George H. W. Bush (American Presidents Series)
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George H. W. Bush (American Presidents Series)

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by Timothy Naftali

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The judicious statesman who won victories abroad but suffered defeat at home, whose wisdom and demeanor served America well at a critical time

George Bush was a throwback to a different era. A patrician figure not known for eloquence, Bush dismissed ideology as "the vision thing." Yet, as Timothy Naftali argues, no one of his generation was better prepared

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The judicious statesman who won victories abroad but suffered defeat at home, whose wisdom and demeanor served America well at a critical time

George Bush was a throwback to a different era. A patrician figure not known for eloquence, Bush dismissed ideology as "the vision thing." Yet, as Timothy Naftali argues, no one of his generation was better prepared for the challenges facing the United States as the Cold War ended. Bush wisely encouraged the liberalization of the Soviet system and skillfully orchestrated the reunification of Germany. And following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, he united the global community to defeat Saddam Hussein. At home, Bush reasserted fiscal discipline after the excesses of the Reagan years.

It was ultimately his political awkwardness that cost Bush a second term. His toughest decisions widened fractures in the Republican Party, and with his party divided, Bush lost his bid for reelection in 1992. In a final irony, the conservatives who scorned him would return to power eight years later, under his son and namesake, with the result that the elder George Bush would see his reputation soar.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

The 41st president's political persona was the stuff of greatness, argues this entry in the American Presidents series. Historian Naftali (Khrushchev's Cold War) credits Bush less with principles than with "tendencies" toward flexibility, realism and a moderate Republican version of decency. In his foreign policy, these qualities helped him nudge communism toward a soft collapse and build an international alliance to eject Saddam Hussein from Kuwait; domestically they led him to a budget compromise with Democrats, in which he acquiesced to unpopular tax hikes for the good of the nation. Bush's flexibility had a dark side, the author notes, that came out in his repeated tactical embrace of racial politics, from his opposition to civil rights legislation during his 1964 Senate run to the 1988 Willie Horton ads, and in his public support for Reaganomics despite deep private misgivings. Naftali forthrightly dissects Bush's misdeeds-especially his role in the Iran-Contra scandal-but he's less skeptical about the substance of Bush's policies, which he pointedly contrasts with Bush Jr.'s failures; he credits Bush's wars in Panama and Kuwait with helping America "overcome the burden of Vietnam," without wondering whether this paved the way for the son's misadventure in Iraq. Naftali's is a brisk, useful, but not always penetrating overview of a pivotal presidency. (Dec.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Naftali (director, Nixon Presidential Lib.; Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism) focuses specifically on Bush senior's time in the Oval Office, covering his earlier life and career in only about 60 pages. He argues that the 41st president deserves credit for successfully navigating U.S. foreign policy through the difficult times of the Soviet Union's collapse, the reunification of Germany, and Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, which led to the Gulf War. On the domestic front, however, Bush inherited problems that led to his being denied a second term, viz. the cost of repairing the savings and loan debacle, which contributed to the economic downturn of the early 1990s and the divisions that were forming in his Republican Party over issues like abortion. While informative, this book does not offer new insights or provide as satisfying an explanation for what motivated Bush as did Tom Wicker's George Herbert Walker Bush. Also, those needing a more traditional biography should consider Peter Schweizer and Rochelle Schweizer's The Bushes: Portrait of a Dynasty.Public libraries owning Wicker's book need not add this one to their collections unless a large budget or high demand calls for it.
—Thomas J. Baldino

Kirkus Reviews
Latest title in the American Presidents Series spotlights the elder Bush's uneven one-term presidency, riding Reagan's coattails and navigating the "new world order."Son of a Republican senator from Connecticut, educated at Phillips Academy and Yale, a naval aviator during World War II, George Herbert Walker Bush forged a path unique from his father's by moving to West Texas with wife Barbara to grow rich as an oil man. He lost Senate runs in 1964 and 1970, his mixture of social liberalism and economic conservatism doomed by compromises on key issues. Expedient and tactical, pragmatic and emotional, Bush won a congressional election in 1966 thanks to his friend James A. Baker III. Briefly considered as Nixon's running mate, he was instead offered a job as United Nations representative, then chairman of the Republican National Committee. After a stint as UN representative to China and head of the CIA under Gerald Ford, Bush ran for president against Ronald Reagan and was again sidelined as an understudy. Vice President Bush was Reagan's loyal soldier and crisis manager, a key participant in the controversial Iran-Contra scandal and coverup. His political adaptability was often taken as a sign of weakness. "Fighting the Wimp Factor" became his presidential campaign's rallying cry against Bob Dole and Michael Dukakis. Cleaning up Reagan's mess marked the beginning of his presidency, which was plagued by the budget deficit, the savings-and-loan debacle, the intransigence of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega and Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. However, the unraveling of the Soviet bloc allowed Bush moments of greatness. These did not protect him from becoming an object of public scornand being roundly defeated in 1992 by Democrat Bill Clinton. Naftali (Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism, 2005, etc.) offers a soft-pedaling, well-paced glimpse at the career highlights of a man whose presidency still remains murky and out-of-focus.

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Product Details

Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
American Presidents Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.71(w) x 8.47(h) x 0.85(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Meet the Author

Timothy Naftali is the director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, having previously served as director of the Presidential Recordings Program at the University of Virginia. He is the coauthor of Khrushchev's Cold War and One Hell of a Gamble: Khrushchev, Castro, and Kennedy, 1958–1964, and the author of Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism. He lives in Los Angeles.

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