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December 22, 2015

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

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

By: Jon Meacham

I’m typically wary of any biography that seeks to assess a president scarcely a quarter of a century after his tenure. Nevertheless, Jon Meacham’s new biography of George Herbert Walker Bush is both insightful and judicious in recounting the life and career of the 41st president.

Although many examples from Bush’s life have been explored in prior biographies, Meacham provides a richness in detail in stories ranging from the devastating loss of his daughter Robin from leukemia at age three to his exploits as a decorated World War II pilot, debunking the perception of some that Bush was a weak man unable to connect or identify with the average American. In fact, Bush is seen as a very sensitive man who, due to his family connections, could have taken a lucrative Wall Street job but, instead, pursued a risky undertaking in the oil fields of Texas. In 1942, upon turning eighteen, he was insistent on joining the military despite his father’s pleas to attend Yale. This biography relates a deeper story than the brief and simple depictions we often hear from the media.

This is not to say that Meacham isn’t critical of Bush. He clearly takes him to task for his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair and is quick to criticize his presidency as focusing too much attention to foreign policy, sometimes at the expense of the less than vibrant economy. What the author does best is personalizing a man who never let down his guard resulting in his reluctance to explain his feelings and motivations. Bush is one of the few presidents not authoring an autobiography once leaving office. While autobiographies often tend to be self-indulgent, Meacham’s biography, utilizing Bush’s audio-recorded diaries and his own critical analysis, provides a deft analysis giving the reader a more balanced portrait of our 41st president.

While I felt Meacham was at times too sympathetic towards his subject, his research resulted in a revision of my earlier perspective of Bush. He was a pragmatic president whose willingness to work with both sides of the aisle seems pleasantly quaint and refreshing in today’s poisoned political climate. Bush was raised by his parents to be goal-driven while not boasting of accomplishments. He is a throwback to a time when service to country was more highly valued than personal glory. This is a highly readable book giving great insight into a man who, before his death, may see two of his sons also occupy the residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Review By: Brad Howell