A Complicated Man: The Life of Bill Clinton as Told by Those Who Know Him

A Complicated Man: The Life of Bill Clinton as Told by Those Who Know Him

4.1 8
by Michael Takiff
     
 

View All Available Formats & Editions

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

See more details below

Overview

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.

Read More

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Oral historian and journalist Takiff (Brave Men, Gentle Heroes) offers a wealth of perspective to counter-or at least complicate-the prevailing, and simplistic, image many people hold of America's 42nd president, despite two prosperous terms and a decade of post-White House foreign relations work. Somewhat predictably, Takiff begins with Clinton's birth to a recently widowed mother in Hope, Ark. and ends, more or less, with wife Hillary Rodham Clinton's failure to win the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. Throughout, Clinton's life is addressed by those who knew him, loved him, or, in some cases, loathed him. Chapters are introduced with snippets of conversation and deepened by excerpts of interviews, many of which Takiff conducted himself, with a wide range of people, from unknown residents of Hope to Bob Dole, Michael Dukakis, Tom Brokaw, Clinton staff members Leon Panetta, Dan Glickman, and Charlene Barshefsky, and many others. The author places everything in context and provides sufficient history to tell the full story, resulting in a book that reads like a conversation between 150 people gathered to reminisce about a complicated man.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Christian Science Monitor

"A valuable document. . . [and] also timely. . . . [A Complicated Man] is fair and balanced. . . . When dealing with someone as inspiring and infuriating as the 42nd president, that is no small feat."—Christian Science Monitor
Dead Presidents Blog

“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

— Anthony Bergen

Anoka County Union

"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

— Dave Wood

Booklist

“What Takiff delivers is an astonishing collection of 171 interviews, collectively offering an intimate portrait of former president Bill Clinton.”—Booklist, A Top 10 Biography of 2011
Rick Perlstein

"This volume is an outstanding accomplishment. The Clinton that emerges is remarkably rich and three-dimensional: a protean and mercurial figure as likely to dazzle as he is to disappoint; his own worst enemy and his own best resource; a man of extraordinarily intense emotional need and extraordinarily impressive intellect and commitment. A historic contribution to the biographical record which will stand for generations."—Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America
John Milton Cooper

"This book is perfectly titled. Bill Clinton was and is, indeed, 'a complicated man,' one of the three greatest natural politicians among twentieth-century presidents, along with FDR and LBJ, but also strangely flawed. These testimonies by people who knew him well throughout his life and career delve into both the strengths and weaknesses of this fascinating figure."—John Milton Cooper, author of The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt
Nigel Hamilton
"Packed with fascinating personal perspective and testimony, Michael Takiff's A Complicated Man wholly justifies its title. The book is far more than a kaleidoscopic oral biography of President Bill Clinton. Aspect by aspect, it guides us through the struggles of postmodern America, as the most ambitious baby boomer of his generation seeks to modernize the Democratic Party—and, as in a Greek drama, is fated to be destroyed. Veritably, an all-American saga, with a cast of thousands—favorable and unfavorable."—Nigel Hamilton, author of American Caesars: Lives of the Presidents, from Franklin D. Roosevelt to George W. Bush
Lewis L. Gould

“This is an ambitious and impressive work. Takiff has taken on a daunting subject and done very well with it.”—Lewis L. Gould, University of Texas at Austin

Dead Presidents Blog - Anthony Bergen

“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
New York Book Festival - Biography/Autobiograpy Honorable Mention

Won Honorable Mention in 2011 New York Book Festival in the Biography/Autobiography
Anoka County Union - Dave Wood

"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
Library Journal
Former President Clinton has become an admired elder statesman of the Democratic Party. Takiff's (Brave Men, Gentle Heroes: American Fathers and Sons in World War II and Vietnam) excellent oral history, which includes 171 interviews with people who worked with Clinton and admired or hated him, helps reveal the many sides of this controversial leader. All aspects of Clinton's life and political career—from his challenging childhood, terms as Arkansas governor, turbulent presidency, and the sex scandals that nearly drove him from office to his postpresidential humanitarian efforts in Africa and Haiti—receive evenhanded treatment. Although most of the interviews contain more favorable than negative views, remarks abound like former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey's that Clinton "was the most successful adolescent I've ever known." VERDICT This lively first-person draft of history will grab and keep the attention of readers fascinated or infuriated by Clinton, especially those who enjoyed Taylor Branch's The Clinton Tapes.—Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Township Lib., King of Prussia, PA

Read More

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780300177688
Publisher:
Yale University Press
Publication date:
10/18/2011
Pages:
528
Sales rank:
794,587
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.40(d)

Read an Excerpt

A Complicated Man

The Life of Bill Clinton as Told by Those Who Know Him


By Michael Takiff

Yale UNIVERSITY PRESS

Copyright © 2010 Michael Takiff
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-300-16888-4


Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

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.
(Continues...)


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.

Read More

What People are saying about this

Lewis L. Gould
This is an ambitious and impressive work. Takiff has taken on a daunting subject and done very well with it.(Lewis L. Gould, University of Texas at Austin)
Nigel Hamilton
"Packed with fascinating personal perspective and testimony, Michael Takiff's A Complicated Man wholly justifies its title. The book is far more than a kaleidoscopic oral biography of President Bill Clinton. Aspect by aspect, it guides us through the struggles of postmodern America, as the most ambitious baby boomer of his generation seeks to modernize the Democratic Party—and, as in a Greek drama, is fated to be destroyed. Veritably, an all-American saga, with a cast of thousands—favorable and unfavorable.(Nigel Hamilton, author of American Caesars: Lives of the Presidents, from Franklin D. Roosevelt to George W. Bush)
Rick Perlstein
This volume is an outstanding accomplishment. The Clinton that emerges is remarkably rich and three-dimensional: a protean and mercurial figure as likely to dazzle as he is to disappoint; his own worst enemy and his own best resource; a man of extraordinarily intense emotional need and extraordinarily impressive intellect and commitment. A historic contribution to the biographical record which will stand for generations.(Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America)
John Milton Cooper
This book is perfectly titled. Bill Clinton was and is, indeed, 'a complicated man,' one of the three greatest natural politicians among twentieth-century presidents, along with FDR and LBJ, but also strangely flawed. These testimonies by people who knew him well throughout his life and career delve into both the strengths and weaknesses of this fascinating figure.(John Milton Cooper, author of The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt)

Read More

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >