Pros: very well-researched and fascinating; includes picture section and notes
very well-researched and fascinating; includes picture section and notes
Cons: can't think of one
In Search Of Bill Clinton: A Psychological Biography, published in 2008, is unique among the plethora of books about the forty-second president of the United States of America. Why? It's written by a psychotherapist with over twenty years of experience who is on the faculty of Johns Hopkins University Medical School, has written The Hypomanic Edge: The Link Between (a Little) Craziness And (a Lot of) Success in America that was recognized by The New York Magazine and who became a very ambitious investigative journalist for his new book. He can't think of another psychotherapist who has left their office to travel around the world and interview about ninety people in order to write a biography. I can't, either.
Do you believe you know everything you need to know about Clinton and this book will simply rehash what author John Gartner calls the well-crafted Clinton story? You may be very pleased to discover that this is not the case. As Gartner explains in his introduction, Clinton is an enigma, a puzzle of many pieces, and a paradox who doesn't even understand himself that well. Gartner believes that the man was born with a hypomanic temperament, inherited from his wild and crazy mother, and when he explained what that was to those he interviewed they unanimously agreed without hesitation that he was correct. The book starts out with explaining his theory in fascinating depth, going back to Clinton's childhood, and so I shall include part of his definition of hypomanic temperament:
The person of hypomanic temperament is filled with a high degree of energy and is very active in both work and other pursuits. They need little sleep, less than six hours...They are creative and unconventional (even if they are conservative), both thinking and living "outside the box." They talk fast, talk a lot, and tend to dominate conversations...They are charismatic, persuasive, and attractive...charming, witty, gregarious, and good at making people laugh...They are risk takers...have a large libido...have an addictive personality...
As Gartner observes, there's a link between mania and hypomania by blood, but hypomanics do not have a mild form of mania.. People like Clinton are 'manifesting a pathological expression of a set of genes that, in most cases, are on balance advantageous, which is most likely why they have survived over tens of thousands of years of natural selection.' Hypomania is not a mental illness and Gartner is not claiming that Clinton has a mental disorder. Relatives of manic patients (like Clinton) tend to be hypomanic and are consistently significantly above normal in income, achievement and creativity. I think Gartner proves his theory beyond a doubt in a highly readable manner that allows me to appreciate our former leader even more. Gartner took on this project with the hope of finding out what makes Bill Clinton tick, not to be political. He points out the man's many flaws as well as his strengths so that he and his readers could better understand the whole person and how Clinton must struggle continuously with his excessive tendencies. Gartner notes that his subject's I.Q. is off the charts and has many similarities to Theodore Roosevelt. I haven't read much about Roosevelt, but from Gartner's description it seems very likely that he also was hypomanic.
In Search of Bill Clinton goes further than other books about him. Gartner explores the possibility that Clinton's biological father was really a doctor named George Wright, a very good possibility it seems, to understand the genes from both of Clinton's parents. He interviews people who knew Bill's mother well to better realize how adulterous she was, then discusses how responsible the boy Clinton had to become to take care of his little brother and abused mother after she married the alcoholic Roger Clinton. Clinton walked to the Baptist church alone when he was eight, Bible in his arms, and nobody but the black housekeeper inspired him to do this every Sunday. When Gartner finally has a chance to ask Clinton a question, he asks if the work Clinton has done and still does in the world is a continuation of the journey he began as that boy on his way to church. Clinton hesitates for a moment, looking startled, and furrows his brows before bursting into a genuine smile. He locks his penetrating blue gaze into Gartner's and says, "Yes, it is."
There's a great many things I love about this book that I could ramble on about, but that question and answer described above that is found in the epilogue is as fine of summation regarding the book that I know of. It has been Gartner's purpose to reveal Clinton's hypomanic temperament throughout his childhood, political life, scandals and outreach to the world through his Clinton Foundation and the desire to make a big, positive difference in the world much like people like Jesus, Gandhi, Nelsen Mandela (Clinton treated him like a father) and Martin Luther King, Jr. has been at the core of Clinton's character.
Besides learning about Clinton's good (but not goody-goody) character, I also enjoyed learning how he only took Alan Greenspan's advice to cut the deficit while Reagan and both Bushes did not to Republican Greenspan's consternation. Gartner also refers often to books by Greenspan and many other Clinton biographers, the memoirs by both Clintons, newspaper articles and such. I don't know how Gartner could've been more persuasive and insightful based on such ambitious research. I'm now reading The Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria who says Clinton began as the economy president and turned into the foreign policy president, but I think Gartner shows that Clinton was both. He also was and is for Americans. You can't put hypomanic Clinton into a neat box.
Five sections make up In Search of Bill Clinton. These are Origins, Arkansas Politics, The Prodigy President: Prosperity and Peace, Impeachment-gate and Africa: July 2007 (this is when Gartner visited for several busy days). While I really enjoyed the whole book, my least favorite was the fourth section because of how much it made me feel the Clintons' frustrations with the trap-laying Republicans and Bill's troubled affair with Monica Lewinsky who is quoted from her memoir. Gartner wants us to realize that Clinton has been caught between the love of two women, his mother and grandmother who raised him in his four years, and that Hillary is much like his stabilizing, protective grandmother while Monica and other lovers reminded him of his mother. Like with everything else, he is very persuasive. My favorite parts described in detail Clinton's crucial roles in bringing peace to Ireland and AIDS medicine without strings to all Africa and other countries. I especially respect him for how his foundation has provided a stepping stone for local governments who then with his blessings take the credit for saving their people. Gartner examines Clinton's speeches, greetings and gestures on his African visit (while posing as a journalist) to better understand why people love him so much, getting a hug from Clinton as well. The author does a little analysis of Hillary Clinton, too. He does it all.
Finally let me briefly explain my title for this review. Gartner doesn't refer to Clinton as the comeback kid, not that I recall, but instead as a punching bag who always keeps coming back for abuse. This is because he suffered for years listening to his mother being abused by his stepfather and he still unconsciously feels like being abused is what he deserves. It helps to explain his bad decisions. So there's a double meaning to my title, just like there's more beneath the surface of Clinton.
Obviously I loved the 420-page hardbound book and wish I could ramble more. With Election Day drawing near I feel it's important for Americans to know about the book. Senator Obama may or may not be as brilliant as Clinton, but I think they may both have hypomanic temperaments that have helped them to become forces of positive change.
You may be interested in my review of Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary lost by search engine: http://www.epinions.com/content_426865888900