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Ambling into History: The Unlikely Odyssey of George W. Bush

Ambling into History: The Unlikely Odyssey of George W. Bush

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by Frank Bruni

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The unlikely Odyssey of George W. Bush.

As the principal New York Times reporter assigned to cover George W. Bush's presidential campaign from its earliest stages – and then as a White House correspondent – Frank Bruni has spent as much time around Bush over the last two years as any other reporter.

In Ambling Into History,


The unlikely Odyssey of George W. Bush.

As the principal New York Times reporter assigned to cover George W. Bush's presidential campaign from its earliest stages – and then as a White House correspondent – Frank Bruni has spent as much time around Bush over the last two years as any other reporter.

In Ambling Into History, Bruni paints the most thorough, balanced, eloquent and lively portrait yet of a man in many ways ill–suited to the office he sought and won, focusing on small moments that often escaped the news media's notice. From the author's initial introduction to Bush through a nutty election night and Bush's first months in office, Bruni captures the president's familiar and less familiar oddities and takes readers on an often funny, usually irreverent, journey into the strange, closed universe – or bubble – of campaign life.

The result is an original take on the political process and a detailed study of George W. Bush as most people have never seen him.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
Is George W. Bush up to the challenges of a post-9/11 presidency? Frank Bruni, the reporter who covered the Bush presidential campaign for The New York Times, takes a close look at this son of a former president, a man whom history tapped on the shoulder and commanded to rise to the occasion.

Bruni presents two distinct George W. Bushes, one pre-9/11 and one post. His take on Bush prior to the attacks is of a man who is naturally and spontaneously jovial and lighthearted with everyone he meets. He can't bear to be away from his Midland, Texas, ranch -- either to campaign for the White House or to occupy it. The reader may wonder why he made the attempt. Was it expected, or assumed?

At one point, Bruni refers to Bush as a man struggling with his "inner imp." His penchant for tagging fellow politicians and members of the press with humorous and colorful nicknames -- he calls Bruni "Pancho" at one point -- is one manifestation of this. He can hardly keep a straight face at formal functions, literally fighting back the urge to cut up.

After the attacks, there is an understandable sobering, of course, as Bush is thrust into a situation no one could have imagined. His speech on September 20th is well received, and a country suddenly at war seems to embrace this man who many felt shouldn't have been in the Oval Office to begin with. In a way, Bush's well-chronicled "less cerebral" style serves him well; his direct "Let's go get the evildoers"–type statements mirror the visceral emotions many citizens share. The Taliban's quick collapse in Afghanistan earns him deserved plaudits.

Of course, there was more going on in America than just the war against terrorism as Bush completed his first year in office. From the beginning, he received sharp criticism for his abandonment of many Clinton administration environmental protection directives, and his appointment of hard-right Cabinet members such as John Ashcroft made many doubt his famous campaign pledge, "I'm a uniter, not a divider." But Bruni captures Bush best with this most ironic -- and prophetic -- pre-9/11 quote: "You never know where life is going to take you." (Nicholas Sinisi)

Nicholas Sinisi is the Barnes & Noble.com Current Affairs editor.

Publishers Weekly
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 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." Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Respected New York Times reporter Bruni, who covered the Bush campaign in 2000, brings insight, wit, and intelligence to this effort to understand the makeup and character of the 43rd President of the United States. While this is a campaign chronicle, it is also an attempt to get to the roots of who George W. Bush is and the President he is becoming. Bruni portrays Bush as a more complex and contradictory man than he appears on the surface, with unrecognized strengths and obvious limitations. No intellectual, Bush is presented as a man of quirky intelligence with a capacity for applying his core values to problems but whose misuse of language and repeated malapropisms (e.g., Bush's saying that he sympathizes with the difficulties some Americans face in trying "to put food on your family") gives the impression of a man lost in the world of ideas. Full of insider stories from the campaign, this book will likely become one of the earliest available keys in deciphering the true character of George W. Bush. Michael A. Genovese, Loyola Marymount Univ., Los Angeles Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
New Yorker
Bruni, who covered the Bush campaign and the early Bush White House for the Times, announces at the start that Bush's ideology, his policies, and his life story "have been fairly well established," so he won't be discussing them. That's conceding an awful lot of ground, but within the narrow confines in which Bruni had to operate as a correspondent and has chosen to operate as an author -- minute observation of the public Bush -- he does a very good job. Bruni comes across as honest and perceptive, more prejudiced against Bush's opponents than in favor of Bush himself. And Bush comes across as a curious figure to be President; the first non-overachiever in memory to hold the job, he possesses a peculiar mixture of humility and presumption. Bruni, like many people who know Bush, seems to like him but not to completely respect him; he also doesn't appear to buy the patronizing idea that Bush suddenly grew up, at the age of fifty-five, on September 11th.
Kirkus Reviews
Insightful memoir of Bush's 2000 presidential campaign by a New York Times correspondent. Traveling with the candidate, Bruni initially found him superficial, childish, and largely unknowledgeable about world affairs-unprepared and even unmotivated to be president. As they became better acquainted, the journalist began to see and appreciate Bush's basic goodness and kindness toward others, his flashes of wit and compassion, his devotion to family, the loyalty he engendered in friends and associates, and his deep religious faith. Bruni shares the fruits of many close encounters with the Bushes: wife Laura is either extremely reticent or very dull; Mom Barbara is not above making catty remarks about the Clintons; daughters Jenna and Barbara barely pay attention to the campaign; George W. himself gets painfully homesick for Texas and is likely to fly off the handle at anyone who gets between him and his favorite meal (a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich). The author offers sharp, informed views about the troubled nature of big-money politics, from the unhealthy predominance of spin over substance to the complicity of the reporters who know better but participate in the frenzy for breaking stories anyway. Bruni watches Bush mature first as a candidate, then as president; he begins and ends with discussion of September 11, favorably rating his response and growth under trying circumstances. Bush was not ideal presidential material, suggests the author, but he's not much kinder to candidate Al Gore; Bruni's conclusion seems to be that for a variety of reasons, Americans in the year 2000 wanted a president who did not seem particularly eager or qualified for the job. The subject and many of theincidents discussed here are familiar, but this economically written and tightly organized account is a pleasure to read. One of the few insider accounts of an American political campaign to successfully reveal the immense impact the process itself has on shaping candidates and, in the end, public officials.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Harper Perennial
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.64(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

It would be hard to imagine an event more somber than the one Bush attended one Sunday morning in September of 1999 at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. Although the outdoor stadium he entered was usually a place of frenetic activity, it was now a scene of eerie stillness and quiet, its thousands of occupants sitting or standing with their heads bowed. They had come not to cheer a team but to mourn a tragedy, the deaths of seven people inside a nearby church. Once again, someone with a grudge and a gun had vented his anger with bullets, and once again, a nation reeled from the senselessness of it all.

Just a few days earlier, parishioners at a prayer service at the Wedgwood Baptist Church had been singing a pop version of a traditional Christian hymn when a long-haired man in jeans and a black jacket barged in, screaming obscenities. He opened fire, hitting more than a dozen of them, including many teenagers, before he was finished and turned his weapon on himself. It was the deadliest shooting in the city's history, and it precipitated the anguished and inevitable questions about what could have been done to prevent the violence, about why the hail of gunfire that traced back to San Ysidro and proceeded through Columbine continued to go on and on. Bush found himself in an especially awkward position, because his record as Texas governor was one of defending gun owners' rights; he had even signed a law permitting private citizens with proper licenses to carry concealed weapons. Now he, too, was under a different kind of fire.

The public memorial service at the university wasn't going to change that. But it gave him an opportunity to signal, through his presence, that he was not insensitive to the bloodshed, that he cared. It promised to cast him in the responsible, nurturing light of a leader come to comfort those he led, and because he had recently begun his presidential campaign, it was guaranteed to bring him national attention. He had made the judicious decision not to speak -- and, thus, not to make his appearance seem overtly political -- but there was a prime, center row of seats for him and his intimates. Print reporters, including me, positioned ourselves as close to it as we could.

Bush saw us as he walked in and sat down; he even nodded in our direction. It was a tiny gesture, nothing wrong with it. But he didn't leave it at that. As preachers preached and singers sang and a city prayed, Bush turned around from time to time to shoot us little smiles. He scrunched up his forehead, as if to ask us silently what we were up to back there. He wiggled his eyebrows, a wacky and wordless hello. These were his usual merry tics, but this was a discordant setting for them, and it was astonishing that he wasn't more concerned that one of the television or still cameras might catch him mid-twinkle.

At one point, when someone near our seats dropped a case of plastic water bottles and caused a clatter, Bush glanced back at us with a teasing, are-you-guys-behaving-yourselves expression, and he kept his amused face pivoted in our direction for an awfully long time. About twenty minutes later, he was at it again. The Rev. Al Meredith, the pastor of the Wedgwood Baptist Church, asked if everyone in the audience wanted "to see the spirit of the living God sweep over this land like a wildfire." Meredith called for raised hands, and he added, "Media, put your notepads down if you're in with us on this." Zoom -- Bush was looking in our direction, eyebrows up, head cocked, the possibility of laughter on his lips.

I was taken aback, but I was not really surprised. From the time I began covering Bush in late August, my first and strongest impressions were of a man chafing against and throwing off the formal constraints of the part he had signed up for, an irreverent rapscallion on intermittently good behavior, Jim Carrey trying to incorporate at least a few elements of Jimmy Stewart. Sometimes he succeeded. Sometimes he didn't. He was asking to be king, but he still reserved the right to play the fool.

It was a role he had inhabited for much of his life, partly because it was thrust on him early, partly because he had discovered over time that it was a way to distinguish and carve a niche for himself in worlds where his other abilities were not always superior. According to some friends, the death of his younger sister, Robin, when she was three years old and he was seven had left him, for a while, not just as an only child but as one of the principal sources of consolation for his mother, Barbara. So he spread good cheer and sowed laughs, and that became his way as he moved through the stages of his youth. He was unexceptional at competitive sports and unexceptional at academics; his father's excellence in both endeavors was something he couldn't match. But he refused to be weighed down by his limitations and found an alternate path to prominence and popularity. He worked his personality, developing a reputation as a good-time fellow and dauntless prankster.

He never once made the honor roll at Andover, although 110 other boys in his class did. He stood out by cracking people up. During his senior year, he put on a top hat and rose to his feet at a weekly school assembly to announce that he was forming a stickball league -- a rebellious digression from the school's hyperserious athletic traditions -- and appointing himself its high commissioner. He named one team the Nads, which predictably led to the testicular game-day exhortation: "GoNads!" Another team was called the Beavers. At Yale, he impressed classmates not with his brains or his brawn but with his bonhomie...

Meet the Author

Frank Bruni, a reporter in the Washington bureau of the New York Times, now writes full-time for the Times Sunday magazine. For his previous work on other subjects, he was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing and a winner of the Polk Award for Metropolitan Reporting. He has appeared on ABC-TV's Nightline and other programs to talk about the Bush campaign and presidency.

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Ambling into History: The Unlikely Odyssey of George W. Bush 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
...where's the beef? both in this fluff chronicle and in the man himself. do you ever feel like you've been swindled?
Guest More than 1 year ago
I must agree completely with the person who rated this book two stars. Too much 'fact' is missing in this sugar-coated book on Mr. George Bush. Example: his careful and calculated omittion in any of his speeches about the leading giant Corporation during the height of the biggest scandal in America. and is this Horrific War a personal vendetta because of the supposed attempt on the Sr. Bush life by Saddam? The many strange people in the make-up of our present administration and many of his past close friends (Enron for one) should tell us much about President George W. Bush.... My father used to say, 'Tell me who you're with, and I'll tell you who you are'...
Guest More than 1 year ago
Reading this book, one gets the impression of a good-natured, gentle man who just likes to have fun and does not have a mean bone in his body. The book does not address, for instance, the mean-spirited whisper campaign the Bush team launched against John McCain. The book does not address Bush's dirty business dealings - why, for instance, his start up money for his first losing business in Texas needed to be laundered through an offshore company. (See Washington Post article by George Lardner, Jr on July 30, 1999) Nor does the book address Bush's mean-spirited lieutenants, such as Karl Rove and John Ashcroft. In other words, the book paints a superficial image which Bush wants us to believe. The author would have us believe that Bush suddenly grew up on Sep 11. The author does not mention Bush's month-long vacation which could not be interrupted by acting on the warnings he received on August 6. And the ranch. The author says Bush would rather be at his family ranch, which has allegedly been the touchstone of his soul for his entire career. I wonder why the author does not mention that the ranch was built only after Bush won the Presidency, and that the entire thing was designed more as a movie set than a home. So, once again, Bush can portray himself as something he is not. I was disappointed in the book, as you can see. I would like to know the real Bush. How can a man make jokes about a woman who is going to be executed? How can a man be so manipulated by such as Kenny Boy Lay
Guest More than 1 year ago
A well written book by an author who would know President George W. Bush much better than even his own friends. The author has spent bountiful amounts of time as an observer of the President before and especially during his campaign for the high Office and his views of these observations are not politically biased. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to know what life is like on the campaign trail and what makes President Bush tick. I learned that President Bush is a very wise and clever man who is well aware of his quirky grin and it's misconceptions.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Regardless of your political persuasion, Ambling Into History presents our 43rd President in his truest form. The book covers the epic of his campaign in no particular order and cites countless examples of his goofy personality and invaluable charisma, which ultimately led to his spotty election and unlikely beginnings of a great President. ¿Decision 2000¿ will forever be etched in our minds as the struggle between good and evil and depending on your perspective, one that we try to forget. I myself have attempted many times to block out Chris Matthews¿ commentary on the recount ¿down in Florida¿ and multiple incessant interviews about ¿hanging chad.¿ I deshelved this book with the impression it was an analysis of pre-9/11 Bush and post-9/11 Bush and the disparaging difference between. What it revealed instead was the man behind his ¿compassionate conservative¿ campaign. In a recent interview, Tom Brokaw jocularly chided President Bush for occasionally wandering off into a grammatical wilderness. Many of these ¿Bushisms¿ are exemplified in Ambling, which several times forced me to lay the book aside from tearful laughter. ¿When I was coming up,¿ he told a crowd in Council Bluffs Iowa, ¿it was a dangerous world and we knew exactly who the `they¿ were. It was us versus them and it was clear who them was. Today, we¿re not so sure who `they¿ are, but we know they¿re there.¿ And there are plenty more examples. Although many have stamped George W. as an incapable heir to the throne who only got lousy C¿s while studying at Yale, the real man is really rather shrewd and overly aware of his actions and their calibrated intentions. Just when you expect him to fail, he compensates with absolute resolve and enthusiasm. He pays little attention to exacting details but demands the big picture and surrounds himself with highly capable people like Colin Powell, Andy Card and Karen Hughes. Yet until 9/11 Bush eluded a defined political identity. Author Frank Bruni writes: ¿He lacked the churning ambition of Lyndon B. Johnson, the roiling demons of Richard Nixon, the pristine idealism of Jimmy Carter, the ideological certainty of Ronald Reagan, the enormous and self- destructive appetites of Bill Clinton.¿ Ambling serves as an objective critique to the personality of our current President. If you¿re a Bush watcher or enjoy studying the social side of politics, I recommend it for your reading enjoyment.