cover image The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President

The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President

Taylor Branch, . . Simon & Schuster, $35 (707pp) ISBN 978-1-4165-4333-6

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.)