Monday, December 24, 2007

Book Synopsis: Living History by Hillary Rodham Clinton

I need to start out by saying a few things. I respect the work that Sen. Clinton has done and admire her drive and tenacity; without a doubt she is a very bright and capable woman. Her work in the areas of health care and child welfare is extensive and thorough and has made a difference for the better. She has worked hard for the things she has achieved in life. That said, I found parts of this book very difficult to read. At one point I put it down for about two weeks. In fact, I read this book about 10 months ago and have written and re-written a review several times since then. I am still not completely satisfied with it. And so, in place of a review, I offer instead a synopsis, so if you are inclined you can find the sections you might want to read. At a later date I may try again to write a more formal review.

My recommendation would be to skip the first parts of the book and start in around page 130 or later, when they are already in the White House. The writing really picks up speed around page 211 or even 228.

But let’s start at the beginning and work our way through. The chapters are not numbered nor are they divided into sections.

The first two chapters (pp. 1-26) cover her family history and life up to high school.

The next three chapters (pp. 27-61) cover her college years (including law school). She was a driven and serious student, the first student commencement speaker at Wellesley. It generated national interest and she was featured in Life magazine because of it.

She also talks about meeting Bill Clinton in law school. On p. 61 she talks of Bill Clinton’s repeated proposals, which she declined:

My mother had suffered from her parents’ divorce, and her sad and lonely childhood was imprinted on my heart. I knew that when I decided to marry, I wanted it to be for life. Looking back to that time and to the person I was, I realize how scared I was of commitment in general and of Bill’s intensity in particular. I thought of him as a force of nature and wondered whether I’d be up to the task of living through his seasons.

The next two chapters (pp. 61-100) concern her work in Washington after college, marrying Bill Clinton, working as a lawyer, having her daughter, and her years as Arkansas’ First Lady. All of that in 39 pages. I would have liked this to be fleshed out a little more.

The next chapter (pp. 101-116) is about Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign. Again, I wish there had been a little more detail here.

The next eight chapters (pp. 117-242) are on the first two years in the White House. Here we have a lot of her work on health care, the death of Vince Foster and the beginnings of the Whitewater investigation.

The next chapter is on the 1994 mid-term elections (pp. 243-257).

Again, eight chapters (pp. 258-377) on the second half of the first presidential term. Here Mrs. Clinton steps back from policy issues and instead focuses on more traditional First Lady issues, education, the role of women, and children; the exception, or perhaps intersection, is welfare reform, which she discusses in detail. Other domestic events or issues include the Oklahoma City bombing. She relishes the travels she takes, to Pakistan, Eastern Europe, a variety of Asian countries, Bosnia, Ireland.

The next chapters touch on Bill Clinton’s second presidential campaign and inaugural (pp. 378-396).

The next four chapters (pp. 397-448) are on the first two years of Bill Clinton’s second term as president.

The next four chapters (pp. 449-494) cover the Lewinski episode, impeachment and the 1998 mid-term elections.

The final two years in the White House, her decision to run for Senate in New York and that campaign are covered in the last two chapters (pp. 495-528).

There is a thorough index to help you find anything in particular that you are looking for.

Mrs. Clinton, now Sen. Clinton, is passionate about public policy. She knows her issues in and out, thoroughly. She is willing to fight for her values and beliefs, most of which I share. Her zest for public life is wonderful. The narrative of the White House years is written primarily in the voice of a policy maker, and one with a compassionate heart and solid thinking skills.

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