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Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush

Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker BushDestiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush by Jon Meacham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I admire George Herbert Walker Bush. When I was a Republican I described myself as a "Bush Republican" until that term took on equivocal meanings. I think he was the best president of my lifetime (Nixon to Obama). I admire his great skill at foreign policy, his decency, his pragmatism, and what I think is a genuine goodness.

Meacham appears to admire the same things, as this book paints Bush in a very positive light as representing a bygone era in American politics, the last of a breed of mid-twentieth century leaders like Eisenhower. But Meacham is also clear that along with the patrician virtues he gained from his family and upbringing there was also great ambition and a desire for power which could lead Bush to do things to win which didn't fit this image of his character (I easily concede that the 88 campaign was one of the roughest and helped to spawn a new era in politics that is very unlike Bush himself). Meacham writes, however, that while Bush would fight to win power, he generally seems to have used it to good effect and within limitations.

This biography made news for its candid statements about Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, though there is much more in the book. The biographies advantage is a reliance upon George and Barbara's journals and extensive interviews with them and other members of the Bush family, inner circle, and political opponents and colleagues.

What frustrated me about the book would have been a little more settled had Author's Note at the end been part of a preface. Meacham wrote, "My aim in the book was to paint a biographical portrait of the forty-first president. This is neither a full life-and-times nor a history of the Bush family; it is, rather, an attempt to give readers a sense of a singular and complicated man whose life and career span so much of our history." The episodic portrait frustrated me. The LA riots merited a paragraph and no analysis. There was no discussion of our foreign policy toward the Aquino government, important at the time. Etc. I expressed these frustrations with Michael while I was reading it. In this Author's Note Meacham writes, "Because many readers will have lived through the Bush 41 years there will doubtless be those who will argue with the exclusion of this episode or that issue or with my choice of narrative emphasis. So be it." So, I had hoped for more thorough analysis.

One strange bit analysis lacking is how Bush 41's Iraq War contributed to the on-going world crisis in the Middle East, despite his best efforts to keep it measured. And how his attempts to forge a post-Cold War world that fulfilled the vision of the UN's founders floundered without him and his team at the helm.

So, I enjoyed the book and its insights into a man I admire while also disliking the books shortcomings.

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