Let me establish my credentials. On page 320, Bill Clinton recalls a happy time in Montana in 1985 watching 'marmosets scramble around above the snow line' (he means marmots). And on page 808 (we're up to 1998), he identifies the secretary of state for Northern Ireland as Mo Mowlan (for Mowlam). In other words, I have read My Life, all of it, closely enough to catch two slips of somebody's pen, probably Clinton's own. For the book does indeed convey his voice, and the completion of this monster of a memoir is not the least among the achievements of a remarkable man. There was a loyal amanuensis, duly thanked, whose task it was to sort through more than twenty handwritten notebooks and to type up and research material, but the end product has the feel of the man himself, for whom telling about himself and his times seems to come very naturally, who lists in his acknowledgements the contributions of about sixty 'impromptu oral histories' collected from friends and colleagues, and who at one point confesses that, liking stories as he does, one of his major motivations in running for office was to give people better stories to tell. One feels that the acknowledgements, like the book, could have gone on for ever: only the firm hand of Bob Gottlieb at Knopf apparently kept the book from being twice as long.
LRB 23 September 2004 | PDF Download