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Hillary: two views

Reviewed by ELIZABETH BENNETT

In Living History, the 55-year-old senator from New York and former first lady writes candidly about a number of topics. Politics? She blames herself "on bad days, for botching health care, coming on too strong and galvanizing our opponents." Friends? She describes touchingly how she cried all night after learning about her good friend Vince Foster's suicide. Family? She focuses a lot of attention on her relationship with Cheslea and her role as a mother, on how she sought the advice of Jackie Kennedy Onassis on how to raise a child in the White House.

And while most of her story is about the White House years (she tells us more than enough about her many foreign travels on behalf of women's rights, human rights and democracy), Clinton also fills us in about growing up in an upper-crust suburb of Chicago, getting involved in student government in high school and Wellesley College, meeting and falling in love with her future husband at Yale Law School and following him to Arkansas when he returned to his home state to get into politics.

None of these topics, however, are the real draw of this memoir. What most readers want to know is this: What did Hillary Rodham Clinton think of the Monica Lewinsky scandal?

Here's Hillary's version: The former president lied to her about his relationship with Lewinsky, she says, until the weekend before he admitted it to a grand jury. At first she accepted her husband's story that he had simply befriended the young White House intern and helped her find a job. It was only later that he woke Hillary up one morning, paced back and forth in the bedroom and told her for the first time "that the situation was much more serious than he had previously acknowledged. He now realized he would have to testify that there had been an inappropriate intimacy."

She was furious. "I could hardly breathe," she writes. "Gulping for air, I started crying and yelling at him, "What do you mean? What are you saying? Why did you lie to me?' "

She doesn't spell out the details of their conversation, or how the couple broke the news to Chelsea. But she talks about the next few agonizing weeks in a rented house at Martha's Vineyard _ a vacation planned much earlier _ where she could "barely speak to Bill, and when I did, it was a tirade. I read. I walked on the beach. He slept downstairs. I slept upstairs . . . I felt unbearably lonely . . ."

Often perceived as arrogant and abrasive, Hillary Rodham Clinton may change some minds with Living History. Here she comes across as a softer, more humane Hillary.

Still, the question lingers: A formidable political figure in her own right, why has this strong, capable woman stayed with a constantly philandering husband?

Here, in her own words, is how she explains why she spent the last three decades with William Jefferson Clinton: "All I know is that no one understands me better and no one can make me laugh the way Bill does," she concludes. "Even after all these years, he is still the most interesting, energizing and fully alive person I have ever met. Bill Clinton and I started a conversation in the spring of 1971, and more than 30 years later we're still talking."

Elizabeth Bennett is a freelance writer in Houston.

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