President George W. Bush’s biography of his father is like no other I have ever read. It is unusual for both father and son to serve terms as President of the United States, much less that one would write a book about the other. But that is precisely what we have in 41: A Portrait of My Father. Historian David McCullough once told the younger Bush how much history would have been served if Pres. John Quincy Adams would have written about his father Pres. John Adams. Pres. Bush says that he wrote the current book in part as a result of that conversation.
Pres. Bush begins by explaining that his account of his Dad’s life will not be objective. He admits up front that he loves his dad and wishes to honor him with the book. He leaves the objective account to historians. But if you think that lack of objectivity ruins the work, you would be wrong. What makes this book so compelling is the son’s love and admiration for his father. No matter how you feel about either of these men’s presidencies, the personal narrative on display in this book is gripping. There is not a dad on the planet who wouldn’t want to have a son view him with the same regard that Pres. Bush regards his father. His father is his hero.
As a firsthand witness of his dad’s life, there are personal details that the younger Bush describes like no other writer could. For example, he describes the death of his younger sister Robin at the age of three. The first time the author ever saw his parents cry was in the wake of this tragedy. One of the last things that Robin ever said to her father was, “I love you more than tongue can tell.” It was a line that the older Bush shared in a note to the younger Bush after his difficult decision to invade Iraq. The older Bush wrote that he agreed with the decision and told his son, “I love you more than tongue can tell.”
There is one aspect to this book that will no doubt prove valuable to historians. The author continually relates how his own decisions as a man and as a president were shaped and influenced by the elder Bush. A key example of this is George W. Bush’s decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power after the 9/11 attacks. The author views that decision in the context of an entire decade of failed diplomacy with Iraq. Iraq’s failure to comply with the terms of the cease-fire after the Persian Gulf War (led by the elder Bush) led to the second conflict over a decade later (led by the younger Bush). The younger Bush continues to defend the Iraq War, and he makes a compelling case. I suspect that historians will agree with the younger Bush that the Iraq War can only be evaluated in light of the decade of failed diplomacy that preceded it.
I recommend the audio version of this book if you can get it. It is read by the author himself, the younger Bush. To hear this account in the author’s own voice is all the more compelling. [On a humorous sidenote, President Bush still mispronounces “nuclear” as “nucular.”] Here’s a sample below:
This book is short but really good. If you like history and politics, put this one on your reading list. It will be well-worth your time.