In the coming months, a hard rain of new books about the first lady will fall on bookstore shelves. Some are by ideologues, others by big-name authors. But taken together, the books paint Hillary Rodham Clinton in the fullness of her contradictory glory--commanding, congenial, cutthroat, compassionate, complicated, concerned, conceited, convincing.
First out--early next month--will be "Hell to Pay: The Unfolding Story of Hillary Rodham Clinton" by Barbara Olson, a former federal prosecutor and on-camera Clinton critic. The book is being produced by Washington-based Regnery Publishing, the right-leaning publisher of recent works by presidential hopefuls Patrick J. Buchanan and Steve Forbes.
According to the dust jacket blurb on "Hell to Pay," "Olson reveals the real Hillary Clinton--a woman whose lust for power surpasses even that of her husband."
The ad copy continues: "Far from being unstained by the Clinton scandals, Olson shows how 'in scandal after scandal all roads lead to Hillary' and how, with supreme irony, the most powerful woman in the world has won sympathy--after the Monica Lewinsky scandal--as the globe's premier 'victim.'
"But perhaps more important than the scandals, and even Hillary's relentless drive for power, is the vision Hillary wants to impose on the country. It is a vision shaped by some of the most radical thinkers of our time, a vision that harkens back to social engineering on a grand scale, and that gives freedom a distant second place to government control."
Gail Sheehy's "Hillary's Choice" is now slated to be in bookstores in early December. Sheehy is the chronicler of the baby boomers' various "Passages." Her biography, says Sally Marvin of Random House, will be an expansion of Sheehy's much-buzz-creating psycho-exploration of Hillary Clinton in Vanity Fair magazine during the 1992 campaign. Among other things, the then-candidate's wife said that folks shouldn't pick on her husband because it was "apparently well known in Washington" that President Bush had had an extramarital affair. Hillary Clinton apologized for her remarks.
What took so long to expand a magazine piece? "Gail talked to 200 or so people," Marvin says. The book was postponed beyond its most recently scheduled September release because, Marvin says, Sheehy needed "extra time" to filter through her material.
"The Hillary Trap: Looking for Power in All the Right Places," by miniskirted-lawyer-turned-conser- vative-pundit Laura Ingraham, is slated to appear in the spring. "I'm in total crash mode trying to finish it," she says. The book is not a biography of the first lady but, Ingraham explains, a portrait of Hillary Clinton as "a symbol of where women are today, of the conflicts that animate women's lives on a professional and personal level."
Peggy Noonan, former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan and author of "Strictly Speaking," is writing "The Case Against Hillary Clinton" for publication by the Judith Regan imprint of HarperCollins sometime next year. The book is an expansion of Noonan's June 1999 Wall Street Journal piece "The Mad Boomer."
Of Hillary Clinton's nascent senatorial campaign in New York, Noonan wrote in the newspaper, "To say to this great state full of gifted people that you deserve to be its senator is an act of such mad boomer selfishness and narcissism that even from the Clintons--the Gimme and Getme of American politics--it is an act of utter and breathtaking gall.
"And of course she may well win.
"Modern people have a way of absorbing the brazen, factoring it in, in time discounting it. For some New Yorkers, gall isn't a flaw but a lifestyle choice, one of the seven habits of highly effective people."
Noonan's editor, Calvert Morgan, says he has not seen Noonan's finished manuscript, but expects it on his desk in the next few weeks. "It's not a biography or journalistic piece, per se," Morgan says. "She looks at the record and raises a lot of serious questions."
Meanwhile, at Alfred A. Knopf, senior editor Jonathan Segal says that Carl Bernstein's book about Hillary Clinton won't come out until after the first lady leaves the White House. The book, which has no working title, was proposed by Bernstein to Segal and Knopf Editor in Chief Sonny Mehta.
"We talked a couple of hours about the subject and approach," Segal says. The editors agreed that a complete picture of Hillary Clinton would include her final days in the White House, "whether she gains the Senate or not," Segal adds.
"We don't want a quickie," Segal says. Bernstein's book will be a full-length portrait. "We don't want to rush it. I know there are other things in the works. That's okay."
Already there are more than two dozen books about Hillary Clinton in print. None has been a blockbuster. The first lady has not cooperated with any biographer, and in most cases her friends have not been particularly helpful.
One volume in the works is by the first lady herself. "An Invitation to the White House" is scheduled to be published by Simon & Schuster in the spring. The coffee-table tome is a behind-the-scenes look at entertaining at 1600 Pennsylvania and will include menus from state dinners and notes on decor.
Hillary Clinton has already penned two books while in the White House. "It Takes a Village," published in 1996, reflects the first lady's thoughts on children and children's issues, and sold well--with more than 600,000 in print. "Dear Socks, Dear Buddy: Kids' Letters to the First Pets" was published in 1998 and hit the remainder tables faster than you can say kitty litter.
But will the first lady eventually write a take-names, kick-tail tell-all book about her tumultuous years in the White House? "She has indicated that she'd like to write another book," says White House spokeswoman Marsha Berry. Though Berry says she's not sure what the subject would be, it would be more substantive than "Dear Socks."
"Writing is time-consuming" and the first lady is extremely busy these days, Berry says, then adds, "She would be the best person to write a book about herself."
If Hillary Clinton does write a White House memoir, she wouldn't be the first first lady to do so. According to historian Carl Sferrazza Anthony, that honor belongs to Julia Grant, wife of 18th president Ulysses S. Grant--the first president to write his memoirs.
Julia Grant's sketches of her husband's Cabinet members, advisers and opponents "were so politically blunt in terms of her criticism," Anthony says, "the public thought there was something improper about this." As a result, the manuscript was not published until 1975. Julia Grant died in 1902.
Nearly every first lady since Eleanor Roosevelt has been the target of critical biographies. After the death of President Kennedy, there was an avalanche of books about Jackie Kennedy, "an average of two books a year for the rest of her life," Anthony says.
Lady Bird Johnson, Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush were all subjects of biographies. But Hillary Clinton, Anthony says, is a special case. "There are so many new aspects she's brought to the role of first lady. By shattering precedents, she has brought attention to herself," he says.
What nobody has uncovered, Anthony says, is the extent to which she has actually affected White House policy. "Everyone's missed the boat," Anthony says. "She has been the most accomplished first lady."
Of the host of Hillary Rodham Clinton biographies on the horizon, her lawyer--and agent--Bob Barnett says, "The only book about Mrs. Clinton that readers will buy in large numbers and that will be truly insightful will be her own."
CAPTION: Among the shelves of upcoming books dissecting the first lady: Barbara Olson's bruising bio.
CAPTION: Menus and decor fill the first lady's next literary foray.