Bill Clinton, the Bard of Chappaqua

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One of the biggest political events of 2004 may have nothing to do with the presidential election. It's the arrival of Bill Clinton's memoirs. The ex president is trying to finish his book in the next four months so it can be published at midyear. The book, to be published by Random House, will be the story of his life through his tumultuous presidency. Insiders say that it will have plenty of score settling with what his wife called the "vast right-wing conspiracy" but that it will also have quite a bit about his Arkansas boyhood.

To hone his memories, Clinton has been sitting for long interviews with Ted Widmer who was a White House speechwriter and is now a history professor in Maryland. The two talk about Clinton's boyhood — his late mother, Virginia Kelley, saved everything — and Clinton then uses the transcript as the basis for his writing which he does on yellow legal pads. Clinton has told friends that he wants his memoirs to be like the riveting bestseller that Ulysses Grant wrote and that helped restore his tarnished reputation. (He's also said that he wants to avoid the kinds of tomes that Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson wrote after their presidencies because they had a pompous tone that missed their real voice.) There is no ghostwriter. Then Clinton goes over the sections with his editor, the legendary Bob Gottlieb, formerly of The New Yorker.

But meeting the deadline is going to be tough for the often tardy Clinton. He's been traveling the globe on various projects — last week he popped up at the World Economic Forum in Davos and to give an award to Kofi Annan in Germany. "Interest in the former president has not abated at all," says his attorney Robert Barnett. Still, friends say he's going to bear down on the book. "He's really into it now," says one. With a reported $10 million advance, he has a financial reason as well as an historical one to finish soon.