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Timing is Everything: George H.W. Bush

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George H.W. Bush’s record of public service almost makes John Quincy Adam’s efforts on behalf of his country look insignificant – and that’s no easy task.

Bush enlisted in the US Navy immediately after graduating high school – about six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Two years later, the plane he piloted was shot down near Japanese-held territory. The tale of his survival and rescue is breathtaking.

Bush would later serve as a Congressman in the US House of Representatives, as the US Ambassador to the United Nations, as the chief US diplomat in China, as Director of the CIA and as Vice President of the United States during the Reagan administration.

His single term as president – much like John Quincy Adams’s – is widely viewed as having been only modestly successful; historians have consistently ranked his presidency “middle-of-the-pack.”

Nevertheless, I will always fondly recall his generosity taking time one evening in the summer of 1990 to visit the hundreds of volunteers who helped staff the G7 Summit which he hosted in my hometown of Houston.

Bush died 2½ weeks ago at the age of 94 and there are only two biographies of “41” on my list.  I trust that will change over the next few years…but what I’m really waiting for is a blockbuster biography of his wife Barbara(!)

* I’m starting with Jon Meacham’s “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush.”  Published in 2015, this weighty biography appears to be both comprehensive and thorough.

Meacham and Bush came to know each other quite well over a period of years and this author recently delivered a eulogy at Bush’s funeral. There is little doubt about the respect this biographer has for his subject; the lingering question in my mind is how profusely will that fondness show through in this book?

→While conducting research this spring at nearby Montpelier for his upcoming book on James and Dolley Madison, Meacham agreed to visit my oldest son’s high school where he gave an interesting speech. If you have some time to spare it can be viewed here (introductory remarks are over by the 4:15 mark). The fact that my son called home later to rave about the speech (well, ok, he sent me a text message) tells you everything you need to know 🙂

* Next, and last, I’ll be reading “George Bush: Life of a Lone Star Yankee” by Herbert Parmet. Published in 1997, this was the first full account of Bush’s life. Earlier this year I read Parmet’s biography of Nixon (I didn’t exactly love it) and eighteen months ago I read his two-volume series on JFK (which I enjoyed somewhat more).

Given the limited selection of Bush 41 biographies, I feel compelled to read this book despite its seemingly limited popularity and my undistinguished history with this author. Perhaps it will surprise me?

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