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Clinton plugs his 900-page autobiography

Newly fit and late - as always - former President Bill Clinton launched yet another campaign last night: for best-sellerdom.

In a speech twice as long as expected - as always - Clinton kicked off the publicity blowout for his book My Life with a standing-room-only talk before an embracing audience of more than 2,000 in Chicago at the annual book industry convention. It was long on his version of the history of the United States but offered few telling tales from his personal and much-awaited epic.

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Those he's saving for the free publicity from the holy trinity of Dan Rather on 60 Minutes, Oprah and the morning network news shows.

"I don't settle a lot of scores in this book," and "I don't spare myself in this book," Clinton claimed of his doorstop of a volume that runs 900-plus pages, earned him $10 million up front and will be in stores June 22.

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That said, the former president couldn't restrain himself from caustic digs at former independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, whose investigation of Clinton and his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky resulted in Clinton's impeachment.

"One day I was writing about what Kenneth Starr was fixin' to do, I got so mad I couldn't work for four hours," said Clinton.

With that aw-shucks manner so familiar from his eight years in the White House, Clinton said, "I just tried to tell a story," a story of "my small life interwoven with America's life."

A man well known for his passions and his excesses, Clinton laughed that his editor, Robert Gottlieb, had to cut huge portions of the manuscript, which Clinton wrote by hand in more than 20 notebooks.

Clinton said the process of writing the story of his life up through his two terms in the White House was "very therapeutic," made easier by a pre-television childhood where "I learned to listen" to the stories from a cast of relatives "who made the ordinary extraordinary."

The former president has often been accused of trying to win over his enemies while not paying enough mind to his political friends, and his speech last night continued that tradition with warm references to his key congressional adversaries, Bob Dole in the Senate and Newt Gingrich in the House.

Despite numerous policy disagreements, "I liked my predecessor, President Bush," said the former president. Clinton said the current president "is just doing what he said he'd do in the campaign."

Clinton underscored the dangers to free speech and civil liberties under the USA Patriot Act, which allows secret government surveillance of medical, financial and library records. Many of the conventioneers, booksellers and librarians, wore stickers calling for amending the Patriot Act and applauded loud and long.

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Nobody works a crowd - or a television interview - like Clinton. And his publisher can barely wait for the former president to hit the publicity circuit.

Neither can Clinton, widely reported to be miserable with the quasi-solitude that writing the book entailed and chafing to get out and begin reinventing himself again, this time as best-selling author.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.


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