cover image AMBLING INTO HISTORY: The Unlikely Odyssey of George W. Bush

AMBLING INTO HISTORY: The Unlikely Odyssey of George W. Bush

Frank Bruni, . . HarperCollins, $23.95 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-06-621371-2

Bruni, White House correspondent for the New York Times, aims to entice readers who want to know more about their commander-in-chief, yet he focuses on the seemingly trivial aspects of Bush's personality, small moments that he believes "reveal every bit as much about Bush as large ones": Bush sticking his fingers in Bruni's ears to indicate something is off the record. Or Bush holding his pinkie to the corner of his mouth à la Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies. Most of these observations reside firmly in the Bush-as-intellectual-lightweight tradition. But Bruni also acknowledges many times when Bush surprised him with "flashes of cleverness"—as when, reflecting on his patrimony, Bush offered stabbing insights into the similar advantages of top New York Times executive Arthur Sulzberger Jr., whose family has owned Bruni's newspaper for generations. Taken together, Bruni's minute observations do present a cohesive portrait of George W. Bush. The problem is, it's Bush the Candidate, not Bush the President—who appears only briefly at the end. For the most part, the book focuses on the 2000 campaign, the last period during which reporters had open access to Bush. Thus, Bruni finds himself writing about Bush on the wrong side of September 11. What does remain interesting are the glimpses that Bruni provides of the journalistic side of the campaign, which the author says reached "new depths of disingenuous behavior" (e.g., reporters manufacturing arguments between candidates in order to trump up stories, as Bruni admits he and others frequently did). These insights are surprising and instructional—and far more likely to remain relevant than any caricature of the wartime president as a "timeless fraternity boy." Agent, Lisa Bankoff. (Mar. 25)