Top critical review
Great man, weak book
December 1, 2018
I just finished reading this book two days ago. Sadly, President Bush died last night. I’m so glad I read this book, for now I have a true appreciation for him as the nation mourns and looks back at his remarkable life. He was an amazing and underappreciated man.
I want to mention two things about President Bush and then talk about the book. Unlike the current president, George Bush wanted to serve the nation — not his ego (although he had an ego) and not a narrow “base”. He was a problem-solver and not an ideologue. His political career suffered because of that. But honestly, what is wrong with a problem solver? He also valued human relationships and felt that his ability to work together with someone was far more important than wielding political power. He molded a relationship with Gorbachev not for personal benefit but because he saw a new Soviet leader who was struggling to end the Cold War. His own party didn’t trust the accommodations that President Bush was making but in the end the Iron Curtain fell. It would have fallen of its own weight anyway but President Bush helped it fall sooner than a hardliner, with no bloodshed and little downside for the US and our allies.
But don’t confuse my low review of the book with my personal admiration for its subject. Although it is long and covers the many aspects of President Bush’s life, it is a lazy effort. The author had access to President Bush’s diaries and had long conversations with him. These sources are quoted over and over. It reads more like a memoir or autobiography than a true historical biography. George H. W. Bush was a complex man who grew up, raised a family, started his career, and served the nation in one of the most interesting and complex times of American history. Hardly any of that is woven into this biography. Hardly any of George Bush’s complexity or warts are presented. Repetitively we hear mostly the Boy Scout aspects of Mr. Bush. It gets tiring. I think a three-dimensional picture of the man would have made the point of his admirable character and accomplishments than a puff-piece.
Ironically, the next biography I started to read yesterday was Ron Chernov’s recent biography of Ulysses S. Grant. As I read the first chapter I thought, “Now THIS is a biography.” It is rich in detail and has a many sources — about a man who grew up 100 years before George Bush. The number of sources available for a George Bush biography are hugely more extensive. I just don’t think this book does justice to the man and his times.