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the Complete Review
the complete review - current events


An Affair of State

Richard A. Posner

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To purchase An Affair of State

Title: An Affair of State
Author: Richard Posner
Genre: Current Events
Written: 1999
Length: 266 pages
Availability: An Affair of State - US
An Affair of State - UK
An Affair of State - Canada
  • The Investigation, Impeachment, and Trial of President Clinton

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Our Assessment:

A- : useful, well written survey of the events and issues they raise

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Commentary A- 10/1999 Gabriel Schoenfeld
National Review A+ 22/11/1999 Noemie Emery
The NY Observer A 30/8/1999 James B. Stewart
The NY Rev. of Books B- 9/3/2000 Ronald Dworkin
The NY Times Book Rev. A 26/9/1999 Andrew Sullivan
Reason A- 1/2000 Keith E. Whittington
TLS . 19/11/1999 Gary L. McDowell
Wall Street Journal . 14/9/1999 George L. Priest
The Washington Post A+ 4/10/1999 Jonathan Rauch

  Review Consensus:

  Enthusiastic -- except long-time adversary Ron Dworkin, who sees things very differently. Otherwise: Posner is objective, his analysis astute, and everybody loves the barbs and gibes.

  From the Reviews:
  • "(W)hatever view comes to predominate, An Affair of State is likely to become the work to which future historians will turn first in seeking a reliable contemporaneous explanation of what the impeachment scandal was all about. Not only does Posner sort out the issues with precision, but the highly modulated distinctions and qualifications he offers along the way accomplish the difficult feat of elucidating a subject that has already unleashed a cataract of less than edifying ink. An Affair of State also reveals once again what a broad and bristling intelligence Posner possesses, at once subtle and direct, iconoclastic and full of high good humor." - Gabriel Schoenfeld, Commentary

  • "Unlike the unholy mess it dissects and untangles, An Affair of State is a cool little gemstone of logic and reason, a rational antidote to partisan excess, and a short, elegant guide for the perplexed. Among the first of what will be many books to look back at the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, it should be the touchstone against which all others are measured, having no evident bias except toward clarity." - Noemie Emery, National Review

  • "It is not just a lucid, dignified analysis of this tangled mess from one of the country’s leading legal scholars. It is a testament to the capacity of the human mind to soar above even the most emotionally charged and sordid events and discover something of beauty and clarity." - James B. Stewart, The New York Observer

  • "(Posner) should have bent over backward to make plain when his own judgments about the law were stretched, controversial, or speculative. Instead he is dogmatic when he should be guarded, and many of his most confident and important judgments are highly doubtful or plain wrong." - Ronald Dworkin, The New York Review of Books

  • "Posner makes you recall all over again why 1998 and the first six weeks of 1999 were such a riveting time, and how those months dramatized our culture's deepest political and moral disagreements and, in some strange fashion, helped resolve them. But his most valuable contribution is legal. In a way only good judges can do, he manages both to portray the ambiguity of constitutional law -- and few areas are as ambiguous as the constitutional criteria for impeachment -- and yet not shy from judgment about what actually happened and what to make of it." - Andrew Sullivan, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Although extremely readable and topical, the book is quite concerned with the debates of the moment. The author too often seems to be responding to that day's op-ed page. These are debates that Posner usually wins, but a year later the reader might wish for a bit more selectivity." - Keith E. Whittington, Reason

  • "(T)his is a provocative, but ultimately strange and unsatisfying, account of one of the most significant events in American political history. An Affair of State is strange in two ways. The first problem is the all too apparent haste in which it was written. (...) The second peculiarity is the overpowering presence of the author throughout." - Gary L. McDowell, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Mr. Posner (...) works with unusual care through each of the moral and legal questions of the impeachment process. He considers all sides and possible interpretations of each event. But he does not hesitate to hand down strong judgments. He offers scathing criticism of virtually all participants in the drama, including the editors of The Wall Street Journal and the members of the Supreme Court." - George L. Priest, Wall Street Journal

  • "(A)n intellectual feast. At last, something good has come of the Clinton- Lewinsky-Jones-Starr affair. The book is, as one might hope, judicious. Posner is interested in weighing and sifting the case's many elements rather than in pontificating. He delights in spearing bad arguments, of which he finds many, particularly on Clinton's side; but where the case is close, Posner is content to be of two minds." - Jonathan Rauch, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Judge Posner is one America's legal heavyweights, wielding an imposing gavel on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and a sharp pen in his many influential opinions, articles, and books. It is not hard to see why he could not keep his fingers off such an enticing subject as U.S. President Bill Clinton's sordid affair with Monica Lewinsky and the subsequent legal and political consequences thereof. A prodigious writer Posner tossed this one off in a hurry (finishing the book February 16, 1999, four days after the end of the Senate trial, as he tells the reader). As such it is merely a preliminary examination of "the investigation, impeachment, and trial of President Clinton". Nevertheless, Posner does an excellent job and offers a fairly comprehensive survey of the facts and issues involved.
       Posner revisits the facts and the events as they unfolded, and examines the conduct and culpability of all the actors involved. His analysis focusses first on the legal (that is Posner's background, after all), but also considers other factors. Posner is especially good on the question of impeachment, considering what exactly should be an impeachable offense. He also examines the Kulturkampf surrounding the case, and offers a final chapter on "Lessons for the Future"
       Posner offers a fair overview in the relatively short book, and it is a well-reasoned account. Few of his opinions are disputable (except perhaps his notion that journalists can be considered part of the "intelligentsia"), and his sharing of the blame among all those that deserve it (everybody involved) seems appropriate. In this partisan debate Posner remains detached, as befits a judge, and he correctly points out the errors of the partisan crowd (left and right).
       Much of the material is familiar from media-overexposure, but Posner collects it well and adds a few welcome insights. Recommended for anyone who isn't sick to death of the whole damn matter.

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An Affair of State: Reviews: Richard A. Posner: Other books by Richard A. Posner under review: Books about Richard Posner under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • Books on Legal subjects at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Richard A. Posner is Chief Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. He is also a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, and the author of many books.

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