An admiring life of the president who navigated the end game of the Cold War and stood up to Saddam Hussein.
The more time that passes from the end of George H.W. Bush’s one-term presidency, the more important he seems to grow, perhaps in contrast to the more dynamic and obviously flawed personalities of the presidents that served before and after him. Pulitzer Prize–winning author Meacham (Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, 2012, etc.), working in cooperation with Bush, his wife, Barbara, and their family, does a fine job of revealing the makeup of the man, destined—by virtue of his Eastern Ivy League pedigree and as second son of Prescott Bush, future Connecticut senator—for greatness. Competitive by nature, steady, and dependable—World War II pilot, devoted husband, and loyal Republican Party operative—Bush was decent perhaps to a fault. Americans seem to like their presidents given to grand gestures (see Teddy Roosevelt), but this went against Bush’s buttoned-up, discreet style, to his frequent political misfortune. “He was a victim, in a way, of his instinct for dignity,” writes Meacham. Bush’s innate dignity indeed proved problematic early on with his move to big-oil Texas to set up roots in the late 1950s. The move was an attempt to forge his own destiny apart from his aristocratic East Coast family, but he never quite fit in. Part of Bush’s early agony was caused by adopting positions that were far more conservative and right wing than were consistent with his true views—and then having to reverse them. In the end, he emerged from being eclipsed by larger personalities (Reagan, James Baker, Lee Atwater) to forge a steady, effective course during the world perils in Europe, China, and Iraq. In this meticulously researched but perhaps overlong biography, Meacham does his best with this “underwhelming” but noble subject.
A revealing biography that should serve as the starting point for future evaluations of the 41st president.