Jean Edward Smith. Simon & Schuster, $35 (768p) ISBN 978-1-4767-4119-2
“George W. Bush may not have been America’s worst president” is as nice as historian Smith (Eisenhower in War and Peace) gets in this hard-hitting biography. He gives the 43rd president grudging nods for his No Child Left Behind initiative, prescription-drug plan for seniors, and AIDS relief programs but otherwise portrays Bush’s eight-year presidency as a parade of disasters; irresponsible tax cuts and spiraling deficits; a simplistic, bellicose response to the 9/11 attacks; warrantless NSA surveillance and other assaults on privacy; torture of detainees; a negligent passivity toward Hurricane Katrina and the 2008 financial collapse; and above all, the Iraq War, “the worst foreign policy decision ever made by an American president.” Smith’s negativity is sometimes too much—“Like Big Brother in George Orwell’s 1984, the president launched the nation on a never-ending struggle”—but he presents a shrewd, nuanced view of Bush as an insecure, intellectually lazy man who made up for youthful fecklessness with an unwarranted overconfidence and decisiveness in office, a “personalization of presidential power” inside a bubble of sycophantic advisors. Smith embeds this portrait in a lucid, highly readable narrative, balancing rich detail with clear delineation of the larger shape of policy through the chaos of politics. This is a superb recap and critical analysis of Bush’s controversial administration. Photos. Agent: Peter Matson, Sterling Lord Literistic. (July)
Reviewed on: 05/02/2016
Release date: 07/05/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
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