Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Taylor Branch: The Clinton Tapes

Host Bobbi Emel reports on the October 21st, 2009 event:

For the second time in as many events, the author came hustling in the door at Kepler's trying to get some dinner-on-the-run in before he spoke. As opposed to Alicia Silverstone's vegan cuisine to-go, however, Taylor Branch chose one of Cafe Borrone's delicious giant chocolate chip cookies. As he tried to stuff it in his mouth as quickly as possible, he also gave the reason why he was so hungry: at an earlier luncheon event today he was asked so many questions that he never had a chance to eat his food.

And, indeed, it was easy to see why he was kept from his lunch. The book itself, its format, and Branch's relationship with former President Bill Clinton are so fascinating that one finds oneself wanting to know more and more.

Taylor Branch is the bestselling author of the historical trilogy Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-1963, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize, Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-1965, and At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-1968. In these books, Mr. Branch assumes the voice of the historian, researching, reporting, and interpreting history, but not providing a personal perspective. The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President gives us a very different look at recent history as Mr. Branch not only reports the facts, but also weaves his personal experience with the President throughout the narrative.

Branch and Clinton met over 30 years ago while working on George McGovern's campaign in Texas. They were roommates for five months during that time and then did not meet again for another 20 years or so, right after Clinton's first inauguration. The President specifically summoned Mr. Branch to request a project of him: would he help the President keep an ongoing oral diary/journal of his administration and his experiences as President so that the public would have an accurate historical record? Branch agreed and, for the next eight years, recorded 79 dialogues with the President which make up the basis of The Clinton Tapes. Clinton himself used the tapes for his 2004 memoir.

The additional point of interest for this book, however, is that, each time Mr. Branch left the White House after a session with the President, he recorded his own thoughts and feelings and recollections of the time with the President. Thus, the reader gets an inside view of the relationship between Mr. Branch and President Clinton and how they truly did "wrestle history" together.

Taylor Branch is a wonderful speaker and a truly kind man. He asked me what the usual format was for authors at Kepler's and when I told him we would need to cut off questions as we approached the time limit, he said, "Okay, as long as you're the one who announces it's the last question. As a matter of fact, I might even have you choose who asks the last question!"

Of course, the large audience did have many questions and I dutifully announced when the last one would occur. Mr. Branch then signed his books, graciously shaking hands and asking questions of each person, then answering the variety of questions the person had for him.

For a fascinating, truly inside look at the Clinton Administration and the President himself by a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, I highly recommend, The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President.


Anonymous said...

I came to hear Taylor Branch speak, and was mezmerized! When will you be posting the video, so I can tell my son to watch it?

Kepler's said...

Yes, he was wonderful, wasn't he? Let me check with our video guy and see when we can get the video up. Thanks for coming to the event!

Kepler's said...

According to the official Kepler's video guy, the video should be up by the end of this week (Nov. 13ish)

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