Bush by Jean Edward Smith (Presidential Bio Series)

bush

Here’s the first stab at a definitive biography of George W. Bush by a major biographer. I don’t think it will hold that title long if another famous biographer tries his hand, but it is first in that sense. It’s hard for me to classify this biography. On the one hand, the skilled hand of Mr. Smith is ever present, yet he makes blunders as well. I could hardly put the book down, yet I disagreed often and picked up on clear bias.

There is plenty of research, no character discussed is ever wooden, and you learn much about Mr. Bush’s personality. Still, Smith paints in broad strokes. He equates Bush’s distinct Christianity with a lack of sophistication, his penchant for “deciding” as reckless and brash, and his outlook, particularly on Iraq, a general naivety that continually led him astray.

Smith failed to see that perhaps that Christianity gave him a moral grounding that is often tragically missing in Washington. Right or wrong, he really meant well. His “deciding” was surely better than indecisiveness in horrific events. ( 911, Katrina, the Great Recession–Bush wasn’t a lucky man).When Smith outlined what Bush should have done, he at times looked like the naive one when he seemed to feel that his ideas would have flawlessly followed the script. No matter the plan, the players in Iraq and surrounding areas were the equivalent to having a tiger by the tail. We all learned that together.

When he suggests that Bush overreacted to 911, he doesn’t connect the dots to what he told us in this book–we all wanted to go fight somebody! The Democrats were ready too. A few started disagreeing when Iraq was brought up, but very few at the beginning.Even in this harsh assessment too, there is no doubt that Bush believed there were weapons of mass destruction. If you sincerely believed that to be true, what else could you have done? He writes as if 20/20 hindsight was at Bush’s disposal beforehand.

There’s criticism of his managing of his staff. What president didn’t have staff issues, or been guilty of listening too much to the most agreeable staff members. That’s the human element that always complicates management.

Bush had some failures for sure. Like most of us, often our greatest strengths and greatest weaknesses come from the same component of our personality. It was likely true for Bush too. Amazingly, he quotes Bush admitting, to some degree, many of the very things Smith perhaps overemphasizes. I actually grew to appreciate Bush in places I had not before, especially in things like his handling of the mortgage crisis. We teetered on the edge of a crisis to rival the Great Depression and it called for measures that we might most of the time strongly disagree with. It’s almost 8 years later and Bush clearly got that one right.

As for the book, Smith tells us he thinks Bush is a horrible disaster in the first paragraph. (Was the editor asleep?) Forget building a case and convincing the audience over the course of the book. That crazy method put him on trial as much as Bush page by page.

So is this a great book? I closed it at the end more confident that Bush was a genuinely good man who gave it his all. I was further convinced that Bush would be a guy quite enjoyable to spend a day with. He’d defend his overall approach as it was a matter of principle to him, yet he would readily admit his mistakes, and he’d be a gracious host whether you agreed with him or not. I found that refreshing here in July 2016 as this book hits the shelves and we are in more danger than in Bush’s days and miss his magnanimous ways.

So I reached those conclusions and grew in appreciation of Bush while this book I couldn’t put down tried to convince me that he was a failure. Does that make it a five-star wonder or a one-star dud? I have no idea. I’ll be gracious like George W. Bush and give it 4 stars.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.