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The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  918 Ratings  ·  58 Reviews
New York Times Bestseller

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–
Paperback, 560 pages
Published October 10th 2006 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published 2005)
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Jeffrey Keeten
”There’s no reason to suppose that a man who caused so much debate in his own time will have a settled and stable reputation in posterity. ‘History,’ said the historian Pieter Geyl, ‘is an argument without end.’”

 photo BillClinton_zps41e1fa18.jpg
Just let me explain!

William Jefferson Clinton was breaking his first campaign promise just as he was beginning to warm his hard won seat in the Oval Office. He had said on the campaign trail that he was going to offer amnesty to Haitian refugees. On paper it seemed like an easy promise,
Mar 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
The Survivor is my sixth stop on my quest to read a biography of every American President (Washington, Adams, Johnson, and both Bushes already completed). Of all of the President's, reading a biography of Clinton was one I was really looking forward to. He was the first President I really remember. I still have a memory of watching his 1992 inauguration in the library at school. But while I remember most of his presidency, it ended before I really got into politics.

I am glad I chose this book to
Jun 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I am certainly not the first one to pick up a biography of anyone, let alone a president, which is a bit ironic since my BA is in political science. This was written by John Harris, a journalist. The historian/political scientist in me cringes a bit to admit that but I was looking for a book I could read quickly and learn a little bit from. I was surprised how much I enjoyed this book and found myself throughout the book actually entertaining thoughts of reading another political biography.

The a
Robert Jones
Jun 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
As hard as it must be to avoid injecting ones own political opinions on a biography of a recent president - especially one like Bill Clinton - but Harris manages the job quite admirably. It's obvious that he respects Clinton, and his tone can get a little apologetic at times, but it is an otherwise an unflinching and honest portray of Clinton's eight years in office - from Bosnia to Kosovo, from the Oklahoma City bombing to the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The book is at all times accessible, teachi ...more
Oct 05, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: us-politics
John Harris' "The Survivor" is an aptly titled biography of the 42nd President of the United States of America: Bill Clinton. Without giving excessive context of Bill Clinton's early life and early political career, Harris jumps straight into and describes in satisfactory detail the main policy decisions and political incidences that happened between Clinton's inauguration and January 20th 2001.

The first few chapters were loaded with incredibly heavy and negatively connotated language and I was
Debbie Jacob
Aug 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017
Often brutally honest, John Harris's biography of Clinton, largely based on personal interviews and observations from covering the Clintons, presents the good, the bad and most of all the ugly. Most presidential biographies I have read seem to lean one way or the other: for or against, but this one swayed back and forth in such a way that made it difficult to pinpoint any bias. It provides great insight into Clinton's reactions behind the scenes. Didn't come away from this liking Clinton, but ap ...more
Robert Sparrenberger
May 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
When I read a presidential biography I want to feel
As if I viewed the world through their eyes. I dislike when the book becomes a drool fest over the subject and I hate when they are overly critical on the opposite side. That being said, this book about Bill Clinton definitely achieved both results. The author did a nice job of pointing out what was happening with the president and the events surrounding him in what I felt was a fair and impartial manner. He pointed out his weaknesses and streng
Akash Gupta
May 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
To his credit, author gave both sides of the facts. Felt like he was a bit biased whenever he added his interpretation of those facts (which to a large part always tended to be his confidence in what Clinton truely thought - which of course nobody can know for certain). However, he left enough room for reader to form their own opinions (on each controversy) based on the facts provided.
Mervyn Whyte
Jun 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Second half dominated by the impeachment crisis, but overall an excellent one volume history of the Clinton presidency.
Zach Koenig
Feb 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
On my trek through reading a book about each President, I turned to this text because "The American Presidents" series doesn't have a Clinton installment out quite yet. While I was impressed by the wealth of information that this book brings to the table, I must warn others that there is no "light reading" in sight from page one to close. It is a very deep, involved text that will take you a while to get through no matter what your reading sophistication level. If you are ready for that, you wil ...more
Patrick Snell
Mar 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fantastic and an incredibly well-researched book about the Clinton presidency and indeed the man himself. You can see how Clinton was centrist almost to a fault and despite governing in a time of intense partisanship, he was not intensely partisan himself. After reading this the one word that comes to mind is potential. Clinton could potentially have gotten so much more done in his presidency (which is already undoubtedly successful presidency in and of itself) if he didn't regularly shoot himse ...more
Scott Holstad
Jun 12, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: didn-t-finish
I hate this book and I despise the author. I couldn't believe, when looking through the Goodreads reviews, how many people call this book "balanced." I think it's anything but. I think it's a hatchet job on a great man, Bill Clinton, my favorite president of all time. I admit to being biased, but I've read several Clinton books and none were as unflattering as this one. I couldn't even finish it! I couldn't even get past the second chapter! Virtually every page is stocked with loaded language de ...more
Aug 26, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: politics, history
(3.5) I was 7 when Bill Clinton took office and 15 when he left. Certainly, a lot changed for me in that time but from my hazy memories, I recall a nation and a presidency that was in mostly good shape. I'm grateful to have pre-9/11 memories of walking briskly through airports and not seeing Muslims subject to McCarthy-esque racism. But what were those times like politically? I felt like all I could recall from Clinton's tenure was the Lewinsky scandal.

This book is supposed to be the best for sh
Anthony Taylor
Jul 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics
This is not only on of the best political biographies I've ever read but one of the best historical records committed to paper (well that what I think!). Harris does as great job of capturing Clinton without either siding with him or against him. He clearly shows Clinton's strengths and weaknesses in the political arena and throughout the Clinton White House years by clear examples captured in a direct and well edited narrative.

Clinton was clearly one of the "biggest" personalities ever to lead
Jul 22, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: politics
I picked up this book because I was looking for a neutral account of the Clinton years that provided some historical context on his presidency as we get further and further away from 2000. This book delivered to a degree.

The pros -- it is neither a politically charged book, nor a play by play of every conversation that occurred in the Clinton White House, and it provides a reasonably balanced and thorough account of good, the bad, and the ugly of the Clinton presidency.

The cons -- the book was w
Feb 15, 2010 rated it really liked it
This is a great book which provides a lot of interesting background for anyone interested in the subject. A LOT of things here that I didn't know and on the whole it's fairly balanced. It actually provided me with a more skeptical view of my chosen historical subject. Many fascinating anecdotes and of course it is spurring me on to further reading. However---John Harris, throughout the book, frequently writes that one of the biggest problems Clinton had was in not catering to the needs of the Wa ...more
Oct 22, 2012 rated it liked it
An interesting albeit not entirely unbiased biography of the Clinton White House years. I read it because I wanted a little deeper insight into the economic policy during the Clinton years and how Congress and the WH worked together to achieve a decade of great economic success. This was probably the most fascinating part of the book -- learning how our federal government can come together in the middle and achieve greatness. Interesting to note that along with the rest of the country i was disg ...more
Jun 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
An interesting account of Pres. Bill Clinton's time in the White House. Often quite critical, I get the impression that Harris wasn't holding anything back when writing about the many crises and misadventures Clinton's presidency went through. I especially love the final chapter, in which Harris comments on the characteristics that defined Clinton as a president and discusses (in 2005) how George W. Bush and Hillary will both play a part in determining Clinton's long-term legacy. Harris defines ...more
Bookmarks Magazine

Harris admirably supports his contentions with evidence and shows readers the tension between Bill Clinton's light and dark sides. His treatment of Hillary Rodham Clinton, from her imperious role as "Deputy President" to her rivalry with Al Gore to her beleaguered marriage, is especially revelatory in light of her reputed 2008 presidential ambitions. In its evenhanded approach, The Survivor is like a Rorschach inkblot that elicits each reviewer's individual opinion of Clinton and his presidency.

David R
Feb 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
i am a product of the 90 's. unfortunately i didn't pay attention to the important things. this book wonderfully filled in the details to the sketches of that time i remember. i am not a political scientist, armchair or credited, so i can't go into very much detail. what i will say is that, to me, i believe the Clintons and Monica Lewinsky were tragic heroes and Ken Starr should be put on trial himself for what he did. i often think of what other great work both Clintons could have accomplished ...more
Dec 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Harris is a journalist and pundit who distinguishes himself by his calm and dispassion. This attitude is sustained throughout this lengthy book on Clinton's eight year administration, providing perspective on the at times bewildering variety of individual events. It is accessible as well as thorough, with short topical chapters and journalistic language that never gets too technical or wonky. If you love Clinton, or hate Clinton, this book is probably not likely to suit you; but if you want to g ...more
Rob Stone
May 03, 2016 rated it it was ok
Jesus, what a slog. About what you'd expect from a Beltway journalist: Clinton's biggest failures (NAFTA, healthcare/welfare reform, Bosnia/Rwanda) are glossed over as mere miscalculation while trivial gains in political mind games are touted as major victories. Most of his staff get off pretty easy, snakes like Podesta and Begala escape criticism for the most part. Hillary doesn't escape Harris' ire as easily, however it is her emotional deficiencies rather than policies which attracts it. I ga ...more
Feb 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: americanhistory
It's interesting to think of Bill Clinton as a survivor. Most would get the impression from television appearances showing thousands of adoring fans that Clinton was and remains a well loved man, and president. He probably is loved by many, but probably not most. Moreover, the fact that he was even elected, and held on to his office was nothing short of surprising.

According to Harris, Clinton did achieve much in his 8 year tenure, but was hurt by his own indiscretions that gave him very little c
Sep 20, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A surprisingly even-handed account of Clinton's presidency. As an admirer, I was appalled to learn what an ass he could be in private, but I guess that's the way with public figures. (I nearly threw a biography of Albert Camus at the wall when I read what a jerk he was to his family - I loved that guy!)

But I did learn answers to several questions I had always wondered about: Whatever happened to George Stephanopolous? How did Chelsea really react to the Lewinski scandal? And what went so wrong w
Aaron Shields
Dec 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: presidents
An even handed take on Slick Willy.

My even handed take on Bill: a vexing, often sad, vital character in American history. Beyond the fact that his womanizing is so unbecoming and creepy, and his Clinton Foundation has so many shady strands, as President he had ample highs, and lows. No matter the challenges, he somehow survived. Nothing sticks to the guy. (Slick Willy indeed)

Same with Hillary. The ruthless, relentless family dynasty continues...
Oct 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Interesting book about the Bill Clinton Presidency. Not necessarily any surprises, but certainly a fair look at both his good and bad qualities during the eight years he was in office. I didn't know much about some of the places around the world where the U.S. was involved during that time...or not involved enough, depending on your point of view. Great read.

**#89 of 120 books pledged to read/review during 2016**
Aug 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
Interesting read about Bill Clinton's days in the White House. The most interesting part was his out maneuvering of Gingrich on the budget. There is some trivia I did not know about Clinton's worst times: his testimony before the grand jury on the Lewinsky matter. This book is an interesting read, but Mastering the Presidency is a better book about Clinton's first term. This book has details about the second term.
Jun 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
really informative and well written, but eight years of policy and problems in 500 pages is never going to work? how do you fix that problem without it being way too long, im not sure. but there are months of developments here that disappear in five pages that really could have used more reflection. his private life is far more interesting than his public, but i think that says something about me more than anything else.
Jun 26, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's a fun read, and I would give it four stars on its face, but Harris has a bit of a history with accuracy and Republican slant. He recently wrote a Karl Rove apologia with ABC's Mark Halperin, "The Way to Win," has a skeezy relationship with Matt Drudge, and continues to carry the GOP's water as editor-in-chief of The Politico. These realities make it hard to regard as a genuine history of Clinton's Presidency.
Patrice Maltais
Jul 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Very good and balanced book on the Clinton presidency. This is an interview-based account of the Clinton presidency years, so it doesn't dwelve much on how CLinton got there or what he did in the Arkansas legislature, although that period is well covered in the David Maraniss book 'First of his class'. Read together, this is a pretty good combo to have a fairly complete picture of Clinton's career. I recommend it.
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