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Review - Bill Clinton: An American Journey, by Nigel Hamilton

Updated on October 7, 2015
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Kevin was born in Stevenage New Town, UK in the summer of 1959, and graduated from Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge in 1980.

Today

Hippy Clinton
Hippy Clinton
Clinton considers what 'is' is.
Clinton considers what 'is' is.
Campaign Badges
Campaign Badges
Southerners
Southerners
Yeltsin lets Clinton in on the joke.
Yeltsin lets Clinton in on the joke.


A lively (and curiously repetitious) narrative, Nigel Hamilton’s fascinating book places Bill Clinton firmly in the context of post-war America; specifically the social and cultural tensions that grew out of the civil rights movement, sexual emancipation, Vietnam, Nixon and the Reaganite moral majority. By means of first hand testimony (often faithfully reproducing the Southern drawl of various politicians, editor’s and other assorted Arkansans), Hamilton gets us up close and personal with the Clinton’s and their entourage, at the same time providing a socio-biological/psycho-sexual critique of the impressively clever, priapic, charming and reckless man.

Clinton’s sexual adventures are well-known, but the extent of them was a surprise to me, and they form (along with an analysis of their root cause and their political and marital implications) a substantial part of this first volume, along with an engaging record of the political battles which finally took Clinton to the top. Hamilton is thankfully sparing in his details of the Golden Boy’s legislative record and, except where it is of crucial importance, he concentrates on Clinton’s political style – his empathising, his indecision, his killer instinct.

During his five terms as an administrator, Governor Clinton appears variously: idealistic, over-ambitious and out of touch; pragmatic, focused and with his finger on the pulse; and all too often indecisive, distracted and disappointed. The latter half of his 5th Governorship barely deserves the title – he was by then an aspiring presidential candidate, whose contact with the state seems to have consisted mainly in touring it to ask his constituents permission to run (in both senses); campaigning was what Clinton loved and did best.

But again and again, the narrative is forced to return to Clinton’s sex addiction and how closely it was bound up with his other compulsion – politics. This recurrent theme is reflected in the idiosyncratic style Hamilton adopts. The work often reads like a series of episodes where the same main characters get up to much the same things, with Hamilton constantly chorusing Clinton’s brilliance, charm, waywardness or whatever it might be. And it doesn’t stop there: the author seems at pains to drive home certain facts and theses, presumably in case we have forgotten. For an inattentive reader this is a boon; otherwise it at worst an irritation, at best a stylistic quirk that gives the whole a certain, almost mythic rhythm. Hamilton’s book is insightful, amusing and engaging, much as his subject appears to be.

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© 2013 KevinStantonMcClintockMACantab

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