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

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

by Jon Meacham


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#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • In this brilliant biography, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Jon Meacham chronicles the life of George Herbert Walker Bush.


Drawing on President Bush’s personal diaries, on the diaries of his wife, Barbara, and on extraordinary access to the forty-first president and his family, Meacham paints an intimate and surprising portrait of an intensely private man who led the nation through tumultuous times. From the Oval Office to Camp David, from his study in the private quarters of the White House to Air Force One, from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the first Gulf War to the end of Communism, Destiny and Power charts the thoughts, decisions, and emotions of a modern president who may have been the last of his kind. This is the human story of a man who was, like the nation he led, at once noble and flawed.

His was one of the great American lives. Born into a loving, privileged, and competitive family, Bush joined the navy on his eighteenth birthday and at age twenty was shot down on a combat mission over the Pacific. He married young, started a family, and resisted pressure to go to Wall Street, striking out for the adventurous world of Texas oil. Over the course of three decades, Bush would rise from the chairmanship of his county Republican Party to serve as congressman, ambassador to the United Nations, head of the Republican National Committee, envoy to China, director of Central Intelligence, vice president under Ronald Reagan, and, finally, president of the United States. In retirement he became the first president since John Adams to see his son win the ultimate prize in American politics.

With access not only to the Bush diaries but, through extensive interviews, to the former president himself, Meacham presents Bush’s candid assessments of many of the critical figures of the age, ranging from Richard Nixon to Nancy Reagan; Mao to Mikhail Gorbachev; Dick Cheney to Donald Rumsfeld; Henry Kissinger to Bill Clinton. Here is high politics as it really is but as we rarely see it.

From the Pacific to the presidency, Destiny and Power charts the vicissitudes of the life of this quietly compelling American original. Meacham sheds new light on the rise of the right wing in the Republican Party, a shift that signaled the beginning of the end of the center in American politics. Destiny and Power is an affecting portrait of a man who, driven by destiny and by duty, forever sought, ultimately, to put the country first.

Praise for Destiny and Power

“Should be required reading—if not for every presidential candidate, then for every president-elect.”The Washington Post

“Reflects the qualities of both subject and biographer: judicious, balanced, deliberative, with a deep appreciation of history and the personalities who shape it.”The New York Times Book Review

“A fascinating biography of the forty-first president.”The Dallas Morning News

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812979473
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/18/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 880
Sales rank: 92,306
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.70(d)

About the Author

Jon Meacham is a Pulitzer Prize–winning biographer. The author of the New York Times bestsellers Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, Franklin and Winston, Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush, and The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels, he is a distinguished visiting professor at Vanderbilt University, a contributing writer for The New York Times Book Review, and a fellow of the Society of American Historians. Meacham lives in Nashville and in Sewanee with his wife and children.

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Copyright © 2015 Jon Meacham.
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Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The best book I have read so far about George H W Bush. This one though, gives a more in depth look into the man himself, and what drove him to make the descions he made. A man devoted to country and family, one can understand now, why he has family wanting to follow his lead and serve our country. Book well worth reading
ocs More than 1 year ago
President Bush 41 dictated revealing thoughts during his term in office and somewhat before and afterwards. Seldom does a reader get to know the inner thoughts of such a leader, but they are set forth in context in the 728 pages of this 2015 book. Bush’s wealthy family taught him that truly desirable prizes are those earned by skill and hard work. To coast on the family name was a family sin. He excelled in elementary and private schools, college, World War II service and then in the Midland oil and gas fields where he started as a shop clerk. When he later was able to find investment opportunities, his family connections helped him line up investors. Things were going well in Midland until their young daughter, Robin died of leukemia. This taught him that life is unpredictable and fragile and of the importance of close family and friends. Business opportunities caused a move to Houston where he was elected to Congress. As a Republican, Bush often opposed President Johnson on domestic areas but largely backed him on foreign issues. As Johnson departed Washington DC after his term of office with Vietnam pressures, Bush drove to the Air Force base to bid farewell. The reason was that LBJ had invariably been courteous and fair to him and his people, and Bush thought that he needed to be there in a show of appreciation. Johnson saw Bush at the airport and invited him to the ranch. Johnson later gave advice when asked by Bush if the Senate would be worth giving up Bush’s House seat. Johnson answered in a barnyard way that the Senate was worth the change. Bush lost the Senatorial race and served instead for years in various important appointed roles in government. Ronald Reagan debated Bush in the Presidential primaries and did not like him very much during the contest. To the surprise of both, Reagan selected Bush to be Vice-President, and George served very well for eight years. They became close, and Nancy Reagan later asked Bush to deliver the eulogy at Reagan’s funeral. When Bush ran for President a second time, Donald Trump mentioned his availability as a vice presidential candidate to a Bush campaign official. Bush thought the overture “strange and unbelievable.” President Bush saw success in foreign affairs, including the fall of the Berlin Wall, the breakup of the Soviet Union, and a multi-nation campaign to oust Iraq out of Kuwait. The polls showed an eighty-nine percent approval of Bush’s performance. The federal budget deficit posed a then perceived financial threat, causing Bush to back away from his unfortunate campaign statement to read his lips about not increasing taxes. Bill Clinton later said that he supported Bush’s change of position. A slight recession arose as re-election approached. Bush was no longer so popular and knew that his foreign policy success would not outweigh domestic concerns. He also had some personal health issues and considered not running for re-election. This Bush was the last of the World War II line of Presidents when military service was a political asset. In his re-election attempt he was defeated by Bill Clinton who dropped out of ROTC when his draft number showed that he would not be drafted. Bush had a hard time understanding why his military service did not matter to most voters.
jmgallen More than 1 year ago
I decided to listen to “Destiny and Power” before President Bush’s death. It is a very interesting whole life biography of a most significant life. Bush is portrayed as the decent man about which we have heard so much who was also extremely competitive, who always wanted to be first. It is obvious that author Jon Meacham greatly admires his subject. While not ignoring Bush’s shortcomings they seem to be very minor in comparison with his virtues and his incredible talents and work. I recommend this book for all fans of George H. W. Bush and for any who want to better appreciate one of the most significant lives of the last century.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very disappointing. Even the authors insights are inaccurate as to the spirit of the truth that lies at the core of mr. Bush. An elitist in gentlemen's clothing. I feel sorry for those who can't see this tinhorn expose.
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thewanderingjew More than 1 year ago
Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush, Jon Meacham, author; Paul Michael, narrator It is obvious from the start of the book that Jon Meacham has respect and genuine affection for George Herbert Walker Bush. That is not a good reason to dislike or fail to appreciate the excellent job he did of defining Bush 41’s, life, unless you are an ideologue who cannot accept any positive presentation of a member of the Republican Party. For me, the book was well researched, informative and interesting. Although it is quite long, and sometimes repetitive, I found it to be a steady paced commentary on the life of the 41st President of the United States, with the information presented taken largely from the his diaries and the diaries of the First Lady. Bush is a man who represents the past, a time of far better manners and decorum both in and out of the White House. That is a fact that I believe cannot be disputed. The narrator did a fine job modulating his voice so that although long, it was always engaging. Raised with old-fashioned values and a code of ethics largely no longer in existence, he is the last of a dying breed. He was taught to respect women and to care about those less fortunate than he. He was taught to “always do the right thing”. He was taught to honor and love his country and those were the same values he and his wife of more than 70 years, Barbara Pierce, tried to inculcate into their own children. Bush enlisted in 1943, at age 18, after graduating high school. He believed it was the honorable thing to do, to serve his country, and he found it hard to reconcile the fact that the President following him into the Oval Office had actually actively avoided the draft. However, Bill Clinton was only the first of those to follow who saw no need to give to their country but rather to have their country give to them, which was quite a contrast to the request of former Democrat and President, John F. Kennedy, who requested that we “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country!” The times have definitely changed in today’s America. I am not sure if he has been given the credit that is due him by his adversaries. He was criticized for not doing enough on the domestic front, yet he passed the American Disabilities Act, improved the Clean Air Bill and approved the Fair Housing Act. He also ushered in the end of the Cold War and successfully liberated Kuwait when it was invaded by Iraq. He has been unfairly maligned because he raised taxes, breaking his promise when he said “read my lips”. However, the deficit could not be curbed in any other way, and he chose to do what was best for the country, not himself or his future in politics. Also, one must not forget that both houses of Congress were controlled by the Democrats, at that time, so he had little choice to do otherwise. He could possibly fight them and shut down the government, or he could compromise. He chose to compromise and paid a high price. As the ultimate gentleman, he resisted going negative when campaigning, even though it meant he would lose. In his heart and mind, he always hoped and thought he would win, believing in the integrity of the electorate. The biased and negative press often did him in. He put honor, duty and country first, before his own personal ambition. Even Obama praised his seven decades of service to the United States, honoring him with The Medal of Freedom.