presidency.
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The Survivor is the rare book with positive recommendations from both liberal historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. and Brit Hume of the Fox News Channel. The author, John F. Harris--who covered the Clinton presidency as a political reporter at The Washington Post for six years--finds the perfect balance for his subject, writing with point-blank frankness about Clinton's impressive strengths and many weaknesses and painting an utterly fair portrait of one of the most charismatic and enigmatic political figures of the last 50 years. Harris at times is harsher to Clinton than many of the president's critics were and at other times, as in the case of his impeachment, is far kinder. He occasionally editorializes on the motivations of the Clintons, that ultimate power couple: why their marriage was not (despite public opinion) a sham based on political opportunity; how Bill's upbringing contributed to his willingness to take risks (sometimes to his great harm); and how "permanent Washington," including the presidential press corps, was determined to teach these Arkansas outsiders a lesson in the administration's rocky early days.
Harris peppers the book with both fact and anecdote, moving swiftly from subject to subject. The Survivor shows Clinton's growth as a leader throughout the eight years of his presidency, and how his personal failings almost brought them to a close. Far from being a milquetoast summary of events, The Survivor is a gripping read set behind the scenes in the West Wing. Harris has crafted a brilliant book with writerly style and with an eye on history. The Survivor is one of the best political titles of the year, and--like its subject matter--may be appreciated even more as time goes on. --Jennifer BuckendorffAbout the Author:
John F. Harris is a veteran political reporter for The Washington Post who covered the Clinton presidency from 1995 through its conclusion in 2001. His work during these years earned several prestigious awards, including the White House Correspondents’ Association’s Aldo Beckman Award and the Prize for Distinguished Reporting on the Presidency from the Gerald R. Ford Library. Additionally, Harris is a panelist on PBS-TV’s Washington Week and appears on numerous other television and radio programs.
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