Cover To Cover is the anchor program for GPB’s literary coverage. Cover To Cover features a collection of distinctive Southern voices interviewing Georgia writers, Southern writers, and writers dealing with the South. The GPB Southern Lit Cadre will provide you with a varied, weekly glimpse at fiction, non-fiction, history, poetry, and even the occasional ‘old school’ nod to Flannery O’Connor or William Faulkner.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History With The President

Taylor Branch is the award-winning author of the great historical trilogy, America in the King Years, but his latest book is an unusual combination of history, biography, and political memoir about the nation's 42nd president.

The Clinton Tapes rests upon a secret project, initiated by Clinton, to preserve for future historians an unfiltered record of presidential experience. During his eight years in office, between 1993 and 2001, Clinton answered questions and told stories in the White House, usually late at night. His friend Taylor Branch recorded seventy-nine of these dialogues to compile a trove of raw information about a presidency as it happened. Clinton drew upon the diary transcripts for his memoir in 2004 and remains in possession of the tapes.

Branch recorded his own detailed recollections immediately after each session, covering not only the subjects discussed but also the look and feel of each evening with the president. Branch's firsthand narrative is confessional, unsparing, and personal. The author admits straying at times from his primary role -- to collect raw material for future historians -- because his discussions with Clinton were unpredictable and intense.

The Clinton Tapes highlights major events of Clinton's two terms, including wars in Bosnia and Kosovo, the failure of health care reform, peace initiatives on three continents, the anti-deficit crusade, and titanic political struggles from Whitewater to American history's second presidential impeachment trial. Along the way, Clinton delivers colorful portraits of countless political figures and world leaders from Newt Gingrinch to Nelson Mandela to Pope John Paul II.

At the end of the interview, I asked Branch if having been given this extraordinary and unprecendented access to a sitting president, he found himself with more or less respect for President Clinton. Did he say to himself, "how did this guy get this job?" Did familiarity breed contempt? Or just the opposite? Tune in to hear his answer.

Listen to this episode