Living History by Hillary Clinton
Living History is the first auto-biography written by Hillary Clinton. She is known to hundreds of millions of people around the world. Yet few beyond her close friends and family have ever heard her account of her extraordinary journey. This memoir of United States Senator from New York and former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is an attempt to remedy that.
Living History was published in 2003 in the wake of those leaked revelations about Bill Clinton’s last-minute confession of his affair with Monica Lewinsky, but that only takes up two or three pages of the book. Clinton’s claim that she had no suspicion of her husband’s infidelity strikes some as preposterous and she barely mentions Gennifer Flowers and Paula Jones, although she does note Bill’s public admission during the first campaign that he had “caused pain in our marriage”. After the Lewinsky crisis, she writes, she and the president had marital-counselling sessions which forced them to discuss difficult topics. The book is about as revealing as a flannelette nightgown. Nevertheless, curiosity about the way a first lady betrayed in front of the country feels, responds, and recovers compelled thousands to stand in line at bookstores.
Clinton’s avoidance of details has resulted in many accusing her of being dishonest and politically calculating in the way she presents her marriage. They are convinced that the marriage is a cynical façade, and that Clinton is recycling pious platitudes with an eye to the sympathy vote in her next campaign.
Hillary Clinton grew up with fierce political beliefs and an easily ridiculed faith in making a difference, in making the world a better place and the title Living History suggests both that she has been a public figure, living through history; and that her life in the past decade has been a form of history, a representative and symbolic life. Indeed, the central theme in Living History is Clinton’s journey through the role of first lady, a role she came to understand as both surrogate and symbolic. Her analysis of this role has been criticised as being self-aggrandising and self-regarding; but I found it interesting that Hillary Clinton seems often to seek to avoid responsibility by discussing abstractions of identity or celebrity. Her gradual understanding of the vicariousness of her life, despite its visibility, is the true importance of her memoir.
That discovery makes the book a valuable feminist document.
The failure of health-care reform was a great disappointment to Hillary Clinton and after the disastrous midterm elections that followed, Clinton was disheartened and unsure of what she should do. She acknowledges that the power of a first lady is “derivative, not independent”; adjusting to becoming “a full-time surrogate” was hard for her. She acknowledges this without shame. At the same time, she came to understand that “the role of First Lady is deeply symbolic and that I had better figure out how to make the best of it at home and on the world stage”.
Living History is a long book. 562 pages long, and I think it could have been abbreviated without adversely affecting the content. However, its length give the reader an insight into how Hillary Clinton thinks. It is a most interesting book by an important world figure.