cover image Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush

Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush

Jon Meacham. Random House, $35 (860p) ISBN 978-1-4000-6765-7

America's 41st president shines as a nice guy with an edge of steel in this admiring biography. Pulitzer-winning historian Meacham (American Lion) styles Bush as the embodiment of Greatest Generation virtues: hard-working, dutiful, patriotic, well-mannered, friendly, fair-minded, and increasingly out of step with the ugly partisanship of latter-day politics. But beneath the soft affability he detects a fiercely competitive drive and go-it-alone nerve, especially when Bush decided to risk impeachment by launching the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq even without Congress's authorization. With access to Bush's genial-to-peevish diaries and extensive interviews with Bush, the author paints a warm, evocative portrait of a president who in office was tagged as a wimpy blur, one that supports later historical opinion in saluting his deft pragmatism in navigating the collapse of Soviet communism. But Meacham soft-pedals contradictions in Bush's character, like the very ungentlemanly 1988 presidential campaign against Michael Dukakis; and though Bush inaugurated America's resurgent military interventionism in the Middle East, a geopolitical watershed whose profound repercussions are still playing out, the book asks few serious questions about that troubled legacy. This is a vivid, well-written account that doesn't quite come to grips with its subject's pivotal place in history. Photos. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM. (Nov.)