Official Autobiographies Versus Political Tell-All Books

Hillary Clinton’s new autobiography about her tenure at the State Department is out.  Entitled Hard Choices, it’s gotten some tough reviews.  One piece describes it as riddled with cliches, long and boring, and ultimately destined to end up in the “Free” bin at the local bookseller.  Depending upon who you ask, the book is either doing fine or bombing, and the Drudge Report gleefully reports that after only one week it’s already fallen out of the Amazon list of top ten sellers.

To the extent that she cares — after all, she received a hefty amount to write the book in the first place — Hillary Clinton shouldn’t feel bad about this.  The reality is that political biographies are, almost without exception, unreadable.  All of the interesting stuff has been excised because it might offend someone, and any truly revealing anecdotes hit the cutting room floor for the same reason.  What’s left is typically ponderous and so carefully written and weighty and self-important in tone that an objective reader quickly ends up numbed, then flips to the picture pages before tossing the book aside for good.

Contrast that the political tell-all book — the one that’s based largely on anonymous and loosely described sources like “a long-time family friend” or “a member of the legal team.”  The tell-all books dish the dirt.  Consider the new book by Edward Klein called:  Blood Feud:  The Clintons Versus The Obamas.  Some of the incidents it reports are a lot juicier than a bloodless description of policy decisions about Syria.  One report discusses an unpleasant golf game between President Obama and former President Clinton, an awkward dinner where a bored President Obama played with his BlackBerry rather than listen to a lecture from Clinton, and Michelle Obama gossiping with a friend and referring to Hillary Clinton as “Hildebeest.”  Of course, books based on anonymous sources always need to be taken with more than a grain of salt . . . but, say, could President Obama really have blown off the Clintons so conspicuously?  Do tell!

Which would you rather read:  a carefully contrived, leaden official biography written by someone who aspires to a further political career, or a lively book that treats politicians like real people rather brittle brass, god-like creatures who have only important conversations about significant developments in the world?  The best-seller lists will tell the tale.

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