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First in His Class: A Biography of Bill Clinton

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  1,652 ratings  ·  61 reviews
Who exactly is Bill Clinton, and why was he, of all the brilliant and ambitious men in his generation, the first in his class to reach the White House?

Drawing on hundreds of letters, documents, and interviews, David Maraniss explores the evolution of the personality of our forty-second president from his youth in Arkansas to his 1991 announcement that he would run f
Paperback, 512 pages
Published February 8th 1996 by Simon Schuster (first published 1995)
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Aaron Million
Apr 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
In this age of extreme partisanship it is difficult to find a neutral book about Bill or Hillary Clinton. While most politicians manage to antagonize one side or the other (or both), feelings about the Clintons are hyper-ventilated. Many people fall into one of two camps: the Clintons are evil and represent all that is wrong with politics, or they are two people who have devoted their lives to serving the public and making things better for working-class Americans. One of the reasons that David ...more
Dec 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I really tore through this, it was fascinating and readable and I highly recommend it. It really seems like Bill was shooting for the presidency from about age twelve. He seems to have been sorta like Lyndon Johnson; from what I gathered from reading this and a bio of LBJ, both of these guys were born to be politicians, always working the room and keeping tabs on people and figuring out how they are going to run the next campaign. One bonus about this book is that it also serves as a partial bio ...more
Jan 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing

David Maraniss’s “First in His Class: A Biography of Bill Clinton” was published in 1995 and remains one of the most popular biographies of Clinton. Maraniss is an author and journalist who won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting in 1993; he was a Pulitzer finalist in 1996, 2002 and 2004. Among his other books are biographies of Barack Obama, Roberto Clemente and Vince Lombardi.

Written during the early years of the Clinton presidency, this 464-page b
Oct 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An excellent objective biography of Bill Clinton from the Pulitzer Prize Winning author David Maraniss. This biography was published in 1995 and covers Clinton's life up to his Presidential campaign announcement in 1991.

If you want a better understanding of the genesis of Bill Clinton as an intellectual and a politician, along with all the warts, then this is a fascinating book. I would break down the book as follows:

1. An early father-less childhood raised by a praise-heaping mother Virginia w
Jul 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I find Bill Clinton endlessly fascinating. Much of my fascination comes from the character that emerges from this biography. From the first sentences, we're invited into a life that has no parallel in modern American history. His father dead, raised by a young free-spirited mother, Bill seems destined to follow the path of so many other poor southern boy. Raised amidst domestic violence (much more harrowing than reported), Bill Clinton develops into a bright, eager-to-please man on the make. The ...more
Scott Cox
Feb 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
When I purchased Maraniss’ biography, I didn’t realize that it did not cover President Bill Clinton’s tenure in office as 42nd President of the United States. This lengthy biography (464 pages) takes the reader to the point in Clinton’s life where, as governor of Arkansas, he makes his momentous announcement that he will run for President in 1992. William Jefferson Blythe was born in Hope Arkansas in 1946. Blythe never met his biological father who was killed in a car accident before he was born ...more
Peter Wolfley
Oct 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Love him or hate him, there's no denying that the Bill Clinton story could only happen in America. This was a very fairly written biography that doesn't shy away from any of Clinton's flaws but also doesn't dwell on them to the point of hysteria like so many other books on this subject. Some of the big take aways are that he essentially had his eye on the white house since middle school and would often make decisions, very early in his life, based on if it hurt his electabilty or not. That's a s ...more
Mar 20, 2015 rated it liked it
Clinton's life up to running for president: here, you have the Rhodes scholar, the law student, law teacher, his first campaigns, and other chapters. Hillary also gets good coverage, especially in contrast with Bill (Hillary is the harder, financial minded one, while Bill is portrayed as softer). This is also about the Baby Boomer generation: that's the "class" in the title, so there is a focus on Clinton's life as representative of the challenges faced by the generation that was drafted to go t ...more
Okay, the only reason this is on here is that Nate made me read it-in the 7th grade!!-b/c he didn't want to waste his time on it if it wasn't any good. So I did; I hauled it to Study Hall every day. It's now a running family joke. ...more
Judy Baker
Nov 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, history
Maraniss's First in His Class: A Biography of Bill Clinton is an interesting read of Clinton's youth through to his announcement to run for president. If you want to know about all of the bodies that Clinton stuffed into closets that became the skeletons that haunted him in his presidency, then this is a must read. Maraniss details how Clinton became the gregarious, ambitious, highly intelligent man with his definite flaws. Raise by a doting mother and grandmother who continually told him that h ...more
Jan 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Keith Rackley
Jul 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
Maraniss documents, in rich detail, the genesis and life of a complex, gifted, and flawed individual. There is balance in his presentation. He portrays Clinton as extraordinarily gifted, with IQ and EQ, making him the perfect politician; Clinton demonstrates an amazing ability to connect with every person he meets and still be a policy wonk. Despite Clinton's amazing gifts leading to Oxford and Yale success, as well as his early life political conquests, the seeds of the most difficult chapters ...more
Apr 18, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
After reading a biography of Obama, I started researching biographies on other Presidents. I downloaded several to my Kindle, and this is the first one I'm reading. While the writing is no where near the quality of that of David Remnick's in The Bridge, I am nevertheless fascinated. Since Clinton is only a two years older than me, the historical context is real and vivid. Since he grew up in the South as did my ex-husband, I can't help but notice parallels there as well. The writing is clunky, b ...more
Oct 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
In 1992, I was a college freshman voting for the first time. I initially supported Perot because he was from my hometown of Dallas (not a good reason I guess), but switched to Clinton after Perot dropped out for a few weeks. The 90s represent a most excellent time in my life and because Bill was president during that time I associate him with all of the things that made my 90s so good - Nirvana, three Super Bowl wins for the Cowboys, living out my dream of becoming a sportswriter, traveling abro ...more
This is a fascinating read and take on the Force that is Bill Clinton. The most interesting part of the book to me was a surprise: it was reliving the Vietnam years and their effect on Clinton and his peer group (to which I belong). Maraniss's recounting of the frustration we felt made me relive the entire rotten time--his narrative was a true and effective recounting of that time. The most surprising part of the book to me was that Clinton knew and advertised from such an early age that he inte ...more
Oct 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
Read this one back in 2004.

Before reading this book, I thought nothing but ill of Bill. I was amazed by Clinton’s life: impressed by his early religion (Southern Baptist), envious of his his education and travels, and thoroughly astonished by his resiliency, personal and political. Maraniss actually has me thinking there are ways I need to be more like Bill Clinton, especially his attention to details of others’ lives. There's plenty more to say of Bill's life, and Maraniss does not get into the
Oliver Bateman
Oct 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
A monumental "warts and all" study of a complicated subject. First in His Class is far superior to Maraniss' When Pride Still Mattered, perhaps because the author has a better command of politics than he does of football. It's slow going in many points, but ultimately quite revealing and intimate. I'm not a fan of these projects, and I rarely read them absent a host of recommendations from colleagues, but this work ranks among the best of its kind. ...more
Jul 20, 2013 rated it liked it
This was good. It complimented the Autobiography of Bill Clinton (My Life) I recently completed as part of my growing collection of bio's and auto-bio's of the Presidents.

However, spending 70 pages (or more!) on Clinton's draft dodging really bogged down the middle of the book.

It also, as a side note, made Hilary look like an even weaker person than she is known to be, as it discussed Bill's rampant cheating and womanizing.
Shaka Mitchell
Nov 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
Very well-written and researched regardless of what you think of the subject matter. Maraniss paints a remarkably unbiased picture of the future president. This book captures the years before the presidency but in many ways those are the most telling years of his life.
May 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
I enjoyed it- I frequently found myself wondering why he did the things he did- an intelligent man-albeit a lawyer- saying it depends on what the meaning of the word "is" is, in some ways this book clarifies the roots of his character
Jon Deal
Jul 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I think this is the definitive bio of President Bill Clinton. Meticulously research and balanced. Unapologetic, yet you can tell Manniss is impressed by Clinton.

Good read.
John Diaz
Dec 11, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely tremendous, insightful and most importantly, objective biography.
Regardless of political views, you can see he is very talented. I was impressed by his networking abilities.
Apr 16, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography-memoir
Now I know more about Bill Clinton than ever possible, but pretty well-written.
Jun 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Best bio of Bill Clinton that I have read so far. Mariniss gets inside the head of the charismatic, complex, brilliant and flawed man.
Jun 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
Interesting, but written before Monica. But if you want to know everything that made Bill, Bill (and Hill, too), this is a great start.
Ryan Olson
Jun 30, 2008 rated it really liked it
A great book about the former President; although, I disagree with Mr. Clinton's policies and morals I gained a softness for his personality. ...more
Douglas Graney
Aug 20, 2008 rated it it was ok
Clinton's bio is amongst the worst of Prez bio's I've read. Tedious... ...more
Angeline Muday
Mar 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
Great Biography about Clinton and his demons.
Amy Hillis
Sep 07, 2009 rated it it was ok
Eh. I struggled plowing through it, and that's a shame - because with Bill Clinton, just telling his story simply is pretty well scandaliciously-good-enough to keep most anyone reading. ...more
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David Maraniss is an associate editor at The Washington Post and the author of four critically acclaimed and bestselling books, When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi, First in His Class: A Biography of Bill Clinton, They Marched Into Sunlight War and Peace, Vietnam and America October 1967, and Clemente The Passion and Grace of Baseballs Last Hero. He is also the author of The Clinto ...more

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