Too bad we cant say that for the tome itself, but well get back to that in a minute.
In its first week out, My Life sold close to one million copies, and publisher Alfred A Knopf reports that 935,000 copies were bought in the first five days. The book went on sale on June 22, and more than 400,000 copies were snatched up in the U.S. on day one, making it the biggest debut ever for a non-fiction book. An equally impressive and interesting statistic is that the number of copies sold is double that of what is believed to be the previous record holder, Clintons wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clintons Living History. Figures for international sales are not yet known, but the book is already in its third printing, with an expanded print run of about 2.6 million copies.
So what is all the fuss about?
The book seems to be a direct reflection of Clinton himself, a man who, for many, conjures up the words of an early Kris Kristofferson song: partly truth, partly fiction, a walking contradiction. While it is intriguing and engaging in many sections, it is also painstakingly detailed - to a fault - in others, rather like someone reading every entry in their Franklin planner aloud to you, whether you want to hear it or not. As another critic pointed out in a recent review, do we really need to know personal details about his childhood barber? There are times when this book can almost suck the energy out of a reader with exhaustive soul-searching that may render little insight for all the effort, only to be followed by a wildly entertaining take on everything from jazz music to nine-pound tumors.
Here are a few excerpts from the book that illustrate both of those points.
On his alcoholic stepfather:
I was always reluctant to discuss with anyone the most difficult parts of my personal life... I now know this struggle is at least partly the result of growing up in an alcoholic home and the mechanisms I developed to cope with it. It took me a long time just to figure that out. It was even harder to learn which secrets to keep, which to let go of, which to avoid in the first place. I am still not sure I understand that completely. It looks as if its going to be a lifetime project.
Probably more has been written or said about our marriage than about any other in America. Ive always been amazed at the people who felt free to analyze, criticize, and pontificate about it. After being married for nearly thirty years and observing my friends experiences with separation, reconciliations and divorces, Ive learned that marriage, with all its magic and misery, its contentments and disappointments, remains a mystery, not easy for those in it to understand and largely inaccessible to outsiders.
On marriage counseling:
Hillary and I also began a serious counseling program, one day a week for about a year. For the first time in my life, I actually talked openly about feelings, experiences, and opinions about life, love and the nature of relationships. I didnt like everything I learned about myself or my past, and it pained me to face the fact that my childhood and the life Id led since growing up had made some things difficult for me that seemed to come more naturally to other people.
On his reconciliation with his family:
Despite everything, our daughter still loved me and wanted me to stand my ground. And, most important, Hillary stood with me and loved me through it all. From the time we first met, I had loved her laugh. In the midst of all the absurdity, we were laughing again, brought back together by our weekly counseling and our shared determination to fight off the right-wing coup. I almost wound up being grateful to my tormentors; they were probably the only people who could have made me look good to Hillary again. I even got off the couch.
On his dealings with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat:
At times Arafat seemed confused, not wholly in command of the facts. I had felt for some time that he might not be at the top of his game any longer after all the years of spending the night in different places to dodge assassins bullets ... Arafat never said no (to a peace deal with Israel); he just couldnt bring himself to say yes. Pride goeth before the fall.
Right before I left office, Arafat in one of our last conversations, thanked me for all my efforts and told me what a great man I was. Mr. Chairman, I replied. I am not a great man. I am a failure, and you have made me one. I warned Arafat that he was single-handedly electing (Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon and that he would reap the whirlwind.
Clintons guard is down in the earliest parts of his rags-to-riches saga, and he is a vivid storyteller as he recounts his youth while seamlessly blending in elements of American pop culture, politics and history. One can almost hear his distinctive southern drawl in their head as he talks about being 10-years-old and watching the national political conventions on his familys new (and first) television set, or being a naïve, young candidate looking for votes in the Arkansas hills. On that occasion, he was told that, Anybody who would campaign at a beer joint in Joiner at midnight on Saturday night deserves to carry one box.... Youll win here. But itll be the only damn place you win in this county. It turns out the observer was right on both counts. The roller-coaster ride of the 1992 campaign is one of the highlights of the book, as well, but in a case of art mimicking life, it seems to all go downhill once the nasty Lewinsky-Ken Starr-vast Right Wing conspiracy elements all come into play.
Is Clinton as honest in My Life as we wanted him to be? Probably not. Is it, as the book jacket promises, the fullest, most concretely detailed, most nuanced account of a presidency ever written -- encompassing not only the high points and crises but the way the presidency actually works? Without a doubt. Is it worth your time and highly readable? Absolutely.
In the end, this is a candid look at a man who has been many things to many people, among them, a president, son, brother, teacher, father, husband, flawed human being and impressive public figure. And, as Kristofferson said in The Silver Tongued Devil, also partly truth, partly fiction, a walking contradiction.