Bill Clinton, Baghdad diary and Warsaw's battle
Spring reading ideas from Patrick Wilson
Bill Clinton: An American Journey
Nigel Hamilton, Century, £25. ISBN: 1844132080
In 1963, a sixteen-year-old American boy from Arkansas shook the hand of his hero, John F Kennedy. Three decades later that same boy would be President. This is a story of drive and determination.
Bill Clinton was not born with a silver spoon. Far from it. He was brought up by a widowed mother (his father died, drunk, in a ditch in Mississippi) and against all odds battled his way to the Presidency.
It is an extraordinary story, not least because throughout his career, his strength at winning public affection through outstanding political campaigning was undermined by his weakness for women.
Kennedy managed to avoid sexual scandal. Clinton was not so lucky. By the end of his presidency, his actions had caricatured him and tarnished his reputation as a credible leader. Not surprisingly, his relationship to Hilary, as well as to his mother, makes interesting reading and these key women in his life emerge as stronger personalities than the man himself.
Hamilton, an acclaimed biographer for his works on Montgomery and Kennedy, certainly uncovers the President behind the public relations facade. However, this biography wallows in tabloid sensationalism rather than focusing on political theory and action.
We learn how his state troopers pimped for him and how his morning jogs invariably brought with them deviations en route. Sex and power all too often seem inextricably combined, and nowhere is this more evident than in Clinton's story.
Yet this biography has a number of flaws. Most emanate from the lack of associates close to Clinton prepared to make contributions to the book. The fact that Hamilton still manages to fill over 600 pages, in this his first volume, gives some indication as to the rather plodding style Hamilton embraces at times.
The Baghdad Blog
Salam Pax, Guardian Books, £7.99. ISBN: 0755311752
Diaries have for many years played an integral part in allowing the outside world to understand the realities of war for the people involved. Without them, our understanding of the realities of war would be far too reliant on journalists.
Often diaries have been written by the combatants themselves, but occasionally we hear from the victims of the war - the civilians.
In the second Gulf War, a new phenomenon emerged. Internet surfers discovered that they could get a real-time account of life in Iraq from someone who was there. This was because a 29-year-old, living in Baghdad and writing under the pseudonym Salam Pax, was keeping an extraordinary day-to-day account of the emotions and events occurring around him.
Suddenly, people could turn on their computers and understand how it felt for someone to experience the bombing, the propaganda and the eventual liberation from Saddam.
What makes Pax's account so unique are his opinions ranging from contempt for the human shields, to his disillusionment at the apparent impotence and lack of willing of western troops to stop Iraqi looters ransacking his country.
The style and layout of this book won't be to everyone's liking, but it certainly throws an original light on the conflict.
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