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Classic book review: The Prince of Tennessee

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

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The Prince of Tennessee:
The Rise of Al Gore
By David Maraniss and Ellen Nakashima
Simon & Schuster
323 pp., $22

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[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.

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