Decision Points, by George W Bush (Virgin, RRP $75):
I tried to go into reading the autobiography of America’s 43rd president with an open mind.
Sure, George W Bush is no rocket scientist but he did serve two terms as the leader of the biggest, baddest nation in the free world and much to the surprise of many I’m sure, he managed to do it without accidentally hitting the launch-the-nukes button (or should that be nucular).
We all know he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed and so does he but unlike many, he’s prepared to admit it and move on. However, I’m not going to focus on his performance as a president because that’s not what I’m reviewing. Instead, I’m going to focus on Bush the author, and surprisingly, I found him quite interesting.
The title comes from the way he wrote his story. Other presidents have written their full life stories but Bush says he wanted to follow the example set by Ulysses Grant, who simply concentrated on his time in the White House, and that doing the job of president is really all about making decisions.
And in true Bush style, he then kicks the book off with a chapter about a time before he was president by covering his decision to quit drinking. Although, to be fair, that decision was an important one for Bush at both personal and political levels.
By the time his Oval Office stint was over, Bush had the dubious honour of being second only to the Richard Nixon as the most unpopular American president of modern times but he has been incredibly honest in this book, admitting his flaws, owning up to his mistakes, showing his vulnerabilities and giving a compelling insight into the life of the leader of the free world.
However, he makes no apologies for doing his job in the way he saw fit.
I suppose it’s hard to imagine just how much pressure there would have been on the day of the 9/11 attacks, which changed so much for so many — including the presidency.
It’s safe to say Bush isn’t familiar with the concept of introspection but it is interesting to read his take on the decisions he made during his time in office: from invading Iraq to almost abandoning New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
His “aw shucks” good ol’ boy thing comes through in some passages, for example when writing about the World Trade Center attacks in 2001 (“we were going to find out who did this and kick their ass”) but it’s not particularly endearing. In fact, I found it both grating and demeaning. That coupled with the almost blase acknowledgment of some of his serious errors of judgment had me feeling a bit irritated more than once while reading the book.
And let’s be honest here, Bush is no great shakes as a writer: at best the writing style is average; at worst it’s just plain bad.
However, the interest doesn’t come from his writing style, it comes from the insight he gives us into how he made those historic and world-changing decisions.
He had a story to tell and, much like his presidency, he did it his way.