3 Books About George H.W. Bush’s Legacy
Posted December 5, 2018 5:18 p.m. EST
George Herbert Walker Bush, who was president from 1989 to 1993, died on Nov. 30; his state funeral in Washington National Cathedral was Wednesday. As memorial services continue throughout the week, many are publicly reckoning with his one-term presidency. Some have praised his statesmanship and decency, while others have criticized his insufficient action during the AIDS epidemic and his role in paving the way for the extreme partisanship of today through campaign methods including an infamously racist ad featuring Willie Horton and aided by his chief strategist, Lee Atwater. Here are three books that discuss his life and legacy.
“BEING POPPY""A Portrait of George Herbert Walker Bush"By Richard Ben Cramer192 pages. Simon & Schuster. (2013)
Cramer’s original opus was a more than 1,000-page-long accounting of the 1988 presidential election, “What It Takes: The Way to the White House,” in which he delved into the idiosyncrasies and flaws of George H.W. Bush, Joe Biden, Gary Hart and three other candidates running for the presidency. In that book, Cramer “set out to write neither campaign history nor political biography,” wrote a Times reviewer. His main goal was to “examine what leads a person to enter the cement mixer of presidential politics and what happens to him once he does.” “Being Poppy” is drawn from those pages, isolating the story of George H.W. Bush’s candidacy into a slimmer offering.
“THE FAMILY” “The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty"By Kitty Kelley705 pages. Doubleday. (2004)
In this cross-generational family saga, “Kelley reminds readers just how long the Bushes have been with us, sweeping like cattle raiders toward the sources of power.” She opens with Prescott Bush (1895-1972), the elder Bush’s father, and then spends considerable time on H.W. and his namesake son. Kelley depicts George H.W. Bush as “hungrier for power than we remember and willing to do just about anything to achieve it,” said a Times reviewer, adding that “it is startling to read Kelley’s account of Bush (whose father was relatively progressive on racial issues) campaigning hard against the civil rights movement and calling Martin Luther King ‘a militant.'”
“DESTINY AND POWER""The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush"By Jon Meacham836 pages. Random House. (2015)
Meacham gained unprecedented access to the Bush family patriarch for this biography, in which he covers 41’s personal life — including the tragic death of his daughter from leukemia as a toddler — as well as his political career. Both of The Times’ reviews, though largely positive, wrote that Meacham’s biography was sometimes too forgiving of its subject’s flaws and controversial decisions, such as his nomination of Justice Clarence Thomas. Still, the book broke new ground, particularly in reporting Bush’s criticisms of Dick Cheney, whom he credited for his son’s administration’s harsh rhetoric against foreign nations. “But the pleasures of this panoramic book (it clocks in at 800-plus pages) have little to do with the news it breaks,” wrote a Times reviewer. “They’re about psychological portraiture, enabled by the artful use of Mr. Bush’s diaries — they’re surprisingly rich — and the author’s many probing interviews with Mr. Bush over the years.”