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Destiny and Power Jon Meacham tells in 600 pages the story of a man who lived a four volume life Where longer biographies can become bogged down in political minutiae Destiny and Power has captured the essence of the president once known best as George BushBush’s legacy may be grander than his four years in the White House and it certainly is as far as the Bush family and his friends are concerned Meacham brings Bush out from the shadows of Richard Nixon Ronald Reagan Bill Clinton Mikhail Gorbachev George W Bush and Dana Carvey Into the light he is thrust given his hour again by an author who would eulogize him just three years after publication Destiny and Power is incredibly easy to read fast paced—constantly moving like Bush himself Bush’s character shines when it often seemed absent during his presidency Barbara George W and Jeb are all given adeuate space in these pages and Ross Perot intrudes often enough Meacham is unnecessarily apologetic in the Author’s Note at book’s end A reader should expect a biographer to be partial to his subject but modern times have us uestioning anything we are told by an authority or intellectual In 2020 history needs a hero and the American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush isn’t a bad place to start looking Summary Meacham traces the life of our 41st president from his family’s roots and values that shaped a man both deeply committed to service and country and also highly competitive and ambitious The biography traces both his skillful leadership in handling the transition from the Cold War era and the inability of this deeply private man to communicate his deep care for and desire to serve his country that cost him a second termReading this biography suggested to me that George H W Bush is perhaps under rated both as a president and a person For many he is regarded as an asterisk between the Reagan and Clinton years And yet as President he skillfully navigated the nation in international relations at the end of the Cold War era that avoided provoking hard line reactionaries in the former Soviet Union facilitating the reunification of Germany the freedom of Soviet satellites from Communist domination and the establishment of warm relations between the US and Russia He built an international coalition to decisively defeat Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and bring relief to the atrocities against Kuwaitis containing Hussein without becoming embroiled in another “Vietnam”While growing up in a privileged New England family he was a genuine war hero surviving being shot down after a bombing run at Chichi Jima Before going off to war he married Barbara beginning a lifelong partnership between two very strong individuals They experienced tragedy that deepened their compassion early in marriage losing their daughter Robin to leukemia They built their own fortune in the Texas oil industry of the 1950s He served in the US House of Representatives then lost a Senate race in 1964 in the midst of Lyndon Johnson’s landslide victory over Barry Goldwater Subseuently he served in Republican party leadership as UN ambassador our ambassador to China and as CIA directorThere was the complicated relationship with Ronald Reagan Losing to Reagan after a promising beginning in Iowa criticizing Reagan’s age and “voo doo economics” he is selected as running mate despite Nancy Reagan’s opposition He turns out to be the ideal Vice President who becomes a trusted friend by never stealing the limelight and is asked by Nancy to give Reagan’s eulogy which he did paying tribute not only to Reagan but to NancyThe drive for success for power accounted for the weaknesses and flaws in his story–compromised positions on civil rights in the early years the Willie Horton ads in the Presidential campaign the famous “read my lips” promise that he broke when it became clear that only additional tax revenues could address the nation’s fiscal problems in the early 1990’s Meacham explores the drive in his character that led to these compromises At the same time we see a president willing to do what he saw in the best interests of his country even though it contributed to his loss of the presidency ironically laying the groundwork for budget surpluses in the Clinton years We also see a very private man torn by the political necessities of glad handing wearying of the process in the 1992 election outshone by the young Democrat from ArkansasAs impressive as anything else is the life he lived after his one term presidency He kept a low profile and eventually became good friends even with Bill Clinton as the two former presidents worked on tsunami relief Meacham writes about his relationship with his presidential son and there is no evidence of the father second guessing the son even on Ira He dismissed comparisons on this score with the response that these were different circumstances different wars Rather the relationship was one of pride and support allowing the son to be his own person and only offering counsel when asked Generally he was generous with his words even of political foes The few exceptions Donald Rumsfeld always a rival and Dick Cheney whose vice presidency Bush 41 criticized after the factYears earlier I read Kevin Phillips American Dynasty which is a much sinister view of the Bushes as an inter generational political dynasty His account and Meacham’s are very different Perhaps it was the fact that Phillips book was written during the height of criticism of Bush 43’s Ira policies just before the 2004 elections This seems a much measured appraisal and a pleasure to read It presented a man of both great ambition and generally high principle as well as one far decent than he was given credit in his 1992 defeat While acting in his own best political interests at times what was striking were the times he acted in service to the country even at the expense of his own interests whether as CIA director vice president or in the 1990 budget deal raising taxes I was struck with how fortunate we were to have one with his foreign policy skill at the denouement of the Cold War While his presidency is still in the recent past and will be subject to continuing discussion Barack Obama’s assessment on awarding the Medal of Freedom to George H W Bush in 2010 may be the most fitting “As good a measure of a president as I know is somebody who ultimately put the country first and it strikes me that throughout his life he did that both before he was president and while he was president and ever since” From Pulitzer Prize winner and #1 New York Times bestselling author Jon Meacham comes a sweeping yet intimate biography of George H W Bush Based on rigorous research hours of private interviews and extraordinary access to Bush’s diaries and to his family Destiny and Power paints a vivid and affecting portrait of the distinctive American life of a man from the Greatest Generation his childhood in Connecticut his heroic service in World War II his entry into the Texas oil business and his storied rise in politics from congressman to UN ambassador to head of the CIA to forty first president of the United States With the rollout of Pulitzer Prize winning biographer Jon Meacham’s new book DESTINY AND POWER THE AMERICAN ODYSSEY OF GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH what emerged in the media was the elder Bush’s criticisms of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney’s poor service in the administration of his son Many pundits have uestioned the senior Bush’s judgement since another son Jeb is in the midst of his own presidential campaign Whatever motivated the senior Bush it has created a great deal of buzz around Meacham’s latest biography After successful histories of Andrew Jackson Thomas Jefferson and the relationship between Winston Churchill and Franklin D Roosevelt Meacham’s latest effort is not uite on the level of his previous work In Meacham’s defense it is difficult to write a critical biography of a subject that is still alive and as time has separated him from his presidency he has become popular than ever George HW Bush was a lifetime Republican who served in Congress the head of the Republican National Committee held a number of important jobs in the Nixon and Ford administrations and later served as Ronald Reagan’s Vice President Always a loyal party man he never could uite gain the confidence of the conservative wing of his party He was always seen as a Rockefeller eastern liberal Republican and he constantly had to prove his bonafides to conservatives If he were a candidate for office today Bush would be relegated to the junior varsity on the debate stage on many issues To Bush’s credit as Meacham points out repeatedly in his narrative he embraced compromise in public life and engaged his foes in the passage of important legislation as he was willing to buck his own party to do what he believed was rightAfter reading Meacham’s description of Bush’s childhood in Connecticut Kennebunkport and South Carolina it is obvious what former Texas Governor Anne Richards meant about Bush’s presidential candidacy in 1988 when she stated at the Democratic National Convention that “for eight straight years George Bush hasn’t displayed the slightest interest in anything we care about And now that he’s after a job that he can’t be appointed to he’s like Columbus discovering America Poor George he can’t help it he was born with a silver foot in his mouth” 334 35 The Bush children of the 1930s were insulated from want but they were raised to feel a sense of obligation to others According to Meacham the Bush family code was to disguise one’s ambition and hunger to win For years I had difficulty accepting Bush’s authenticity and sincerity as I watched him “flip flop” on issues in order to get elected in 1980 and 1988 and avoid the charge that he was an eastern establishment Republican I must admit that for over half of Meacham’s narrative I became somewhat convinced that my view was harsh after reading the intimate details of Bush’s patriotism leaving his privileged education to become a naval pilot during World War II and how he reacted and handled being shot down in the Pacific with the loss of his radioman and tail gunner We see Bush as the supporting husband taking care of a spouse dealing with depression Further we are privy to Bush as a father and family man dealing with the passing of his daughter Robin at the age of three from leukemia witnessing a distraught person who exhibits the traits we would all hope to have in a similar situationThe book comes across as a conversation between the author and the reader At times one gets the feeling that Meacham is interviewing the former president conveying Bush’s view of his life issues and historical perspectives We are exposed to the major events in American history from 1964 on as they are intertwined with Bush’s political career The weakness is that part of the narrative comes across as an extensive magazine article intertwined with a degree of analysis Meacham for the most part is content with explaining Bush’s motivations for his decisions without delving deeply enough into their ramifications A case in point is Bush’s vote against the 1964 Civil Rights Act but a few pages later we learn he voted for the 1968 Fair Housing Act as if the later vote canceled out the weakness of character reflected in the first vote We read a great deal about Bush’s personality and his commitment to the family ethos as represented by his father Prescott Bush but not enough of what can be described as the “edginess of politics” and its cut throat nature As I read the first few hundred pages I wondered how such a “nice person” became such a duplicitous politician who would lie about his knowledge concerning the Iran Contra deal apart from the Nicaraguan aspect the use of the Willie Horton commercial in 1988 and his alliance with the likes of Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes his reversals on abortion taxes and other issues to make him palatable to be Ronald Reagan’s running mate What I gathered from Meacham’s narrative is that Bush according to the family credo was that winning was most important but that is covered up by a political pragmatism rather than following what the author presents as his core principlesMeacham does a credible job discussing the major aspects of Bush’s career His successful run for the House of Representatives and defeat as he tries to win a Senate seat in the 1960s We learn of his stint as UN Ambassador under Richard Nixon envoy to China and CIA Head under Gerald Ford highlighting the domestic and international machinations of each The reader is placed inside his campaign against Ronald Reagan in 1980 and the development of their working relationship since Ronald and Nancy Reagan did not think much of the Bushes at the outset Meacham constantly points to Bush’s winning personality as his key asset and we can see how effective he is in winning over the President and developing a strong personal relationship during the Reagan administrations The reader has an insider’s view of the White House during the first Reagan administration and the role that Bush played Then the second administration seems to disappear in the narrative except for a discussion of Iran Contra and the duplicitous role played by Bush By 1988 Bush must earn his next governmental position the presidency something he seems to have sought since his entrance into politics in the 1960s because there are no longer any appointments coming his way because of the networking that had rewarded him for decades in business and politicsMeacham’s focus and analysis seems to take a sharper turn as he deals with the 1988 presidential campaign as he examines the mistaken choice Bush admits to in choosing Dan uayle as his running mate We follow the campaign and the errors of the Dukakis team as we see the former Massachusetts governor foolishly riding in a tank in New Jersey and is forced to deal with the prison furlough program that brought about the Willie Horton ad Once elected Meacham accurately explores Bush’s successes in foreign policy and the difficulties he faced in dealing with Congress over domestic legislation during his term in officeI am very familiar with Bush’s personal belief that he thought that he should receive the major credit for winning the Cold War and I am certain that believers in the Reagan cult would beg to differ However Bush senior must be commended for the way he handled the fall of the Berlin Wall and the personal relationship he was able to develop with Mikhail Gorbachev that fostered arms control and a lessening of tensions between the former Cold War competitors Meacham takes us from the night the Wall was breached through the difficult diplomacy that resulted in the reunification of Germany Though the definitive account of those heady days have yet to be written Meacham’s narrative praising Bush for his calm and steady approach to events and his diplomacy particularly with the Soviet Union and NATO members forms an excellent summary Bush has the reputation of overseeing a strong foreign policy that resulted in his words “a new world order” where the bipolar Cold War was replaced by a new unipolar world This characterization can be easily argued but Meacham chooses not to in the same way as he glances over the American invasion of Panama to replace Manuel Noriega Perhaps if he would have delved into the background relationship between the American national security establishment and the drug trafficking Panamanian dictator the reader would be provided a clearer picture Further Meacham leaves out some important details in the run up to the American invasion of Ira after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait The reader is provided with a detailed account of Bush’s handling of the crisis but what is missing is an accurate description of the messages we sent to the Irai dictator at the end of July 1990 right before the invasion To his credit Meacham explores the meetings between Saddam and American Ambassador to Ira April Glaspie whose career took a strong hit after the invasion took place Perhaps if the administration would have laid out clearer instructions Glaspie’s messages to Saddam would not have been so misinterpreted to the point where he believed that the United States would not remove his forces from Kuwait militarily Bush is to be credited with putting together an international coalition against Saddam and unlike his son he realized the vacuum that would be created if American troops marched on Baghdad in March 1991 and that once the predictable civil war between Shi’ites and Sunni would evolve Iran would emerge as the true winner Another aspect that Meacham should have explored closely is the Bush family’s relationship with the Saudi royal family and what impact it had on American policy Craig Unger’s HOUSE OF BUSH HOUSE OF SAUD is worth consultingMeacham correctly points out that Bush did have a domestic agenda as he repeatedly refers to Bush’s diaries to support the idea that the president wanted to improve the lives of everyday Americans His successes include a raising of educational standards and enhancements for the Head Start program amendments to the Clean Air Act and the Americans for Disability Act However once Bush had to deal with economic policy as the American economy fell into recession he ran up against a conservative wall in Congress led by Newt Gingrich Once he decided to turn away from his famous “read my lips” promise when he won the Republican presidential nomination and agreed to raise federal taxes to deal with the budget crisis he just reaffirmed the belief of conservatives that he was not one of them Again to Bush’s credit he put political pragmatism and his country ahead of those in his party who may have pursued the actions of the Ted Cruz’s of today Meacham hits the nail on the head when states that Bush “could mold an international coalition but he could not convince his own party to back their president” 448Meacham provides an in depth account of the 1992 presidential campaign and the rivalry with the egoistic Ross Perot that resulted in the election of Bill Clinton The author puts the reader on the debate stage as Bush stares too long at his watch and has difficulty remembering the price of hamburger For Bush it was very difficult for a member of the greatest generation to lose the presidency to someone who he then characterized as a “draft dodger” However Meacham is correct in pointing out that the reason Bush lost the election was that he did not seem to be that committed to his own election victory Time and again Meacham pointed to Bush’s diaries that expressed doubts as to whether he should have run Once out of office Bush could theoretically relax reflect and enjoy his family For the most part he did but he was worried about the course of his son’s presidency and the tone set by Bush 43’s administration commentary Overall Meacham received unparalleled access to Bush 41 on a personal level as well as the availability to his diaries and many of those who served his political career and administration Meacham has written what appears to be an authorized biography that will be well received but could have been a bit incisive and balanced in 2015 “Destiny and Power The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush” by Jon Meacham is the most recent full scale biography of the 41st president Meacham is a presidential historian and author whose biography of Andrew Jackson won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize He has also written about Thomas Jefferson and Franklin Roosevelt and is currently working on a biography of James and Dolley MadisonWith 601 pages of text and nearly 200 pages of notes and bibliography “Destiny and Power” is not a light read Yet this meticulously researched and largely sympathetic biography feels sprightly than it appears In his customary style Meacham has written a thoughtful well informed and exuisitely articulate life and timesIt is uncommon for a biographer and his or her subject to meetand even extraordinary for an author to receive the type of cooperation Meacham received from George H W Bush For than a decade Bush sat for numerous interviews provided access to his personal diaries and encouraged the cooperation of his family and political colleagues This is one of the book’s greatest strengths – but also one of its latent weaknessesAs a result of this intimacy between biographer and subject the reader is treated to a degree of familiarity which cannot be captured in most presidential biographies In many respects Meacham’s biography often feels like the memoirs Bush 41 never wrotebut with a professional patinaBush’s pre presidency takes up just over half the book while one third of the biography is allocated to his single term in the White House The final sixty pages are spent reviewing Bush’s retirement with an emphasis on his relationship with Jeb George and Bill ClintonThe earliest decades of Bush’s life are nicely covered but seem to pass too uickly particularly since the author had a uniue opportunity to explore his subject’s years at Andover in the Navy and in his business career with even greater depth Similarly Bush’s early political career retreats too rapidly – his transition into politics his first campaign for Congress and his service at the UN RNC and CIA hardly linger long enough to leave a distinct impressionThe narrative’s pace slows once Bush seeks the presidential nomination in 1988 But while Meacham’s description of the president elect assembling his inner circle is often fascinating there is very little insight into how he selected most of his Cabinet And throughout the book important supporting characters such as James Baker Bob Dole and Dan uayle receive only the briefest of introductionsIra’s invasion of Kuwait and Bush’s response features prominently in Meacham’s coverage of the Bush presidency; these four chapters are among the most interesting in the book And the most intriguing of Meacham’s revelations may be Bush’s thoughts on Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld – and their impact on the Bush 43 presidencyIronically given its length if Meacham’s biography has one overarching flaw it’s that it is not nearly long – or detailed – enough As a result while it covers discrete events well and always seems to know what is on Bush’s mind too freuently it fails to answer uestions that fall out of the narrative or to probe deeply or to fully analyze or assessOverall Jon Meacham’s biography of George H W Bush is very goodbut fell short of my expectations Because as revealing as this biography proves to be – largely due to the relationship between author and subject – it is never as deep critical or penetrating as I hoped But it provides an otherwise excellent if admiring review of the remarkably eventful life and career of George H W BushOverall rating 4 stars Note Bush was to live another three years after this biography was published And while he reviewed much of the manuscript he apparently exerted no editorial influence Meacham of course was chosen to deliver one of the eulogies at George HW Bush’s funeral George H W Bush is one of the few presidents that did not write his autobiography after leaving office Jon Meacham has produced the “official biography” on HW Bush I have read a number of Meacham’s books including “American Lion” which won the 2009 Pulitzer PrizeMeacham did extensive research for the book and was allowed access to Bush’s diaries and numerous interviews with family and friends Needless to say he also had access to the presidential papers and other archive materials Bush 41 comes across as an ambitious and emotional man which is different from the aloof and polished figure we normally see Meacham also reveals him to be a witty observer of other people’s uirks Bush 41 was raised in privilege but did service to the country in World War II and as an elected official The book covers his life from birth to the current date I found the last uarter of the book the most interestingThe book is well written and meticulously researched Meacham comes off neutral and lacking ideological fervor that allows him to paint a picture of Bush that is new The book does have an affectionate feel for Bush but Meacham has a judicious balanced approach to the material The book also provides uite a bit of new information that makes the book well worth the read I read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible The book is long at 800 pages or 25 hours Paul Michael does a good job narrating the book George H W Bush is in some ways a neglected figure in recent American history Ronald Reagan supposedly won the Cold War abroad and defeated big government at home leaving nothing for Bush to do but betray the Gipper's legacy A comparison with an earlier generation's view of JFK and Lyndon Johnson would be instructive I think Bush's reputation improved during his son's administration as he was seen as the 'good ones' whose legacy was tarnished by a feckless son Bush 41's positive ualities were discovered or in some cases invented out of whole cloth And yet this didn't engender a strong interest in Bush's legacy any than Jeb Bush's reputation as the 'smart Bush' created an interest in Florida education policyFor that reason Jon Meacham's DESTINY AND POWER is a welcome read despite the his often hagiographic tone On the foreign policy front George H W Bush looms particularly large his administration did the lion's share of work on NAFTA; helped to secure the unification of Germany within NATO; and led the country and a coalition of nations to war against Ira after the invasion of Kuwait A generation on it seems as if America is still living out the implications of these decisions On the domestic policy front the 1990 budget agreement and the Americans with Disabilities Act both seem like substantial accomplishments To my mind Bush is a important president than his immediate predecessorMeacham tells the story of Bush's presidency ably and briskly and he does particularly well when recounting the major moments of his private life getting shot down as a Naval pilot over Chichi jima the loss of his daughter Robin age three to leukemia However as a chronicler of Bush the man I'm afraid he pales in comparison to Richard Ben Cramer's biography in WHAT IT TAKES perhaps because his reliance on access to the Bush family permits a level of white washingCentral to the book is a nostalgic appreciation not only for Bush's character but for an older generation of public spirited elite WASPs from which Bush sprang The original title was THE LAST GENTLEMAN This struck me as unconvincing For example Meacham describes that Poppy Bush was pushed to achieve on the one hand while being punished for talking about himself on the other hand When as a child he said after a match that I was off my game his mother witheringly replied You don't have a game This doesn't encourage modesty since modest accomplishments were not to be tolerated as much as deception Bush seems to have learned from this how best to disguise his ambition in a cloak of public spiritedness and please powerful men through targeted acts of sycophancy Bush Richard Nixon wrote once plays our line beautifullyAlso in regards to Bush's character it's worth examining why his electoral strategy so often relied on race baiting from his 1964 opposition to civil rights to his 1970 rhetoric against 'welfare ueens' not to mention his repeated invocation of Willie Horton during the 1988 campaign This doesn't sit well with the widespread notion of Bush as a gentleman and Meacham is not the biographer to delve too deeply into this subjectCuriously Meacham does disabuse the reader of another pro Bush 41 myth that took root after 2003 Poppy was apparently eager to get on the record as a supporter of the Ira invasionWith all of Meacham's limitations I found that they bothered me much less than similar errors might be in a biography of a prominent figure Bush 41 is too often neglected and if Meacham's judgments aren't always sound he leaves enough evidence to reach another conclusion Hopefully DESTINY AND POWER encourages others to take Bush and his legacy seriously I've been wanting to read a Jon Meacham book for a while I chose George H W Bush out of curiosity for the one term president with the huge glasses stuck between Reagan and Clinton I enjoyed Meachum's highly readable prose and interesting use of uotes from Bush's personal papers The book took several years to write and the author had a privileged access to the 41st president I found the era between 1966 to 1980 to be the most interesting part of his life from his first term in congress to his second political life on the Reagan ticket Bush was a real risks taker who never shrank from complicated challenges I especially enjoyed the details about the relationships with his bosses and foes Nixon Ford Carter Perot Buchanan Reagan Gingrich Clinton Dukakis Only downside no punches pulled at all in this book I would not described this biography as well balanced but I think it worth the read George H W Bush had class as a politician could compromise and make real friendship with fellow democrats Something that is rare to see these times on Capitol Hill “Sometimes you shape events by not making any mistakes”“Destiny Power” was an unexpected read for me I enjoy biographies and Jon Meacham has written a few that are on my “to read” list This was the first I picked up; I will be picking up the others I was only 10 years old when Bush was elected president so although I do have memories of his presidency the conseuence of the times I was living through were lost on meFirst off the text flows well and is simply written Its narrative pace does a nice job of mostly keeping you in the world of George Herbert Walker Bush Too often biographies pull you in the author’s element rather than the subjects This text avoids that trapThe book details the life of the 41st president of the United Sates in a deft manner and there were some unexpectedly very tender moments The death of Bush’s daughter Robin from leukemia and a section where the text details a bout of depression that Barbara Bush suffered from a few years later are among some of the text’s very human and thus powerful momentsAnother decently written section deals with the 1980 Republican Convention and Ronald Reagan making up his mind about the choice for his running mate between former president Gerald Ford and Bush Of course I was only 2 when it actually happened but I did not know that it was such riveting political drama The tension is palpable at times in this part of the bookGeorge Bush was many things but this biography makes astoundingly clear that when it came to foreign policy he was an excellent president leading the world safely and calmly through the fall of communism and the many possible volatile moments that could have accompanied itMr Meacham had unfettered access to President Bush’s personal diaries and his entry on his final day in the Oval Office talks about the honor of the office and the fact that no one could lay personal misconduct at his feet Considering what his successor did in that same office it leaves the reader a little in despair that Bush’s generation has passed from leadership and its role in historyIn reading “Destiny Power” it is obvious that the author admires his subject and accepts the flaws in him as we all should as part of the human condition I learned a lot while reading this text and enjoyed doing so I will leave off with something that Bush said once that struck me with its simple profundity “There are no magical solutions to our problems The real answers lie within us We need than a philosophy of entitlement We need to all pitch in lend a hand and do our part to help forge a brighter future for this country” PRESIDENT GEORGE H W BUSH’S MEMOIRCan you tell me the title of President George H W Bush’s memoir? You can’t? There’s a reason that you can’t He didn’t write oneAll of the other post WWII presidents did but not George H W Bush DESTINY AND POWERIn some respects however Jon Meacham wrote one for him a book of over 800 pages including 600 pages of text that is a from the cradle to almost the grave account of the life and times of the 41st president It was published in 2015 and Bush died in 2018 at age 94In an Author’s Note at the end of the book Meacham writes My first and greatest thanks are due to George H W Bush who granted me access to his diaries and sat usually patiently and always politely for interviews from 2006 to 2015 The former president was generous welcoming gracious – and insisted that I call them as I saw themPatient polite generous welcoming gracious? How could one possibly criticize such a nice honorable man who was willing to sit through all those interviews and allow you unlimited access to his diaries? A little later Meacham writes “Mrs Bush was unfailingly helpful answering many uestions over several years”In the Acknowledgements he writes “As noted earlier two pages ago to be exact I am most grateful to George H W Bush and to Barbara Bush whose cooperation and patience made this project possible”THE DIARIESAny biographer would love to have the kind of access that Meacham was accorded especially regarding the president’s diaries But there are several worrisome facts about the situation 1 in too many cases he simply accepted the president’s version of events as described in the diaries; 2 people sometimes misinterpret events when they record them in diaries or they discover later that they were mistaken or it happens they lie to themselves; 3 like memoirs diaries can be self serving and thus unreliable; and 4 Meacham relied too heavily on themThere are 601 endnotes in the book and I know from reading the text that an extraordinary number of them refer to direct uotes taken from the diaries In many instances Meacham uotes the passage and lets it speak for itself thus accepting Bush’s version when it really needs to be either explained or clarified or supported or rejected by the authorAnd there was one glaring omission that leapt out at me regarding the section on Hurricane Katrina which occurred during the presidency of George W Bush First of all Meacham uotes several letters the father wrote complaining about the way the media treated his son in the aftermath of the hurricane For exampleThe criticism enraged the former president who wrote Hugh Sidey political columnist and Bush friend a passionate letter defending his son He was reminded he said of what he himself had faced after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 ‘Now my own son is under the kind of blistering mean spirited attackThe critics do not know what is in George W’s heart how deeply he feels about the hurt the anguish the losses affecting so many people most of them poor’The problem is that Meacham once again let Bush’s comments stand He doesn’t offer an opinion one way or the other as to whether Bush was correct or mistaken in his response to the media coverage But that isn’t the omissionThe omission involves the time when the former first lady Barbara Bush toured the Houston Astrodome where thousands of Katrina evacuees were warehoused and living in deplorable conditions Her response as she voiced it to NPR was that “so many of the people in the arena here you know were underprivileged anyway so this this is working well for them” As Jennifer Senior wrote in her review in the New York Times “How could he have left that out?”It is uite common for biographers to grow fond of their subjects but it appears that Meacham fell in love with his As I read the book I couldn’t help shake the feeling that instead of a biography of George Bush I was reading an autobiography written by George Bush with Jon Meacham as his co writer Steve Donoghue wrote in the Christian Science Monitor “the methodology results in a flawed book – even though it is well written and interesting” He continuesMany Americans will remember a different President Bush – venal conniving but also interesting – and they’ll wish Meacham had written a biography of that man warts and allCount me in that camp


About the Author: Jon Meacham

Jon Meacham is the editor of Newsweek a Pulitzer Prize winning bestselling author and a commentator on politics history and religious faith in America


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