Picks and Pans Review: First in His Class: a Biography of Bill Clinton

updated 03/06/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/06/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

by David Maraniss

Author Maraniss, a Washington Post reporter, has uncovered enough new information to make the 464-page biography worth the price. It's not a flattering portrait, yet even the President's supporters will be hard-pressed to find fault with Maraniss's meticulous research and evenhanded tone.

Two revelations in the book have already made headlines: Clinton's efforts to destroy a letter he wrote to an ROTC commander about his draft status and an account of how the Arkansas governor decided against a bid for the White House in 1988 after a senior aide confronted him with a list of women whom he had supposedly slept with.

The book focuses on the years during which Clinton groomed himself for public office at Hot Springs High School, Georgetown University, Oxford and Yale Law School. We see the boy from Hope coming of age—a leader of the high school band, a state senator for Boy's Nation, junior class president. At Georgetown a professor tells him that many great leaders needed little sleep, so Clinton sets his alarm earlier to ensure he never wastes more than 5 hours a night in bed. As a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, Clinton develops an even deeper sense of his destiny. But then he dodges the draft—in the duplicitous manner that becomes emblematic of his personal style.

The book gains the momentum of a novel as Clinton returns to Arkansas to pursue a political career at age 27, his youthful confidence and idealism already in danger of being elbowed aside by his overriding ambition.

Hillary Clinton is an essential partner in this climb—more driven even than her husband. But the couple have a rancorous marriage. (Maraniss recounts how when daughter Chelsea was an infant, a Clinton family friend heard the future President singing her a lullaby that went "I want a div-or-or-or-orce. I want a div-or-or-or-orce.")

Maraniss generally steers clear of Clinton's relationships with other women. But he does note how Clinton attended a lecture at Oxford by Germaine Greer during which the feminist assailed intellectuals as lousy lovers. Still, Clinton asked Greer for her phone number in the event she ever changed her mind about brainy guys. Clearly, Clinton thought of himself as the Comeback Kid long before he hit the national scene. (Simon & Schuster, $25.00)

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