Maybe somebody should just open a Hillary Clinton emporium, a 24/7 store dedicated to the sale of all things Hillary, featuring a book department stocked only with Hillary biographies. It could be the political junkie's version of a Baskin-Robbins, a place where fans and foes can choose their favorite Hillary flavors, ranging from sweet to sour, from Hillary as heroic public servant to Hillary as leftist Lady Macbeth.

There would be no consensus on what constitutes the most accurate Hillary, of course, but we're long past the point of being capable of distinguishing between partisan spin and empirical substance. There is, it seems, no objective middle ground. The '08 Democratic front-runner is one of our most polarizing figures. Virtually all Americans made up their minds about her long ago, and the book-publishing industry is quite happy about that, because it keeps cranking out tomes - dozens thus far - that fit every preconception.

Now we have two new biographies for the shelf: Her Way, by Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr. (Gerth was the New York Times reporter who broke the Whitewater scandal), and A Woman in Charge, by the famed Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein (who refers to Whitewater as a "so-called" scandal).

Readers basically have two choices: They can either cherry-pick their favorite information, to reinforce how they felt about Hillary before purchase, or they can read the biographies from preface to index - and rightly decide that Hillary is a lot like most of her fellow humans. In other words, she is complicated.

She is passionate about her ideals and extremely competitive; she is warm to her friends, and uncompromisingly cool to her foes; she is arrogant and she has a great belly laugh; she is "tough, funny and brilliant," but also "hardened, and unwilling to fully acknowledge her mistakes." And of course she is "ambitious," a word that is a compliment when applied to a male.

None of these observations is particularly new, but Bernstein's account is richer. His writing is more lyrical ("the most essential and yet elusive dynamic of the Clinton presidency came to be the relationship between the two of them - the sand in the gears in bad times, the grease that moved the machinery in good ones . . ."). His depiction of Hillary's domineering father is more anecdotal ("If Hillary . . . left the cap off the toothpaste tube, he threw it out the bathroom window and told the offending child to fetch it.").

He also explores, in greater detail and with superior sources, Hillary's sacrifices as a long-suffering political wife in Arkansas. He spoke at length with Betsey Wright, an old Hillary friend who ran Bill's gubernatorial office and dealt with his various "bimbo eruptions." Wright, who did not speak to Gerth or Van Natta, brings a touch of poignancy to the narrative: Back in the '70s, she had urged her friend not to marry Bill and thus thwart her own potential as a trailblazing female politician.

Bernstein also unearthed a revealing take on Hillary, offered by an aide who worked with her during the historic '92 campaign: "She doesn't look at her life as a series of crises but rather a series of battles. I think of her viewing herself in more heroic terms, an epic character like in the Iliad, fighting battle after battle. . . . She's happiest when she's fighting, when she has identified the enemy and goes into attack mode." The aide also said that Hillary likes to think of herself as a martyr, like Joan of Arc.

Naturally, that assessment can be read two ways. Hillary haters can claim it as proof that she is a polarizer who, like her husband, is prone to self-pity; but Hillary lovers can claim it as proof that she, unlike her less-experienced Democratic rivals, has the requisite moxie to slug it out with the GOP in 2008.

Hillary haters would surely prefer the Gerth and Van Natta book, because those guys are far tougher on Hillary. Whereas Bernstein says she is basically a Methodist do-gooder, Gerth and Van Natta see her as a devious Machiavelli. They buttress this assessment with some diligent reporting, focusing particularly on Hillary's Senate career, which gets short shrift in the Bernstein book. The best stuff is about Iraq.

They track Hillary's ongoing attempts to quasi-renounce the vote she cast in 2002, authorizing President Bush to invade. She didn't read the classified intelligence report that vigorously questioned Bush's case for war, and she has since insisted that, by voting "yes," she was merely anticipating that Bush would take new diplomatic steps to avoid war. But the war resolution itself didn't require Bush to do that; moreover, she already had voted against a Democratic amendment that would have compelled Bush to take such steps before going to war.

All told, the authors conclude, "Hillary was stuck in her own Iraq quagmire," and she has sought to extricate herself ever since.

More debatable, however, is Gerth and Van Natta's assertion that Bill and Hillary hatched a master plan, way back in the '70s, to put Bill in the Oval Office within 20 years - and then updated the plan in 1993, mapping out a presidency for Hillary as well. The authors breathlessly write: "Their audacious pact has remained a secret until now." But Bernstein, in his book, doesn't mention any "his and hers" agreement, and the hearsay source cited by Gerth and Van Natta - the historian Taylor Branch, a Clinton family friend - insists now that "the story is preposterous."

So we're back in the spin zone. Maybe Gerth and Van Natta got it right, and Taylor is just covering for the Clintons. Does it really matter? The bottom line is that Hillary is generating heat, and heat is what sells in the publishing world. Polarization is good for business. Hillary lovers and haters can customize their Hillary readings to suit their tastes, just as they can customize the music on their iPods. Her '08 presidential bid merely ensures that the temperature will continue to rise.