Monday, January 23, 2017

That Other Clinton: A Brief Biography of Bill

President Bill Clinton in October 1995. Credit Paul Hosefros/The New York Times
By Michael Tomasky
184 pp. Times Books/Henry Holt & Company. $25.
What biographer could possibly envy Michael Tomasky? As part of the American Presidents series edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., who died in 2007, and Sean Wilentz, Tomasky drew the assignment of squeezing the life and times of William Jefferson Clinton into a volume “compact enough for the busy reader,” as Schlesinger put it. This is an easy enough task, say, in the case of William Henry Harrison, who served for just one month before dying of pneumonia, considerately allowing his biographer in this series, Gail Collins, to focus on his far more eventful and boisterous campaign.

Clinton did not perish during his presidency, but as Tomasky aptly observes in “Bill Clinton,” “his most notable accomplishment was simply surviving.” Nothing underscores that feat better than the fact that Clinton was one of only two presidents to be impeached (he, like Andrew Johnson, was acquitted by the Senate).

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