Book Review: My Life by Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton was the first president of the U.S. I was old enough to remember seeing on TV and in newspapers. Being in San Francisco, I remember the guy being adored (and for good reason!). I also remember the Monica Lewinsky scandal with some detail. Just as I was getting old enough to follow the news, our president has an affair. Lovely!

My Life is Clinton’s long memoir he published in 2004. I listened to this on audiobook — a great choice since Clinton himself reads it, which means he speaks louder when times are good and softer when times are bad (the audiobook isn’t normalized, so it does fluctuate!).

Clinton’s recollection of his youth and college years and early foray into political life struck me as honest, entertaining, and inspiring. His prose is forward moving, deviating into detail when appropriate and only sometimes succumbing to the kind of "get back at so-and-so" or "set the record straight on some random ass detail no one cares about" one-off riffs I am wary of in memoirs such as these.

When he starts his governorship of Arkansas, we begin to see his political philosophy — aka "New Democrat" centrism — take shape. This political arc is best "shown, not told". When Clinton quotes from his own speeches, we are reminded of how gifted a speaker and writer he was while in office.

By the time he reaches the White House, the Monica Lewinsky drumbeat starts beating. Let’s face it — most readers of this book probably bought it to see how he would describe the affair in his own words. He does a pretty good job on this delicate area, though I wish he would have separated the apology/regret/"can’t believe I did it" part from the "right-wing effort to bring me down" meme which flows throughout the text. The latter detracts from the authenticity of the former.

In the coming years I intend to read more memoirs and biographies. Bill Clinton’s life is fascinating and his influence enduring. If you want an audiobook that will last you for awhile, check out My Life.

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