Joe Klein reviews ‘The Clinton Tapes’ by Taylor Branch

UNC alum Taylor Branch ( ’68 History) and former President Bill Clinton are friends and of course Branch is the acclaimed author of  Parting the Waters, the three-volume Martin Luther King biography. So when Clinton wanted to record his thoughts for posterity, he called on Branch.

Branch’s newest book, The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President, comes out Tues. Sept. 29. It doesn’t include actual excerpts from the tapes, for they are still under the control of Clinton.  The book is about Branch’s recollections about what was said during those extensive, often late-night White House sessions, with the kind of context an award-winning historian can provide. Branch took notes during their recorded conversations and dictated his own account of what was said into a tape recorder in his car on the way home. So we have a lively book based on notes, analysis and tapes about the tapes.

Branch is donating his tapes and papers associated with the making of The Clinton Tapes to UNC’s Southern Historical Collection, as part of the Taylor Branch Papers.

So who reviews The Clinton Tapes for the Sunday New York Times Book Review? Joe Klein, the journalist who made news himself by writing an anonymous, controversial, fictionalized account of the Clinton campaign, called Primary Colors, which was made into a movie. Klein, whose fiction surely helped shape public opinion about Clinton, then wrote a Clinton biography, The Natural: The Misunderstood Presidency of Bill Clinton.

Branch’s book includes a “blue jillion” colorful anecdotes, Klein says, such as Senator Robert Byrd’s “gaseous disquisition” on homosexuality and Julius Caesar when Clinton was trying to decide what to do about policies concerning gays in the military (“don’t ask, don’t tell”), and Elizabeth Taylor’s question about whether Clinton checked out Sophia Loren’s breasts during a state dinner.

“Branch’s friendship with Clinton…makes possible a remarkable portrait of White House life,” Klein writes, including the revelation that Bill and Hillary Clinton seemed to have a strong relationship and that the President was an attentive father to Chelsea.

“In the end, though, The Clinton Tapes will stand as an important work about American political life because of two dominant themes that emerge gradually,” Klein continues, ” one about the man himself and the other about the nature of the current era. ”

You can read Joe Klein’s New York Times review here.

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