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Reference Book Review: Levy, Peter B. (2002). Encyclopedia of the Clinton Presidency. Greenwood Press: ISBN 031331294X
By SJ Alexander
November 23, 2002

These days, when there are Republicans both in the White House and in the majority in Congress, it may be a relief for diehard Democrats to know that there is a resource to turn to: Peter Levy's Encyclopedia of the Clinton Presidency. The articles in this new encyclopedia cover many major people, issues, scandals, and events central to President Bill Clinton's administration (1992-2000).

Levy strives to provide a beginning researcher with a ready reference and recommendations for further reading on important issues and actions that relate to Clinton's term of office. The Encyclopedia of the Clinton Presidency would be a useful starting point for high school or undergraduate student research on important news items from this time period.

In his introduction, Levy (an associate professor of history and political science at York College) makes clear his desire to provide a balanced view of the often-controversial Clinton presidency. However, he follows these idealistic claims with an anecdote about attending a Clinton-Gore rally with his children in 1992. It is also notable that Levy makes a long list of the former president's positive accomplishments (such as his international diplomatic efforts and the budget surplus) before the author dares to mention the word "impeachment." The simple fact that Levy (who is the sole author of this book) chose to compile an encyclopedia on Clintonalia should tip off the discriminating reader to the fact that this is essentially a biased work. To be fair, it is possible that Levy is interested in modern American politics in general, since he has completed an encyclopedia on the Reagan-Bush administration as well.

Biases aside, the Encyclopedia would be a useful research starting point for a student of history or political science. Entries range from major figures in the Clinton administration, such as Al Gore and Janet Reno; to issues Clinton addressed, such as healthcare reform and partial-birth abortions; as well as major places Clinton worked for diplomacy in, such as the Middle East and Northern Ireland. Levy attempts to present a balanced view of Clinton's presidency by also including scandal-laden issues and people such as "Whitewater," "Vince Foster" (including the allegations that Clinton was somehow involved in Foster's death), and by allotting separate entries to all the women with whom Clinton allegedly had extra-martial relations.

The entries themselves are short essays (two to three paragraphs) on the topic. If the entry is about a person, then it includes birth and death dates (if applicable) and biographical information insofar as it pertains to the person's interaction with Clinton. Events, issues, people, or places that played a major role during the Clinton presidency are expanded upon, such as the entries on Monica Lewinsky and the economic boom of the 1990s.

The Encyclopedia of the Clinton Presidency is divided up simply into the encyclopedia itself, a supplemental timeline, and the index. Compared to other larger, more general reference works, the main body of the encyclopedia has few entries (typically about 10-25 per letter of the alphabet) and lists all of the articles alphabetically; therefore it is easier to search for terms or just scan for items of interest. The timeline lists the chronology of the events covered in the articles and helps to put the articles into an historical context, as is appropriate for a historical encyclopedia.

The index is a typical alphabetical listing of terms with page number, and contains no further subcategories such as subject, person, place, and so on. This straightforward indexing method is less overwhelming in a smaller encyclopedia that covers fewer terms like this one does, since the reader can open the index and easily glance over the whole lists for one or two letters on one page. It is also worth noting that index terms that are also article titles are distinguished by bold page numbers, so the reader knows immediately if a term is merely mentioned in an article, or was deemed important enough to warrant an article of its own.

A useful feature of this encyclopedia is the way cross-referencing is handled. For example, the entry entitled "Budget Surplus" discusses the fact that the surplus affected Clinton's approval ratings. The term "approval ratings" is printed in bold within the article, which easily alerts the reader to the fact that there is an entry on this topic also. Similarly, there are related terms listed at the end of many articles. For example, the "Paula Jones" entry suggests that the reader should also refer to the "Women" entry. Also notable is that at the end of many entries there is a list of on-topic resources, usually journal articles or webpage URLs, enhancing the usefulness of the Encyclopedia as a starting point for research. However, these extra references left me wondering if they were sources for the entry, or just for further reference.

As I have already mentioned, the Encyclopedia is pretty small (416 pages), as might be expected for such a specific subject, and also includes many photographs and tables. These aspects, combined with the easy-to-use cross-reference system, make this book friendly and unintimidating for the beginning researcher.

The Encyclopedia of the Clinton Presidency is an enjoyable flip-through for the pop culture or political junkie, who will enjoy the entries on "Lewinsky, Monica," and "Pets, Socks and Buddy." Unintentionally, perhaps, the Encyclopedia is also a snapshot of popular political issues in the 1990s such as affirmative action, Waco, and NAFTA. However, Levy's Encyclopedia has the most value as a resource for students to comb for paper ideas or quick definitions of issues relating to Clinton's presidency.

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