In The Prince of Tennessee, David Maraniss and Ellen Nakashima explore in rich detail the forces that have shaped Al Gore's life, and the ways that his past offers clues to what kind of president he would be. The Gore who comes to life in these pages is an intelligent and competent man, struggling with self-doubt and insecurity that explain his bureaucratic obsession with fact and his tendency to exaggerate his accomplishments.
Gore's path to power, at first glance, seems straight and narrow. While Bill Clinton's rise is a story of obstacles overcome, Gore's ascendance seems the opposite: the son of political aristocracy reared by loving and demanding parents who groomed him as a princeling to reach the top. But his life was shaped by as much duality as Clinton's. As a child Gore was shuffled back and forth from political Washington to rural Tennessee, his ancestral homeland. The contrast reflects a larger tension between what others expected of Gore and what he wanted to do. Here was the quintessential good son whom his classmates teased as the wooden Apollo. He would occasionally try to rebel but inevitably be yanked back by the burden of expectations and his own insecurity.
His first ambition was to be a novelist, but his friends at Harvard saw him as a royal figure for whom a political career was unavoidable. He opposed the war in Vietnam, yet enlisted in the army anyway, out of an obligation to shield his father, the antiwar senator. When he eventually turned to politics Gore brought with him competing impulses: the cautious political moderate with an occasional tendency toward uncommon boldness, the awkward public figure who in private can be a raucous storyteller, the loyal son and vice president who wants to be considered on his own terms, the reluctant politician who burns with a desire to fulfill his parents' dream and become president.
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Simon & Schuster
September 01, 2000
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Excerpt from The Prince Of Tennessee by David Maraniss
In the foothills of middle Tennessee there is a little village called Difficult. Whatever hardship that place name was meant to convey, it could not match the resigned lament of the nearby hamlet of Defeated, nor the ache of lonesomeness evoked by a settlement known as Possum Hollow. It was that kind of land, isolated and unforgiving, if hauntingly beautiful, for the farmers and small merchants who settled the region, families of Scots-Irish and Anglo-Irish descent named Hackett and Woodard, Key and Pope, Gibbs and Scurlock, Beasley and Huffines, Silcox and Gore.
For generations one old road, Highway 70, was the main road west and the best way out, weaving through the hills of the Upper Cumberland past the county seats of Carthage and Lebanon and across the barrens of rock and cedar and flat cactus to the capital city of Nashville. Albert Arnold Gore, then a young superintendent of schools in rural Smith County, regularly drove that route in the early 1930s to study at the YMCA night law school, and to loiter at the coffee shop of the nearby Andrew Jackson Hotel, pining for a brilliant young waitress named Pauline LaFon who would forgo her own law career to become his wife and adviser and, some say, his brains.
Now on the morning of December 8, 1998, the whole Gore family was retracing that original journey, traveling west to Nashville through a dreary gray mist. Al Gore Jr. made the trip in a limousine, braced by his mother, his wife, Tipper, and their four children. His father, the former United States senator who gave Al his name and his life's profession, rode ahead as usual this one last time, at the front of the funeral cortege, his body resting within a solid cherry casket inside a black Sayers and Scoville hearse.