The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History With the President
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The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History With the President

3.79 of 5 stars 3.79  ·  rating details  ·  409 ratings  ·  60 reviews
A groundbreaking book about the modern presidency, The Clinton Tapes invites readers into private dialogue with a gifted, tormented, resilient President of the United States. Here is what President Clinton thought and felt but could not say in public.

This book rests upon a secret project, initiated by Clinton, to preserve for future historians an unfiltered record of presi...more
Hardcover, 668 pages
Published September 29th 2009 by Simon & Schuster (first published May 12th 2008)
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Daniel
THE CLINTON TAPES feels like extensive notes for a subsequent history of the Clinton administration, thanks largely to the circumstances under which it was produced: Taylor Branch, while writing his three volume history of the civil rights movement, agreed to discreetly interview Bill Clinton in order to record his more-or-less unguarded views for posterity. This eventually produced nearly a hundred tapes for the Clinton library, the transcripts of which remain sealed until the end of Hillary Cl...more
Robert
Nov 19, 2009 Robert rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Masochists
There's a great insight from Clinton about trying to forge peace near the end of the book - scabs vs. abscesses. A scab will heal if you don't pick it (Northern Ireland), an abscess needs to be drained (the Middle East). That's all I'll remember a week from now. The problem with the book is that it's based on tapes that Branch made after sitting down to record the eponymous tapes with Clinton. Far too often the summary of a meeting is "I wish I could remember" or "I can't do justice". It's fasci...more
Jacob
The author was Clinton's 'oral historian' during his time in the White House. Branch pretty regularly visited Clinton and recorded interviews about current events for Clinton's library. This book is not based on those tapes, which remain in Clinton's possession, but on Branch's notes of the conversations.

It's pretty much all in here except for any details of the special prosecutor investigations. Clinton & Branch talk about the investigation, but due to nervousness about discovery of the ta...more
Rena Jane
Amazing perspective on Bill Clinton, by his friend, and one of the most integrity-driven writers of our time. His three-part series on Martin Luther King, Jr. is a must read. And now, this very candid, and respectful book on former President Clinton. He pulls no punches about Whitewater, or Lewinsky. Makes me really wonder the motivation of today's journalists, beyond selling papers and magazines. How often the truth gets twisted up in political agendas, and an effort to titillate readers, rathe...more
Nickolette
Economy, health care reform, tax politics, gay rights, ecology, social security, Newt Gingrich, Murdoch, China, gun control, birth control, Syria, North Korea, Osama bin Laden compared to a Bond villain, even judge Sotomayor gets mentioned.
It is like during the 8 Bush years everything stopped and Obama picked up from where Clinton left.

It is very rewarding to re-examine recent history and events I more or less remember and to share it today is symbolic. Taylor Branch, the author of The Clinton T...more
Aaron Million
Fascinating look at what Bill Clinton was thinking and feeling while he was in office. Some real revelations here - like how he disliked Janet Reno, was very unhappy with how Gore ran his unsuccessful campaign in 2000, and his thoughts on the leaders in the Middle East. I think this gives us a small glance into the life of a president, and you get a whiff of just how exhausting -0 mentally and physically - that job has to be. How Clinton even had the energy for most of these sessions is remarkab...more
Kelly
Expertly written, Taylor Branch’s memoir of his taping sessions with the president is fascinating history in its own right. It took me longer to read than I had originally anticipated; as a journal of his experiences, the only intact narrative thread is chronological. Subjects veer off and disappear to be replaced at random with new (and often entirely unrelated) segues and fleeting impressions. It’s something of a revelation that this kind of patchwork journalism does, in fact, leave the reader...more
David Fox
Jun 30, 2012 David Fox rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who care about how history is made
Clinton: Details of a Presidency

If, as the maxim goes, the "devil is in the details" then Branch's tome is a testament to that claim. Branch does what few presidential memoirs achieve - provides the reader with the indelible sense of being a fly on the wall during momentous occasions. And then again this is not a typical memoir, definitely not a biography. Branch had been enlisted by President Clinton on a secret mission. He was asked to help the President assemble a oral record of the President

...more
Christopher
This is a great biography (or memoir, if you will) on President Clinton and the Presidency in general. This work has captured what most presidential biographies (and autobiographies) only dream of: conveying to the reader what it is like to be the President at the time when the principal subject is the President. POTUS is not an easy job, even in peaceful times, and this book hammers that point home quite deftly. Particularly noteworthy is the incident during the first term when Pres. Clinton se...more
Blog on Books
With former President Clinton in the news lately, we thought it would be a good time to look at the most recent book covering his White House years, `The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President' by Taylor Branch.

The first thing that bears mention, is that this is not a book of transcripts of secret (or not so secret) White House tapes made in the Oval Office a la Nixon or even LBJ. The book is rather the recollections of Pulitzer Prize winning author, Taylor Branch (`Parting the Wat...more
Lynne
This book is so long that I found myself skimming a lot of the time until I found an issue I wanted to read about. I was interested to find how much importance Clinton ascribed to the threats of bin Laden and how hard he tried to run him down and kill him. I liked reading that Clinton estimated that at the rate he was paying down the national debt, we would be debt-free by 2010. How sad. At the end of the book, after his presidency, he bemoans Bush's giant tax cut, knowing it's going to spell th...more
Robin
This is a very illuminating view of Clinton. One does feel like you get a unfettered view of his personality and his temperament. I am enjoying listening to an era I remember very well, yet I am reminded just how much of these events one can forget about. I hardly remember Bosnia but certainly Clinton does. What a mess our world is.
Clinton did wrestle with the world during his presidency. He was quite an admirable person until he fell off the wall with Monica Lewinsky. He would sleep as little...more
Dan Petegorsky
Taylor Branch is a fine historian, but this is not a history. He and Clinton called their monthly-ish taped conversations over the course of his presidency an oral history project, but in this particular project Clinton was the sole informant, and Branch’s book is not a transcript of the tapes but a contemporaneous record of his own recollections of the conversations after each one took place.

The book does have its amusing moments (many of which have already been revealed in reviews and intervie...more
Denis Kaufman
Just finished the book. As the author says in his Afterword, it is somewhere between history, politics, and journalism. As history it leaves you wanting more. As politics, it is delightful. As journalism, it is far easier -- and more objective -- on Clinton than much of what passed for journalism through the 90s. A constant theme is the way journalists got it wrong while covering the Clinton White House. Rather than actually do their craft too many journalists grubbed for leaks and and stories f...more
Libby
It was eerie to read this as Haiti, health care reform, Republican advances in mid-term elections, vitriolic anti-government rhetoric and so many other things were back in the news and on the political and social radars... The book was a long read, but I appreciated the straightforward, behind-the-scenes detail about Clinton's thought process and political style. What impressed me most was how strategic he was in all battles, and his "sixth sense" for discerning what would matter ultimately to v...more
Thom
There was plenty I had already forgotten about the 90's which this book reminded me of. There's so much spin and BS thrown around political figures that books like this are refreshing - more straightforward talk.
This type of book isn't constructed to grab your attention, though. It's sequential and rambles because it's more like a diary. As such, it combined discussions of serious topics of the day as well as little everyday exchanges which show Bill and Hillary's "regular people" side: everyday...more
Bruce
In the afterward of "The Clinton Tapes," Branch refers to the book as a preview of what's on the tapes recorded during his 79 oral history sessions with Bill Clinton, nearly all during his presidency. And, as such, this book offers some pretty remarkable views--Clinton wrestling with the Middle East peace process, fuming about Ken Starr, reconciling with Al Gore after the 2000 elections.

But, as a piece of writing, it's pretty disappointing from a writer as gifted as Branch. If you're fascinated...more
Stephen Redwood
This book provides fascinating insights into Clinton's own views on his presidency as it unfolded. The range and import of issues he was dealing with on a daily basis was daunting, and the book reminds you of the sharpness and depth of his intellect. It also conveys the machiavellian world of politics very well, and the thickness of skin required to exist in it. The human side comes over very strongly, as Taylor Branch weaves in Clinton's personal reactions to events around him and describes fam...more
Alex
Listened to the audio book version. A very good read with great stories and insight into our 42nd president's term. The author reads it himself and does a good job. Definitely recommend.
Ben
This really is an example of what could have been. Something like 77 separate taping sessions with the President where he spoke candidly on a variety of issues. But you never hear that voice in it because this is solely done from Branch's dictation notes, which gives the book a weird summarized quality. It also abounds with phrases like "I only regret my notetaking was not fast enough to catch all the brilliant and eloquent things Clinton said." All in all, it has some interesting moments about...more
Sarah
Branch recounts his and President Clinton's monumental achievement: creating the Clinton tapes, or actual tape-recordings of Clinton's memories and thoughts while president. To be perfectly honest, my review should be discounted as this is more the type of book that I would like to enjoy rather than the type of book I actually enjoy. That being said, the book gave a new and very personal look at Bill, Hillary and Chelsea. And it gave great insight on the struggle that the president faces in maki...more
Missives From
If you liked Clinton or if you love politics (I happen to like both), this is a great read. Branch's longstanding relationship with Clinton and his proximity throughout his presidency via their secret interviews yields some wonderful insights into Clinton's decisions and the history of those eight years. I found it fascinating to watch a president's mind at work, particularly one I liked so much. The book shows Clinton in a more human (and humane) light than any single interview could, and I aft...more
Bill
Branch injects himself way too much into the narrative. It's called "The Clinton Tapes," not "Bill and Taylor's Excellent Adventure." While it was definitely to read Clinton's immediate recollections of the days' events and made me far more sympathetic to Bill than I have ever been, this book wasn't as fascinating as Richard Reeves's Nixon tapes book--which was a daily recording of the days' events. That one gave you an inside look on the workings of the Nixon administration. This showed more ho...more
Ted Moisan
Oct 17, 2009 Ted Moisan is currently reading it
I'm anticipating a rating of two or three stars, but I'm just started and it's a pretty long book. What I thought this would be was more in-depth-history type stuff, more of Clinton's personal reflections on the stuff that happened during his presidency (and, I think it's not totally irrelevant to a review, my formative years). Mostly what it is, is a catalogue of the logistical insnouts of meeting secretly with a sitting president to arrange a series of secret interviews. Which is not totally u...more
Jason
The tapes themselves will be interesting when they are released. This books is a well written history based up notes from seventy-some interviews during the Clinton presidency, the recordings of which Clinton kept. The book will be a good addition to the tapes, because the book does an excellent job of describing scene and mood which cannot come off as clearly in the tapes or transcripts.

It seemed like more of a psychological study than a history of Clinton's presidency.
Karen
This book is similar in many ways to the second half of Bill Clinton's "My Life." Indeed, President Clinton used his recordings with Taylor Branch to help formulate his own biography. However, the value in Mr. Branch's book are all the personal observations and intimate tidbits of information that he adds to set the scene for his meetings with the president. The various "bombshells" that have been covered pretty heavily in the news are also riveting. I could not put this book down.
Anita
Due to time constraints, I could not sit and read all 500+ pages of this book, so I casually flipped through the entire book, reading sections that caught my eye.

I think my favorite part was some time in 1998 during the Monica thing, Branch writes that Clinton was amazed by the game UpWords, as Branch came into interview Clinton, him and his brother and law was playing the game, and Clinton described the game to Branch as, "its like scrabble, but vertical!"
Tom R
Especially interesting as he listened and talked with President Clinton. However, the author often drifts off with what he did for the day, where he sat at the as the president was sworn in, etc.
I am learning a lot why Clinton could not get things done. Which is a lesson why president Obama is able to accomplish some of his goals.
If the author could have stuck with Clinton's thoughts I would rate it five stars.
Michael
This is a good book on President Clinton, and the decisions Clinton made. The book makes his presidency more compelling, and definitively shows the difficulties Clinton faced and managed. Clinton comes off as a much more principled character than was ever portrayed, and his private life (as much as is shown) depicts him in a loving committed relationship.
Ron Mwangaguhunga
I particularly liked Clinton's thoughts on Pope John Paul II in this book. Not particularly ground moving, but interesting analysis of Clinton's thoughts on people like Berlusconi, Yeltsin, Blair. I did come away with a better sense of Bill Clinton's brightness on foreign policy, where he was never given much credit (previously i had given the credit to Albright).
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Taylor Branch (born January 14, 1947, in Atlanta, Georgia) is an American author and historian best known for his award-winning trilogy of books chronicling the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. and some of the history of the American civil rights movement. The third and final volume of the 2,912-page trilogy — collectively called America in the King Years — was released in January 2006. Branch live...more
More about Taylor Branch...
Parting the Waters: Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement 1954-63 Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-65 At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years 1965-68 The Cartel: Inside the Rise and Imminent Fall of the NCAA The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement

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