''LIVING HISTORY'' is neither living nor history. But like Hillary Rodham Clinton, the book is relentless, a phenomenon that's impossible to ignore and impossible to explain.
Her memoir does not fascinate with its dubious Monica revelations. Hillary was a college intern in Washington herself, under much less erotically charged circumstances, working for Representatives Gerald Ford and Melvin Laird. She dispatches the pesky Monica as quickly from her story as Bill should have from his study. It's far more interesting to know that Hillary Rodham was president of her high school's Fabian fan club. That explains a lot.
Poor Bill Clinton. He's trying to deal with Osama bin Laden and he's got a bunch of angry women on his case, and a sex-obsessed special prosecutor. He's like Ethan Frome, a guy who just wants to take a joy ride on a sled, and ends up getting stuck for life in a cramped cabin with the wife he betrayed and his now irritating and ubiquitous former dalliance.
Bill is bookended in history by Monica's plea to him in a note: ''I need you right now not as president, but as a man'' and Hillary's explanation of why she stuck with him: ''As his wife, I wanted to wring Bill's neck. But he was not only my husband, he was also my president.'' It makes you wonder whether Hillary would have forgiven Bill if he were merely her United States trade representative.
This book is important not because of the history Senator Clinton records, but because of the history she doesn't record, and what that airbrushing tells us about the history she aspires to shape. In her coda, she notes that she cannot give undisputed facts, only her own Rashomon tact: ''I am responsible for the opinions and interpretations expressed in this memoir. These pages reflect how I experienced the events I describe. I'm sure there are many other -- even competing -- views of the events and people I describe. That's someone else's story to tell.'' Like the dutiful student she is, Hillary, assisted by a team of helpers, has finished up her book first, so dawdling Bill will have to fit his ''competing views'' of events into his wife's ''interpretations,'' rather than vice versa.
Hers is not history in the Churchillian sense, but in the Carvillean sense -- campaign literature for the 2008 HILLARY! presidential campaign, with an ''acknowledgments'' section to hundreds of Ellen Jamesians from ''Hillaryland,'' as they called their cult-like universe, who are determined to see their warrior queen take back the White House from the hypermasculine and domestically Dickensian reign of the Bushies. She wows some people and others, as Ben Bradlee puts it, ''she bugs.''
When the graduating Hillary took a final swim in Lake Waban at Wellesley, the college's president, apparently still irritated over Hillary's fiery commencement speech, directed a security officer to confiscate the clothes and glasses she had left on the shore.
As a successful alpha female in an era when women are doing a lot of retro-cooing and clawing on ''The Bachelor,'' and when rampant ''blondenfreude,'' as The New York Times's Alessandra Stanley calls it, makes it treacherous for brainy, blond, controlling women to fly Icarus-high, Hillary followed a trajectory -- from being tormented by Al D'Amato to becoming Al D'Amato -- that is compelling.
But anyone who had hoped to gain greater insight into the weird codependent Clinton marriage or the sphinxlike senator may be disappointed. The language of the book is more dead than living, press-release soul-searching, not matching the poignant and painfully candid Katharine Graham memoir Senator Clinton said she was using as her model. Much of it is a travelogue, ranging from the puckish, when Boris Yeltsin serves Hillary soup with gelatinous moose lips floating on top, to the pedantic -- ''Bangladesh, the most densely populated country on earth, presented the starkest contrast of wealth and poverty I saw in South Asia.'' ''Living History'' aims to bury questions, not raise hackles. Unlike Dan Quayle, Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush in their memoirs, Hillary Clinton does not emphasize tartly settling scores with rivals or the press -- except for smacking Kenneth Starr, The Wall Street Journal over its ''spiteful'' editorials on Vince Foster that preceded his suicide and William Rehnquist for not curbing his ''ideological . . . partisan zeal'' with the Clintons and in the case of Bush v. Gore.