Sunday, September 4, 2011

Book Review (x2): Richards' Life vs Clinton's My Life

A while back, I listened to Bill Clinton's My Life as an audio book while I also read Keith Richard's Life. I thought it might be funny to review them together, stating something like "what a difference an possessive pronoun makes". They turned out to be more similar than I'd thought. Both had their moments, but I wouldn't recommend either as strongly as they were recommended to me. As such I'll keep the reviews short.

The first thing you'll hear about Clinton's My Life is that it's huge, at over a thousand pages. My local library had two versions of the audio book, abridged vs unabridged. I highly recommend the abridged version, not just because of the length, but because it's read by Clinton himself, while the unabridged version is ready by someone else.

On the plus side, the main things that come across in Clinton's book are his genuine passion for public service and politics, as well as a portrait of a really hard-working and entrepreneurial Clinton during his youth and early career. There are some great stories about how he capitalized on opportunities thinking outside the box. There are also a few good anecdotes about hardball negotiations during his time in office. If you enjoy stories of this kind, or like hearing about the backroom mechanics of Washington, you may like this book, modulo the caveat I'll get to in a minute.

Richards' Life is, as you'd expect, a bit different. The positives are twofold. First, that Richards comes across as some who, even today but especially in his youth, has a passion for the blues. You really get the feeling that given the choice between the music and the success it brought, he'd rather be a pauper with a guitar than the alternative. Secondly, he comes across as someone who lives his life without a shred of compromise, doing exactly what he wants, when he wants. The result is, as you'd imagine, some pretty crazy stories. A bonus is that, perhaps as a result of the times in which the Rolling Stones enjoyed their success, the number of celebrity circles they intersected result in stories involving many household names of the era, from the Trudeaus to Andy Warhol.

There are a couple things both books have in common. The most positive being that both of them have deep passion for what they do. Unsurprising, as I'd argue this is a pre-requisite for success for anyone.

On the negative side though, there's another thing they have in common: Both authors are liars, telling their audiences, and themselves, a lie.

In Clinton's case, when he gets to the subject of the Lewinski affair, he feigns guilt, talks about it being a low point in his life, etc. Then he repeatedly jumps back to his defense used in his testimonial, and nit-picking fine points about how certain questions were asked, and how his answers here therefore truthful. It's like practiced his statements so much that he's started to believe them.

In Richards' case, his lies are two-fold. First, he's an addict, and though he's quit taking heroin, he still speaks to it like an addict does. 'I was always able to manage it', 'I always took it in moderation', 'It actually made me more productive' are examples of what he says in defense of a habit that he elsewhere admits would have killed him had he not stopped. Secondly, what he on one hand positions as being a free spirit and having an understanding about his dealings in his relationships with others, really comes off as his being a coward. In numerous places he talks about long-term relationships he had with women where rather than breaking up with a girl, he just stops coming home until she figure it out for herself. Sad really.

Both books have many interesting stories and points, but show that the authors have flaws they themselves don't see. Interesting, but not the top of my recommended reading list.

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