Book Review--December 1999

by Bob Zelnick

Regnery Publishing, Inc., 1999



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Gore: A Political Life is a biography of Vice President Al Gore, by Bob Zelnick, a former ABC News correspondent. Zelnick tells us in the first sentence of the "Acknowledgments" that he left ABC News "as the price for continuing to work on this book." One may wonder why he bothered. Anyone who has been a regular reader of newspapers over the past decade will find little that is new and significant in this book. Most of the book seems to be derived from newspaper articles, but, given the absence of footnotes, one cannot say with certainty to what extent that is so.

The book focuses much of its attention on a few of the major issues in Gore's life: his wife's crusade against pornographic rock lyrics, advocacy on environmental issues, and his involvement in controversy about fund-raising. Despite the title "Gore: A Political Life," we learn little about the day-to-day practice of politics, and relatively little about Gore's years in the House of Representatives and the Senate, except insofar as may be relevant to the major topics mentioned above. Moreover, only two pages are devoted to the Monica Lewinsky scandal that cast such a shadow over the Clinton-Gore administration.

One of the few new, at least to me, insights from the book is Zelnick's recounting, as an example of Gore's wonkishness, of his mastery of a technique for fathering a male child. Gore learned it and apparently used it successfully to father a son after he had fathered three daughters.

Zelnick acknowledges that Gore is highly principled and yet is often is harshly judgmental of him. Occasionally giving in to political expediency is characterized by Zelnick as hypocrisy. Zelnick also concludes that Gore is "against the Enlightenment," whatever that means.

This purportedly authoritative biography contains no photographs and has 374 average-size pages.