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Buy 'Living History' by Hillary Clinton

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Beyond His Story

It's only natural to find yourself scanning Hillary Clinton's memoir for the juicy Bill-related stuff, but 'Living History' has far more to offer

By Sarah Phelan

When first I picked up Living History (Simon & Schuster; 576 pages; $28 cloth) Hillary Rodham Clinton's newest book, I immediately checked out the photos, which is a good warm-up exercise before taking on the rest of the 528-page tome, since the photos are cool and the captions speak volumes.

* On her father: "I inherited his laugh, the same big guffaw that can turn heads in a restaurant and send cats running from the room."

* On her first foray into politics: "I was an active young Republican ... right down to my cowgirl outfit."

* On Bill in 1970 at Yale: "He looked more like a Viking than a Rhodes scholar newly returned from Oxford."

My favorite shot is of Hillary and five other First Ladies, a pic that got me wondering: in the event that Hillary does becomes prez, will Bill be known as the First ... Gentleman?

And that, of course, got me scanning the book for details of ungentlemanly behavior.

But skimming the descriptions of state dinners and official functions, my eyes fell on the following account of a trip to an orphanage in Prague, where Hillary and her staffers "saw children, some covered with tumors, others visibly perishing, as AIDS ravaged their small frames. While some of my staff retreated to a corner of the building, sobbing, I steeled myself against tears, knowing that if I lost my composure, it would only confirm the hopeless situation borne by these children and by the adults who cared for them."

Reading that paragraph, a wave of guilt washed over me and I decided to turn to page one and read her story from start to finish in the order in which Hillary has chosen to present it.

Three days later I made it to the final page, where Hillary has just won the New York Senate seat, a victory she attributes to a young female athlete who whispered in her ear while she was still deciding whether to run, "Dare to compete, Mrs. Clinton, dare to compete."

Words to live by, given that this book is being taken as further evidence that Hillary is plotting her return to the White House--this time wearing the pants.

They're also words she's already lived, given the attacks she has endured regarding everything from remarks she made about Tammy Wynette to her plans for health-care reform.

All of which make it all the more enjoyable when she roundly skewered Ken Starr and other Republicans who made her life hell.

"Ken Starr's investigation was supposedly confidential, but his team was displaying a remarkable talent for calculated leaks to the media," she writes.

But her best dig is her account of having tea in the Red Room with Newt Gingrich, his wife Marianne and his mother: "Looking around at the Period furniture, Gingrich began pontificating about American history. His wife soon interrupted him. 'You know, he will go on and on whether he knows what he's talking about or not,' said Marianne.

Gingrich's mother quickly jumped to his defense. 'Newty is a historian,' she said. 'Newty always knows what he's talking about.'"

Vast Right-Wing-Conspiracy Theories

Not surprisingly, the book is peppered with details of Republican-conspiracy theories, including an extract from the memoir of David Brock, who broke the Troopergate scandal, only to recant it years later. Claiming he'd been used in an anti-Clinton vendetta, Brock recalls how "the country was being conditioned to see an invention made up entirely by the Republican right ... from virtually the first moment that they stepped out of Arkansas and onto the national stage, the country never again saw the Clintons."

Which, I guess, is why we never knew, until Hillary told us so, that, the Reagans often ate "dinner in front of the television on TV trays," the Bushes reportedly "awoke at dawn to walk the dogs," and she and Bill were awakened at 5:30am on their first morning in the White House (after a night of living it up at all 11 inaugural balls) by a man in a tuxedo carrying a silver breakfast tray.

"This is how the Bushes began their day ... but the first words this poor man heard from the 42nd president of the United States were, 'Hey! What are you doing here?'" Hillary recalls.

As for the juicy bits, all I'm going to say is that Hillary becomes that which she first blurted she was not: Tammy Wynette. To understand why, you'll have to read the book yourself, but if this gutsy lady does grab the presidential prize, here's hope Bill will come through by writing the sequel to Hillary's tome.

The title? Living Herstory. Duh.

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2003 Summer Lit Issue:
Jessica Neuman Beck's top 10 personal favorite books
'Get Your War On' by David Rees
'Oryx and Crake' by Margaret Atwood
'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix' by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter slash fiction
'Beyond Belief' by Elaine Pagels

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From the July 16-23, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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