George W. Bush
New York: Crown Publishers, 2010
Having read a number of presidential biographies and autobiographies I was recently given the opportunity to read Bush’s work. Like most autobiographies of politically significant individuals some of the writing is self-serving- particularly as he defends his decision to take out Saddaam Hussein of Iraq.
With that caveat, the book is a great romp through recent American history. Instead of a chronological approach the book is organized around significant issues in President Bush’s life. The first chapter “Quitting” describes his choice to stop drinking with brutal and refreshing honesty. Chapter 3, “Personnel,” was an enlightening look behind the scenes of his presidency and the principles Bush used to make significant choice. Chapters 9 and 10, “Leading” and “Katrina” were helpful explanations of principles that guided President Bush during difficult and demanding times of crisis. The last chapter, “Financial Crisis” was very helpful in laying out the roots of the financial crisis of 2009 and Bush’s efforts to ease President Obama’s transition into office.
Woven throughout the chapters are poignant portraits of his family. Bush makes no excuses for his own failings as a son, husband, and father. He also draws a picture of a man who seeks to learn and grow through each experience in his life.
Also throughout the chapters we are treated to portraits of President Clinton and other significant political leaders in the United States and abroad. Based on extensive experience Bush paints an honest assessment of Putin of Russia as well as Chirac of France.
Perhaps the most significant section of the book is President Bush’s retelling of the horrific event of September 11, 2001 and the days and weeks following. His sense of helplessness in the face of an unprecedented attack and his visceral reaction to do something in response remind readers that President Bush is simply human, experiencing the same anger and shock that most of us remember from that event.
Reading this autobiography helps understand the reality that all Presidents must face- humans are fickle. We cheer people when they act in ways that make us comfortable and we jeer them when they make decisions that make us uncomfortable. President Bush explains his choices and his decisions not in order to gain our approval but that we might better understand the principles that guided his thinking as he served.