A relentlessly hard-hitting assessment of a president who was a “decider” but “did not wrestle with the details of policy.”

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BUSH

Biography of George W. Bush (b. 1946), concentrating on the eight years of his presidency.

From the first sentence, accomplished presidential biographer and historian Smith (Political Science/Marshall Univ.; Eisenhower in War and Peace, 2012, etc.) establishes his critical tone: “Rarely in the history of the United States has the nation been so ill-served as during the presidency of George W. Bush.” By miring the country in a disastrous war in Iraq, costing 4,000 American lives and some $3 trillion, allowing torture of “unlawful combatants” and restrictions on Americans’ fundamental issues of privacy thanks to an empowered National Security Agency, the author considers Bush one of the worse presidents yet. Hurtling quickly through his subject’s early life, Smith emphasizes his abysmal school records at Andover and Yale. Indeed, he was coddled as a legacy son “many times over.” His penchant for “coasting” and partying kept him floundering for many years, and his well-placed parents bailed him out continuously, until he apprenticed under Lee Atwater and caught the political bug. Marrying Laura Welch, a Midland, Texas, native and librarian, and becoming a born-again Christian thanks to Billy Graham in 1983 helped center Bush’s ambitions. However, Smith points out how his “religious certitude and his singular determination,” as well as his braggadocio, often swayed his actions more than the advice of more experienced colleagues. Bush relied on sports-minded advisers and hawkish "vulcans" like Condoleezza Rice, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld when the crisis of 9/11 shifted the president’s focus from domestic to foreign policy, which he knew little about. Smith considers it a national shame that he was so insistent on finding a casus belli to invade Iraq—then letting Colin Powell be the fall guy—despite the resistance of the rest of the world and cowing even the Democrats in Congress. Notwithstanding Bush’s global leadership on AIDS, immigration reform, and education, he left a tarnished presidency.

A relentlessly hard-hitting assessment of a president who was a “decider” but “did not wrestle with the details of policy.”

Pub Date: July 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4119-2

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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