(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
A Complicated Man: The Life of Bill Clinton as Told by Those Who Know Himby Michael Takiff
Though Bill Clinton has been out of office since 2001, public fascination with him continues unabated. Many books about Clinton have been published in recent years, but shockingly, no single-volume biography covers the full scope of Clinton’s life from the cradle to the present day, not even Clinton’s own account, My Life. More troubling/i>
- Editorial Reviews
- Product Details
- Related Subjects
- Read an Excerpt
- What People Are Saying
- Meet the author
Though Bill Clinton has been out of office since 2001, public fascination with him continues unabated. Many books about Clinton have been published in recent years, but shockingly, no single-volume biography covers the full scope of Clinton’s life from the cradle to the present day, not even Clinton’s own account, My Life. More troubling still, books on Clinton have tended to be highly polarized, casting the former president in an overly positive or negative light.
In this, the first complete oral history of Clinton’s life, historian Michael Takiff presents the first truly balanced book on one of our nation’s most controversial and fascinating presidents. Through more than 150 chronologically arranged interviews with key figures including Bob Dole, James Carville, and Tom Brokaw, among many others, A Complicated Man goes far beyond the well-worn party-line territory to capture the larger-than-life essence of Clinton the man. With the tremendous attention given to the Lewinsky scandal, it is easy to overlook the president’s humble upbringing, as well as his many achievements at home and abroad: the longest economic boom in American history, a balanced budget, successful intervention in the Balkans, and a series of landmark, if controversial, free-trade agreements. Through the candid recollections of Takiff’s many subjects, A Complicated Man leaves no area unexplored, revealing the most complete and unexpected portrait of our forty-second president published to date.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
“There is a tradition of solid oral history books on Presidents and the Presidency, but nothing comes close to Michael Takiff’s A Complicated Man. This is one of the best efforts on Clinton’s life in years, and it is the best oral history book ever written about a President of the United States.”—Anthony Bergen, Dead Presidents Blog
"Takiff claims a certain objectivity and points to the fact that he interviewed 171 people who had commerce with Clinton."—Dave Wood, Anoka County Union
- Yale University Press
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.70(d)
Read an Excerpt
A Complicated Man
The Life of Bill Clinton as Told by Those Who Know Him
By Michael Takiff
Yale UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 2010 Michael Takiff
All rights reserved.
Small Town Boy: Hope, Arkansas
"He was supposed to come back and get her."
On the morning of May 18, 1946, Marie Baker and Maxie Fuller were on duty at the Southwestern Bell switchboard on Second Street in Hope, Arkansas, population 7,475. Both women were cousins of Virginia Cassidy Blythe, the twenty-two-year-old wartime bride of William Jefferson Blythe Jr., a salesman she had met three years earlier in Shreveport, Louisiana, where she was studying nursing.
Marie Baker: I answered what was an inward, public signal. This operator told me, "We want the Eldridge Cassidy residence in Hope. We have an emergency for it." I turned around to Maxie and I said, "Oh, my lord, Maxie, something has happened. I'm getting an emergency call for the Eldridge Cassidy family." The cop—I guess it was the cop on the other end, in Missouri—said, "It's a death message."
Bill Blythe had set out the previous afternoon from Chicago, where, just out of the army, he had landed a job selling heavy equipment. He'd intended to drive all night to Hope to pick up his pregnant wife and bring her back up north. But three miles outside of Sikeston, Missouri, a front tire blew out, and the Buick spun out of control. Rescuers searched for the driver for two hours before finding him in a drainage ditch. He had escaped the overturned car only to drown in three feet of water.
Marie Baker: We knew it was Virginia's husband because we knew that he was supposed to come back and get her.
On August 19, fatherless, William Jefferson Blythe III was born. Later he would be called Bill Clinton.
"Laughing, happy, precious."
Margaret Polk was a distant cousin to Virginia, Bill's mother. Conrad Grisham and Myra Reese were first cousins to Virginia—their father and Virginia's mother, Edith Grisham Cassidy, were brother and sister. Like all three, Hugh Reese, Myra's husband, was a longtime resident of Hope. Grisham and Hugh Reese are now deceased.
Margaret Polk: You could tell Clinton was going to be something from the time he was born. The Lord just cut him out to be something.
Conrad Grisham: Virginia went to school not long after Bill was born. That's the reason her mother, Aunt Edith, raised him for his first few years. Aunt Edith loved Bill like her own child. "Eat, Billy, eat now, eat," she'd say, with him in the high chair. It's a wonder he hadn't been overweight more than he was those first few years, because she believed in children having plenty to eat.
Just after Bill turned one, his mother left for New Orleans, where for two years she would study to be a nurse-anesthetist. She returned when she could, but while she was gone she left her son in the care of her parents, Edith and Eldridge Cassidy, whom Bill knew as Mammaw and Papaw.
Myra Reese: Aunt Edith took the responsibility of teaching him. I'd be there at mealtime. As he was eating she was showing him flashcards—ABCs and s. In the living room of that old house was a coffee table and that's where they had their study time. She had it filled with kindergarten books and preschool books. She had him reading when he was three.
He was never hard as a child. Aunt Edith would say that he had just as soon play with a powder can and a spoon as to have a new rattler. He didn't demand things.
Margaret Polk: Laughing, happy, precious, and the best thing!
Myra Reese: Aunt Edith drove this huge Buick. On Saturday she would drop the two of us o at the movie theater. That was about the extent of the entertainment in Hope, especially for that age child—he must have been six. I babysat him for the Saturday Westerns.
Myra Reese is seven years Bill's senior.
That let Aunt Edith go do her shopping. We would stay there for hours. It was no problem. He was a very well-behaved child.
The theater isn't here anymore. It was called the Saenger.
Hugh Reese: It was in downtown Hope on Second Street, near the Frisco Railroad. It was a very elaborate theater, real fancy, with a balcony. The balcony was for so-called "colored people."
* * *
George Wright Jr. was Bill's contemporary in Hope.
George Wright Jr.: All physicians' offices had a white waiting room and a colored waiting room. And that's what they had on the door. All restaurants had a colored section and a white section.
Hugh Reese: We had a black high school, grade school, grammar school. We had a white high school, grade school, grammar school. All the churches: white Methodist, black Methodist; white Baptist, black Baptist.
George Wright Jr.: That's just the way we grew up in the small-town South. They had their section and we had our section. We never did mix that much.
Hugh Reese: Hope was typical. We were just like 99 percent of the other southern towns.
Raised on a farm, with only a fifth-grade education, James Eldridge Cassidy, Bill's grandfather, made deliveries for Southern Ice.
Hugh Reese: Eldridge had been an ice man before Bill was born. Then he got the grocery store.
Tom Purvis: Back at that time there were quite a few iceboxes in town—not electric refrigerators, iceboxes—and he delivered ice.
Tom Purvis, a few years older than Virginia, moved to Hope in 1941. Mary Nell Turner, around the same age as Purvis, was born in Hope.
Mary Nell Turner: Icebox—open the door and put the ice in.
Hugh Reese: An outgoing, friendly, sociable guy. Gregarious. Billy inherits some of his charisma from his Grandpa Eldridge, I'm sure.
Margaret Polk: He was a ladies' man. He had another man on the ice route with him and he would send him on ahead, away from his girlfriend's house.
Myra Reese: As grocery stores go today, his was very small. He had a wood-burning stove in it. And a couple or three chairs sitting around, so that people did go in and gather and talk.
He bootlegged out of that store.
Hempstead County had gone dry in 1944.
That brought in a little extra income and attention.
Marie Baker: Virginia said he had something in the bottom of the apple barrel. Everybody in Hope knew that.
Margaret Polk: Another thing I want to tell. Edith bootlegged. She did, because we bought whiskey from her. Right out of that house!
Hugh Reese: North Hazel Street, where Eldridge had his store, was black. He had primarily black trade. Eldridge was very popular with the blacks. He didn't make any dierence between a black man and a white man as far as coming in to do business with him. I'm sure Bill was influenced by that.
Joe Purvis: His grandfather treated everybody just the same.
Joe Purvis, Tom's son, attended kindergarten with Bill.
I don't think that was unusual in itself. I think the thing that made it unusual for Bill was that his dad was not around. I don't remember anybody else who was divorced or without two parents at that time. I'm sure Mr. Cassidy had an undue influence on Bill since he was the only male adult in his life for a while.
Decades later, Bill would still point to the lesson he learned from his grandfather, "an uneducated rural southerner without a racist bone in his body."
An imposing, heavyset woman, Edith Cassidy, Bill's grandmother, worked as a private-duty nurse. Whereas Eldridge was likable and easygoing, Edith was competent and industrious—and not content with the modest income her husband brought home.
Myra Reese: Aunt Edith and Uncle Eldridge would have their spats. Heated arguments. Eldridge drank quite a bit, and Aunt Edith didn't, and she didn't approve of that. Aunt Edith was a very, very opinionated person. Everything had to go her way or no way. He was a meek man.
Margaret Polk: She had hellfire in her, but she was a good woman. Eldridge was just as humble as a poor little kitten. She just bossed him like he was her little boy, but he didn't seem to mind. He'd go along with everything she said and wanted him to do. Now, I wouldn't say they were mean, she and Virginia, but they had a streak of hell in them.
Hugh Reese: Edith was the most prominent nurse in town. Really talented as far as the medical aspects of it, and then a great bedside manner. She would come in, pat you on the back, and say, "You're looking great this morning. You're improving wonderfully."
Joe Purvis: A lot of the nurses back then would wear nurses' outfits, and they'd wear these capes. A cape added an air of mystery to a lady, like somebody you'd see in one of the serials on Saturday at the "picture show," as we called it. I have memories of her picking Bill up at kindergarten with that kind of a cape on.
Kindergarten was held at Miss Marie Purkins' School for Little Folks.
There were two sisters who owned the kindergarten: the Purkins sisters, both of whom were old maids.
The kindergarten was in their backyard. It was built like a small schoolhouse, with a bell that you would ring. There was one big open room. There were probably anywhere from thirty to fifty kids in that school at any one time. There was no public kindergarten then.
Bill very much was a good guy. I remember on several occasions different folks would get into it, and before an actual fistfight would break out Bill would be brokering the peace, saying, "You guys don't want to be mad at each other." He was a peacemaker.
He's always had some amazing abilities.
"Had a tremendous warm smile."
Conrad Grisham: Virginia had her mind on the future, even in high school. She had her mind on that nursing degree and went to Louisiana to school. She finally went to school enough that she was a registered anesthetist. That was her trade in the nursing business.
Margaret Polk: They worked at the same hospital—Virginia worked days and Edith worked nights.
Virginia and her son still lived with her parents in their two-and-a-half-story house on Hervey Street. With the two women of the house working, the child of the house needed another caregiver.
Donna Taylor Wingfield: Of course, both Billy and I had black nannies.
Donna Taylor Wingfield was also a classmate of Bill's at Miss Marie's.
Margaret Polk: That old colored woman would work for them, to stay over here in the morning after Virginia went to work, about six-thirty or seven until about eleven-thirty or noon.
Conrad Grisham: Virginia was really easygoing. I never saw her get mad.
Joe Purvis: Virginia was always a laughing and fun-loving lady. Had a tremendous warm smile. In fact, in every memory I have of Virginia from growing up she was smiling.
On the other hand ...
Margaret Polk: You better not cross her, because she'd be as mean as hell. She'd cuss you out.
Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty III attended kindergarten with Bill. He would be Bill's first White House chief of staff.
Mack McLarty: She was a truly loving and caring mother.
Margaret Polk: She smoked and drank. But she was a good nurse.
"Roger had bought her a lot of pretty clothes."
A frequent visitor to Eldridge Cassidy's grocery store—a man who supplied some of the liquor sold under Papaw's counter—was a car dealer who had moved to Hope from Hot Springs.
Hugh Reese: Physically, Roger Clinton was of real short stature. And real nice looking. Dark curly hair. Well dressed all the time. What we'd call a high roller in his gambling. He liked to party.
His brother Raymond owned the largest Buick distributorship in Arkansas, in Hot Springs. The Buick distributorship here came open for sale, and Roger got word of it through the GM grapevine. And came and bought it. That's why he came from Hot Springs to Hope. He was very successful here in that business.
Car dealerships were highly profitable, and you drove a new car yourself all the time. Your salesmen drove a new car. It was a very lucrative business. Especially GM.
The father of Donna Taylor Wingfield worked for Clinton Buick in Hope.
Donna Taylor Wingfield: It was a good dealership, a good business—made us all a good living. We weren't rich, but we weren't poor.
Hugh Reese: Not many Arkansans had a Cadillac in those days. Buicks were high up on the hog.
Even after discovering another woman's lingerie in Roger's apartment, Virginia decided to marry him.
Margaret Polk: Roger had bought her a lot of pretty clothes. He'd given her beautiful things, and Edith just tied them up in the backyard and burned them. She was just that kind of person. Edith did that, the mother of Virginia. Because she didn't want Virginia to have anything to do with Clinton.
Excerpted from A Complicated Man by Michael Takiff. Copyright © 2010 by Michael Takiff. Excerpted by permission of Yale UNIVERSITY PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are saying about this
Meet the Author
Michael Takiff is an independent scholar and oral historian whose writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New York Post, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and Salon. He is the author of Brave Men, Gentle Heroes: American Fathers and Sons in World War II and Vietnam.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >
Once again Michael Takiff takes the reader on fabulous journey drawn on the recollections of those who know the stories best. These balanced interviews capture the essence of America's most fascinating tragic hero; Bill Clinton. A must read for anyone who wants to understand the man and every political junkie.
"A Complicated Man" by Michael Takiff, an engrossing read, is a major addition to Clinton lore. Seeing Clinton through the eyes of those who have interacted with him, we get a complete and penetrating view of this iconic figure. This book rates a minimum of five stars.
If you want to increase your understanding of one of the most influential leaders of the last 50 years, you need to hear it from those who knew him best. This 360-view of Bill Clinton enables you to see not only what happened when, but to see it from the many perspectives of those around him. Likely to change your perecptions by providing you with facts and perspectives, not "spin". If it is true that the truth lies in the middle, this may just be the middle.
A Complicated Man, is a four hundred page book about a previous president of the United States, Bill Clinton. It’s goal is to explain more about the man Bill Clinton, and his interesting term of office as the United States president. The book also tries to accomplish it’s goal in a non-biased way. However, in my opinion, A Complicated Man fails to live up to such a standard. This book was highly interesting me, because it was the first book I read that used more quotes than writing from the actual author. The author of the book, Michael Takiff, has obviously worked his tail off reading, and conducting interviews to construct his book on Clinton. In fact, Takiff used about forty pages of notes describing where he got his information and the People he quoted ranged from Clinton’s personal friends, to people who worked with him, to political enemies. Since biographies are usually not interesting for me, it was shocking how interesting this book was compared to how interesting I thought it would be. Besides interesting me with his amazing amount of quotes, the author also frustrated me with some of the thoughts he imputed, and several quotes that he included. The book quoted political and personal friends at the very least, twice as much as it quoted people who did not agree with Clinton. Another thing, When he added a comment by an opponent, it was usually addressed in one of the next quotes. However, when a quote was hostile towards a Republican, the author would typically not include a quote defending or explaining the Republican side. Besides the quotes, some of the authors own thoughts were hostile toward Republicans. Take for example, this quote talking about the outcome of Bill Clinton’s failures, resulting in Bush Jr. getting into office. “Bill’s dalliance with Monica, therefore, cost the nation not only what might have been done between January 1998 and January 2001 but what might have been done, and what was done instead, over the eight years that followed (George Bush Jr.’s presidential term): instead of responsible fiscal stewardship, endless red ink. Instead of a budget surplus bolstering Social Security or funding education and infrastructure, trillions squandered on upper-income tax cuts and an unnecessary war. In place of a Federal Emergency Management Agency run by competent professionals, a dumping ground for political hacks- thus, instead of a timely, compassionate response to a natural disaster, the drowning of New Orleans. Instead of judicious use of America’s armed forces, an ill-begotten, counterproductive war, entered into deceitfully and conducted unforgivably. Instead of an America respected around the world, an America reviled around the world….” Page 394 This is a huge chunk of text, all aimed like a loaded shotgun at Bush. Takiff basically suggested that if Gore had been in office instead, almost nothing bad would have happened, and that Bush basically ruined the country. How could he possibly know what Gore would have done? For all the author knows, Gore could have done the exact same thing. Finally, throughout the book, people who disagreed with Clinton’s policies were described as hating Clinton. Page four and five have a good example. The author suggests that Republicans hated Clinton for making policies in an area which Republicans usually dominated. Also this quote from pages four and five is disturbing “ was it that Republicans simply could not accept the fact that their most prized possession, the presidency, had been taken from them.?” Michael is suggesting that most Republicans hated Clinton for being a democrat president in a long line of republican presidents. Yes, there is a possibility that some Republicans hated him for this reason. But the author’s generalization stating that all Republicans hated him for this reason, is just plain wrong. I have no problem with Clinton ( except for his trouble with keeping his pants on) as a person, but I did not like many of his policies that I now better understand as I have gotten older. Michael could have easily suggested that some Republicans disliked Clinton for policy reasons, implying that he either does not understand the conservative perspective, or he wishes to belittle conservatives by imputing a petty reason for their dislike of Clinton. In spite of these small grievances, I really enjoyed the book. It gave a very detailed history of Clinton, starting at childhood up to present day. I also respect the Author’s attempt at being non-biased. Many authors for both political parties do not even try to avoid bias. I highly respect the author for trying hard to not be biased. Out of five stars, I think I would give this book a 3.5. I would also suggest this book to people who enjoy political books that are seventeen and older, as some of the scenes described in the section covering Clinton’s affair are a bit graphic. To sum everything up, this was a good book, with a good attempt at removing bias, even though I do not believe that Takiff succeeded. and I would definitely read it aga