Sunday, April 27, 2008

Clinton in Exile: A Review

My girlfriend is a member of the Harper-Collins website's "First Look" book club of books. She handed me the due to be released book Clinton in Exile: A President Out of the White House by Carol Felsenthal. She wasn't that interested in the book, but knew I had a liking for political books and sometimes the life and times of interesting people.

Clinton in Exile: A President Out of the White House is a decent read about Bill Clinton's life after leaving the most famous address on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. The book is written by Carol Felsenthal who is a journalist who writes in depth magazine and newspaper articles about politics. This is perhaps why the this particular book is only a "decent read."

The main problems with the book is the way it is written and the sources of the information. The book is obvious to the reader that is was written by a journalist because throughout the writing their are quotes here and there. This prevents the prose from getting into a good narrative flow that most books have. The reader cannot get over that the author insists on noting who said what in terms of proof of where the author got their source from. In some cases this would have easily been resolved by utilizing more endnotes stating the different interviews and only inserting the quotes when it advances the story or can't be written any better. The author failed to do this adequately, leaving the narration to stop and start in quite a number of places. This book should not be an ongoing interview with the characters, but be as a result of many of interviews to gather and then present the information in a succinct well written way.

The second issue is the sources of the information. In a blog entry at the Huffington Post, the author admits there were times when some sources refused to talk to her. A prime example of this is:

"People who hoped for a job or a state dinner invitation or a diplomatic posting often did not want to talk to a writer whom the Clintons did not select and could not control." - Carol Felsenthal

Felsenthal admits that she was not an authorized biographer of Bill Clinton. This means she probably did not get to interview Bill or even Hillary Clinton herself at anytime or, at times, some people even close to the ex President who may want further employment in the future in relation to the Democratic Party. An interview with Bill on how he was living his life after leaving the White House may have been of great assistance to this book. Because the author is missing these key sources, the reader is left to wonder who exactly did the author interview? Sure there were key sources quoted, but the reader can't help but wonder how much speculation was made by the author in order to fill in key points due to some sources, like Bill and others, were refusing to talk.

There are quite a few good points about the book. The relationship between former President Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, interesting anecdotes about Bill Clinton noted by those close to the former President, how Bill felt about Hillary's campaign trail towards the Senate and the White House as well as other similar interesting stories make the book fascinating. Felsthenthal relays an interesting story as to how Bill Clinton, at first, seemed hesitant about advancing his post Presidency career by holing himself up in at his and Hillary's new digs in Chapaqua, New York to eventually starting a speaking tour and writing his personal memoirs.

Felsenthal's book is a decent read. The would be an "excellent read" if the issues with the writing and the sources were a corrected. But it is at least a decent read if one wanted to answer the question "Whatever happened to Bill Clinton after leaving the White House?"

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