Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Classic Book Review: The Prince of Tennessee

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Classic Book Review: The Prince of Tennessee

Article excerpt

He knew everything - but it wasn't enough to make Al Gore president.

[This review from the Monitor's archives originally ran on Aug. 17,

2000.] Al Gore has long been one of Washington's odder riddles. The

politician with the resume but not all the skills.

The son of a senator and a graduate of St. Albans and Harvard, he

was bred from a young age to be at home with the elite in Washington.

But he's also a man familiar with summers spent down on his family's

farm in Tennessee, doing chores and mixing with country boys. Is

there a better recipe for a man with the political touch?

Yet, after 24 years in public office, the chief criticism of Gore is

his weakness in connecting with voters - a weakness magnified when

he's compared with his boss.

In "The Prince of Tennessee: The Rise of Al Gore," Washington Post

reporter David Maraniss and fellow Post-ite Ellen Nakashima do a

masterly job of explaining this paradox, and, even better, they do it

the old-fashioned way: with reporting.

In the past few years, biographies have moved away from researching

the facts of their subjects' lives. Too often, biographers have

become armchair psychologists, relying on little reporting and a lot

of interpretation. The focus in these cases is more on why events are

important, than what actually happened.

This 300-page book, the result of more than 300 interviews and six

long conversations with the vice president, thankfully avoids this

trap - and it's a great read to boot.

Maraniss focuses intently on events in Gore's life, and the

accompanying explanatory passages that delve into Gore's character

are less gratuitous analyses of Gore's brain than syntheses of good

reporting that illuminate the man's motives.

It is, for instance, easy to talk about the pressure Gore might have

felt about reaching the Oval Office. It was, after all, the dream of

Gore's father, Sen. Albert Gore Sr., to become vice president. But

Maraniss explains it in the simplest terms and lets the facts speak

for themselves without dwelling on Gore's obvious "issues" around

pleasing dad. …

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