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



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

Author: Jon Meacham

Cover Illustrator: Jeffrey W. Bass

Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks, reprinted 2016

ISBN-13: 978-1400067657 Hardcover

ISBN-10: 1400067657 Hardcover

ISBN-13: 978-0812979473 Paperback

ISBN-10: 0812979478 Paperback

Related website(s): (publisher)

Language level: 5

(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)

Recommended reading level: Adults

Rating: **** 4 stars

(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

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Meacham , Jon.  Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush (Publisher 2015 by Random House). George Herbert Walker Bush (June 12, 1924 – November 30, 2018) was an American politician who served as the 41st president of the United States from 1989 to 1993 and the 43rd vice president from 1981 to 1989. A member of the Republican Party, Bush also served in the U.S. House of Representatives, as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and as Director of Central Intelligence. Until his son George W. Bush became the 43rd president in 2001, he was usually known as George Bush.  In this comprehensive biography, author Jon Meacham, who won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography for American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, chronicles the life of George H. W. Bush. Drawing on President Bush’s personal diaries, on the diaries of his wife, Barbara, and on extraordinary access to the forty-first president and his family, Meacham paints an intimate and surprising portrait of an intensely private man who led the nation through tumultuous times, from his family background and childhood, through his time in World War II, business, Congress, the United Nations, the Republican National Committee, Liaison Office to China, and the Central Intelligence Agency, to his years as Vice-President, President, and beyond.

Meacham paints a very sympathetic picture of Bush, at times seeming to justify or condone things for which he was commonly criticized, whether rightly or wrongly, but at the same time doesn’t overlook Bush’s weaknesses, faults, and mistakes.  I liked George Bush, although I never felt that he was as genuinely conservative as I would have preferred.  However, I did vote for him in four national elections, three of which he won, because he was infinitely better than his opponent(s).  Having lived through Bush’s presidency, I recall that the three main areas in which I disagreed with him as President were his breaking his “read my lips—no new taxes” pledge, his extremely tepid reaction to the burgeoning democracy movement in China and the Baltic republics, and his continued support for liberal humanist John Frohnmayer as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.  Meacham explains why Bush took the views that he did on the first two issues so that, while I still disagree with Bush’s positions on them, I have a better understanding as to why he took those positions.  Meacham doesn’t deal with the Frohnmayer situation.

One thing which annoyed me about the book was the frequency of bad language, not only cursing with the “d” and “h” words, but also outright vulgarity with the “s” and “f” words.  I guess that nearly every well-known politician in our nation’s recent history has had a problem with “potty mouth.”  Either their mothers never washed their mouths out with soap when they were young, or else if they did, it didn’t take.  This book was a gift.  Some friends seem to think that since I like politics I must like to read about politics.  I really don’t, but I will admit that Destiny and Power was interesting.  An fascinating observation by Meacham that stood out to me was that “many of the journalists and politicians who used George H. W. Bush as a weapon with which to bludgeon George W. Bush had long derided George H. W. Bush…who…was sometimes lionized as a statesman less because of his own merits as a statesmen and more because he wasn’t his son.”  Another statement of Meacham’s that summarizes my feelings about Bush was “that George H.W. Bush was a uniquely good man in a political universe where good men were hard to come by.”   The book, which has some 185 pages of notes and an exhaustive index, was published in 2015, some three years before the deaths of Barbara Bush on April 17, 2018, and George Bush on November 30, 2018.

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