When little Hillary Rodham brought home straight-A report cards, her father taunted her: "It must be a very easy school you go to." When Bill Clinton was a boy, his mother pooh-poohed his stepfather's philanderings and criticized wives who snooped into their husbands' lives. In this absorbing dual biography of the First Couple, author Roger Morris amasses a legion of details to describe the dark lessons the Clintons gleaned from their childhoods;—and how they applied them to their marriage and to their pursuit of power in Arkansas. (Clinton's 1992 campaign and his Presidency are barely touched on.)
A former National Security Council member in the Nixon years who has written about both Kissinger and Nixon, Morris has taken a turn to the left. Still, this is a devastating portrait. He makes a compelling case that both Clintons are emotionally stunted cynics who operated immorally, if not. illegally, in Little Rock. Morris suggests—sometimes relying upon unnamed or secondhand sources—that neither Clinton was faithful (reportedly, Hillary may have had visits from her "intimate," Vince Foster), that Bill Clinton snorted cocaine while governor, that Hillary's famous cattle futures windfall was "the beginning of the money and favors the Clintons would enjoy," and that Clinton was "disingenuous" about what he knew concerning shady drug-and arms-smuggling operations run out of northwestern Arkansas in the 1980s.
Morris shines when he's discussing the particulars of the Clintons' personal history, but the luster dims when he starts railing against Washington's "money culture." His empathy for the young Bill and Hillary is striking—making his condemnation of their later failings all the more damning. (Holt, $27.50)