(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 20)

In this personal memoir, Hillary Rodham Clinton examines the individual threads that compose the fabric of her complex, often convoluted, life. A controlling theme in much of the book is loss of innocence. Basically a positive person who believed firmly in the goodness of humankind, Hillary Rodham learned harsh lessons about being quoted out of context and about the realities of political jockeying. She soon realized that spontaneity is a luxury not permitted members of the president’s inner circle.

Both Clintons are products of families that faced grave problems. Bill was born after his father, William Jefferson Blythe, was killed in an automobile crash. The future president was raised by his grandparents. His mother, Virginia, was forced to leave him in Arkansas while she studied in New Orleans to become a nurse-anesthetist. Clinton spent his earliest years away from his mother, a woman of indomitable spirit. Virginia eventually married Roger Clinton, an alcoholic who abused her. When Bill was fifteen, he intervened to defend his mother against his raging stepfather, whose surname he had taken.

Although Hillary came from a more typical middle-class family, her mother, Dorothy, had a terrible childhood and adolescence. Her parents divorced and virtually abandoned her, sending Dorothy and her sister, Isabelle, to Alhambra, California, to be raised by their paternal grandparents, who enforced stringent and unwavering rules of conduct and who showed little love for their granddaughters. Dorothy, an excellent student, fled her grandparents’ house at fourteen to become a “mother’s helper” in a household where love abounded. There she experienced family cohesiveness.

Hillary’s father, Hugh Rodham, was a dyed-in-the-wool Republican, whose political convictions rubbed off on young Hillary. Raised in the conservative Chicago suburb of Park Ridge, she was much influenced in her political thinking by her ninth-grade history teacher, Paul Carlson, as conservative a Republican as Hugh Rodham. Hillary became a staunch supporter of Barry Goldwater in his run for the presidency against Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Hugh Rodham’s conservatism was not shared by his wife. Dorothy was a Democrat, albeit a quite subdued one. When John Kennedy was assassinated, she admitted that she voted for him in 1960.

Upon finishing high school, Hillary left the Midwest, continuing her education at Wellesley College. This was a huge step for her. At Wellesley, surrounded by the brightest of the bright as well as by the privileged daughters of wealthy parents, Hillary felt outclassed and questioned whether she belonged there. Her father urged her to return to Illinois, but her mother encouraged her to remain at Wellesley and to succeed, which she did, graduating in 1969.

Hillary was the first Wellesley student to make a commencement address at the school. Her speech attracted national attention in Life magazine. Accepted for law school by both Yale and Harvard Universities, she chose Yale because it seemed hospitable to women. There she dealt with questions of civil rights, child welfare, and universal health care, consuming interests she would pursue throughout her White House years.

Hillary met Bill Clinton at Yale. Theirs was a genuine love match, although Hillary clearly was unwilling to be a stay-at-home wife regardless of how celebrated her husband might become. Although she resisted marrying at the expense of her incipient legal career, she finally agreed to wed Bill when he bought a house she admired in Fayetteville, home of the University of Arkansas, where he was a law professor.

During the early years of their marriage, Bill, first as attorney general of Arkansas and later as governor, never made more than thirty-five thousand dollars a year. Hillary had a considerably greater earning potential than her husband. Retaining her maiden name, she joined the prestigious Rose Law Firm. The fact that she did not take her husband’s name was understandable and defensible but was also misunderstood, particularly when Bill became the Democratic candidate for the presidency in 1991.

When she and Bill embarked on their grueling campaign for the nation’s highest office, Hillary asked television producer Hal Bruno whether he had any suggestions to give her. Bruno told her, “Be very careful who you trust. This is different from anything you have been through before.” Hillary quickly came to recognize and appreciate Bruno’s...

(The entire section is 1823 words.)