In this brave, beautiful, and deeply personal memoir, Laura Bush, one of our most beloved and private first ladies, tells her own extraordinary story.
Born in the boom-and-bust oil town of Midland, Texas, Laura Welch grew up as an only child in a family that lost three babies to miscarriage or infant death. She vividly evokes Midland's brash, rugged culture, her close relationship with her father, and the bonds of early friendships that sustain her to this day. For the first time, in heart-wrenching detail, she writes about the devastating high school car accident that left her friend Mike Douglas dead and about her decades of unspoken grief.
When Laura Welch first left West Texas in 1964, she never imagined that her journey would lead her to the world stage and the White House. After graduating from Southern Methodist University in 1968, in the thick of student rebellions across the country and at the dawn of the women's movement, she became an elementary school teacher, working in inner-city schools, then trained to be a librarian. At age thirty, she met George W. Bush, whom she had last passed in the hallway in seventh grade. Three months later, "the old maid of Midland married Midland's most eligible bachelor." With rare intimacy and candor, Laura Bush writes about her early married life as she was thrust into one of America's most prominent political families, as well as her deep longing for children and her husband's decision to give up drinking. By 1993, she found herself in the full glare of the political spotlight. But just as her husband won the Texas governorship in a stunning upset victory, her father, Harold Welch, was dying in Midland.
In 2001, after one of the closest elections in American history, Laura Bush moved into the White House. Here she captures presidential life in the harrowing days and weeks after 9/11, when fighter-jet cover echoed through the walls and security scares sent the family to an underground shelter. She writes openly about the White House during wartime, the withering and relentless media spotlight, and the transformation of her role as she began to understand the power of the first lady. One of the first U.S. officials to visit war-torn Afghanistan, she also reached out to disease-stricken African nations and tirelessly advocated for women in the Middle East and dissidents in Burma. She championed programs to get kids out of gangs and to stop urban violence. And she was a major force in rebuilding Gulf Coast schools and libraries post-Katrina. Movingly, she writes of her visits with U.S. troops and their loved ones, and of her empathy for and immense gratitude to military families.
With deft humor and a sharp eye, Laura Bush lifts the curtain on what really happens inside the White House, from presidential finances to the 175-year-old tradition of separate bedrooms for presidents and their wives to the antics of some White House guests and even a few members of Congress. She writes with honesty and eloquence about her family, her public triumphs, and her personal tribulations. Laura Bush's compassion, her sense of humor, her grace, and her uncommon willingness to bare her heart make this story revelatory, beautifully rendered, and unlike any other first lady's memoir ever written.
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About the Author
Laura Bush was First Lady of the United States from 2001 to 2009. She founded both the National Book Festival and the Texas Book Festival.
Read an Excerpt
Spoken from the Heart
By Laura Bush
ScribnerCopyright © 2010 Laura Bush
All right reserved.
Tuesday morning, September 11, was sunny and warm, the sky a brilliant cerulean blue. The day before, I had hosted a lunch for Janette Howard, wife of the Australian prime minister, while George met with her husband, John. My friends who had come for the National Book Festival had all flown home, and even George was gone, in Florida for a school visit. George H. W. Bush and Bar had spent the night, but they had already left at 7:00 a.m. to catch an early flight. And I had what I considered a big day planned. I was set to arrive at the Capitol at 9:15 to brief the Senate Education Committee, chaired by Edward M. Kennedy, on the findings of the early childhood development conference that I?d held in July. In the afternoon, we were hosting the entire Congress and their families for the annual Congressional Picnic. The South Lawn of the White House was already covered with picnic tables awaiting their fluttering cloths, and Tom Perini from Buffalo Gap, Texas, was setting up his chuckwagons. Our entertainment would be old-fashioned square dancing and Texas swing music by Ray Benson and his classic band, Asleep at the Wheel.
I finished dressing in silence, going over my statement again in my mind. I was very nervous about appearing before a Senate committee and having news cameras trained on me. Had the TV been turned on, I might have heard the first fleeting report of a plane hitting the North Tower of the World Trade Center at the tip of Manhattan as I walked out the door to the elevator. Instead, it was the head of my Secret Service detail, Ron Sprinkle, who leaned over and whispered the news in my ear as I entered the car a few minutes after 9:00 a.m. for the ride to the Russell Senate Office Building, adjacent to the Capitol. Andi Ball, now my chief of staff at the White House; Domestic Policy Advisor Margaret Spellings; and I speculated about what could have happened: a small plane, a Cessna perhaps, running into one of those massive towers on this perfect September morning. We wondered too if Hillary Clinton might decide not to attend the committee briefing, since the World Trade Center was in New York. We were driving up Pennsylvania Avenue when word came that the South Tower had been hit. The car fell silent; we sat in mute disbelief. One plane might be a strange accident; two planes were clearly an attack. I thought about George and wondered if the Secret Service had already hustled him to the motorcade and begun the race to Air Force One to return home. Two minutes later, at 9:16 a.m., we pulled up at the entrance to the Russell Building. In the time it had taken to drive the less than two miles between the White House and the Capitol, the world as I knew it had irrevocably changed.
Senator Kennedy was waiting to greet me, according to plan. We both knew when we met that the towers had been hit and, without a word being spoken, knew that there would be no briefing that morning. Together, we walked the short distance to his office. He began by presenting me with a limited-edition print; it was a vase of bright daffodils, a copy of a painting he had created for his wife, Victoria, and given to her on their wedding day. The print was inscribed to me and dated September 11, 2001.
An old television was turned on in a corner of the room, and I glanced over to see the plumes of smoke billowing from the Twin Towers. Senator Kennedy kept his eyes averted from the screen. Instead he led me on a tour of his office, pointing out various pictures, furniture, pieces of memorabilia, even a framed note that his brother Jack had sent to their mother when he was a child, in which he wrote, ?Teddy is getting fat.? The senator, who would outlive all his brothers by more than forty years, laughed at the note as he showed it to me, still finding it amusing.
All the while, I kept glancing over at the glowing television screen. My skin was starting to crawl, I wanted to leave, to find out what was going on, to process what I was seeing, but I felt trapped in an endless cycle of pleasantries. It did not occur to me to say, ?Senator Kennedy, what about the towers?? I simply followed his lead, and he may have feared that if we actually began to contemplate what had happened in New York, I might dissolve into tears.
Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the ranking Republican on the committee and one of our very good friends in the Senate?Judd had played Al Gore for George during mock debates at the ranch the previous fall?was also designated to escort me to the committee room, and he arrived just as I was completing the tour. Senator Kennedy invited us to sit on the couches, and he continued chatting about anything other than the horrific images unfolding on the tiny screen across the room. I looked around his shoulder but could see very little, and I was still trying to pay attention to him and the thread of his conversation. It seemed completely unreal, sitting in this elegant, sunlit office as an immense tragedy unfolded. We sat as human beings driven by smoke, flame, and searing heat jumped from the tops of the Twin Towers to end their lives and as firemen in full gear began the climb up the towers? stairs.
I have often wondered if the small talk that morning was Ted Kennedy?s defense mechanism, if after so much tragedy?the combat death of his oldest brother in World War II, the assassinations of his brothers Jack and Robert, and the deaths of nephews, including John Jr., whose body he identified when it was pulled from the cold, dark waters off Martha?s Vineyard?if after all of those things, he simply could not look upon another grievous tragedy.
At about 9:45, after George had made a brief statement to the nation, which we watched, clustered around a small television that was perched on the receptionist?s desk, Ted Kennedy, Judd Gregg, and I walked out to tell reporters that my briefing had been postponed. I said, ?You heard from the president this morning, and Senator Kennedy and Senator Gregg and I both join his statement in saying that our hearts and our prayers go out to the victims of this act of terrorism, and that our support goes to the rescue workers. And all of our prayers are with everyone there right now.? As I turned to exit, Laurence McQuillan of USA Today asked a question. ?Mrs. Bush, you know, children are kind of struck by all this. Is there a message you could tell to the nation?s?? I didn?t even wait for him to finish but began, ?Well, parents need to reassure their children everywhere in our country that they?re safe.?
As we walked out of the briefing room, the cell phone of my advance man, John Meyers, rang. A friend told him that CNN was reporting that an airplane had crashed into the Pentagon. Within minutes, the order would be given to evacuate the White House and the Capitol.
I walked back to Senator Kennedy?s office and then began moving quickly toward the stairs, to reach my car to return to the White House. Suddenly, the lead Secret Service agent turned to me and my staff and said that we needed to head to the basement immediately. We took off at a run; Judd Gregg suggested his private office, which was in the lower level and was an interior room. The Secret Service then told John that they were waiting for an Emergency Response Team to reach the Capitol. The team would take me, but my staff would be left behind. Overhearing the conversation, I turned back and said, ?No, everyone is coming.? We entered Judd?s office, where I tried to call Barbara and Jenna, and Judd tried to call his daughter, who was in New York. Then we sat and talked quietly about our families and our worries for them, and the overwhelming shock we both felt.
Sometime after 10:00 a.m., when the entire Capitol was being emptied, when White House staffers had fled barefoot and sobbing through the heavy iron gates with Secret Service agents shouting at them to ?Run, run!? my agents collected me. They now included an additional Secret Service detail and an Emergency Response Team, dressed in black tactical clothing like a SWAT force and moving with guns drawn. As we raced through the dim hallways of the Russell Building, past panicked staffers emptying from their offices, the ERT team shouted ?GET BACK? and covered my every move with their guns. We reached the underground entrance; the doors on the motorcade slammed shut, and we sped off. The Secret Service had decided to take me temporarily to their headquarters, located in a nondescript federal office building a few blocks from the White House. Following the Oklahoma City bombing, their offices had been reinforced to survive a large-scale blast. Outside our convoy windows, the city streets were clogged with people evacuating their workplaces and trying to reach their own homes.
By the time I had reached my motorcade, Flight 93 had crashed in a Pennsylvania field and the west side of the Pentagon had begun to collapse. Judd Gregg walked alone to the underground Senate parking garage and retrieved his car, the last one left there. He pulled out of the garage and headed home, across the Fourteenth Street Bridge and past the Pentagon, thick with smoke and flame.
In the intervening years, Judd and I, and many others, were left to contemplate what if Flight 93 had not been forced down by its passengers into an empty field; what if, shortly after 10:00 a.m., it had reached the Capitol Dome?
We arrived at the Secret Service building via an underground entrance and were escorted first to the director?s office and then belowground to a windowless conference room with blank walls and a mustard yellow table. A large display screen with a constant TV feed took up most of one wall. Walking through the hallways, I saw a sign emblazoned with the emergency number 9-1-1. Had the terrorists thought about our iconic number when they picked this date and planned an emergency so overwhelming? For a while, I sat in a small area off the conference room, silently watching the images on television. I watched the replay as the South Tower of the World Trade Center roared with sound and then collapsed into a silent gray plume, offering my personal prayer to God to receive the victims with open arms. The North Tower had given way, live in front of my eyes, sending some 1,500 souls and 110 stories of gypsum and concrete buckling to the ground.
So much happened during those terrible hours at the tip of Manhattan. That morning, as the people who worked in the towers descended, water from the sprinkler system was racing down the darkened stairwells. With their feet soaked, for some the greatest fear was that when they reached the bottom, the rushing water would be too high and they would be drowned. A few walked to safety under a canopy of skylights covered with the bodies of those who had jumped. Over two hundred people jumped to escape the heat, smoke, and flames. I was told that Father Mychal Judge, the chaplain for the New York City Fire Department, who had come to offer aid, comfort, and last rites, was killed that morning by the body of someone who had, in desperation, hurled himself from the upper floors of one of those towers.
The early expectation was for horrific numbers of deaths. Manhattan emergency rooms and hospitals as far away as Dallas were placed on Code Red, expecting to receive airlifted survivors. Some fifty thousand people worked inside the towers; on a beautiful day, as many as eighty thousand tourists would visit an observation deck on the South Tower?s 107th floor, where the vistas stretched for fifty miles. Had those hijacked planes struck the towers thirty or forty or fifty minutes later, the final toll might well have been in the tens of thousands.
Inside Secret Service headquarters, I asked my staff to call their families, and I called the girls, who had been whisked away by Secret Service agents to secure locations. In Austin, Jenna had been awakened by an agent pounding on her dorm door. In her room at Yale, Barbara had heard another student sobbing uncontrollably a few doors down. Then I called my mother, because I wanted her to know that I was safe and I wanted so much to hear the sound of her voice. And I tried to reach George, but my calls could not get through; John Meyers, my advance man, promised to keep trying. I did know from the Secret Service that George had taken off from Florida, safe on board Air Force One. I knew my daughters and my mother were safe. But beyond that, everything was chaos. I was told that Barbara Olson, wife of Solicitor General Ted Olson, had been aboard the plane that hit the Pentagon. At one point, we also received word that Camp David had been attacked and hit. I began thinking of all the people who would have been there, like Bob Williams, the chaplain. Another report had a plane crashing into our ranch in Crawford. It got so that we were living in five-minute increments, wondering if a new plane would emerge from the sky and hit a target. All of us in that basement conference room and many more in the Secret Service building were relying on rumors and on whatever news came from the announcers on television. When there were reports of more errant planes or other targets, it was almost impossible not to believe them.
George had tried to call me from Air Force One. It is stunning now to think that our ?state-of-the-art? communications would not allow him to complete a phone call to Secret Service headquarters, or me to reach him on Air Force One. On my second call from the secure line, our third attempt, I was finally able to contact the plane, a little before twelve noon. I was grateful just to hear his voice, to know that he was all right, and to tell him the girls were fine. From the way he spoke, I could hear how starkly his presidency had been transformed.
We remained in that drab conference room for hours, eventually turning off the repetitive horror of the images on the television. Inside, I felt a grief, a loss, a mourning like I had never known.
A few blocks away, in the Chrysler offices near Pennsylvania Avenue, a group of White House senior staff began to gather. After the evacuation, some of those who were new to Washington had been wandering, dazed and shaken, in nearby Lafayette Park. By midafternoon, seventy staff members had congregated inside this office building, attempting to resume work, while Secret Service agents stood in the lobby and forbade anyone without a White House pass from entering. Key presidential and national security staff and Vice President Cheney were still sealed away in the small underground emergency center deep below the White House.
As the skies and streets grew silent, there was a debate over what to do with George and what to do with me. The Secret Service detail told me to be prepared to leave Washington for several days at least. My assistant, Sarah Moss, was sent into the White House to gather some of my clothes. John Meyers accompanied her to retrieve Spot, Barney, and Kitty.
Then we got word that the president was returning to Washington. I would be staying as well. Late in the afternoon, I spoke to George again. At 6:30 we got in a Secret Service caravan to drive to the White House. I gazed out the window; the city had taken on the cast of an abandoned movie set: the sun was shining, but the streets were deserted. We could not see a person on the sidewalk or any vehicles driving on the street. There was no sound at all except for the roll of our wheels over the ground.
We drove at full throttle through the gate, and the agents hopped out. Heavily armed men in black swarmed over the grounds. Before I got out, one of my agents, Dave Saunders, who had been driving, turned around and said, ?Mrs. Bush, I?m so sorry. I?m so sorry.? He said it with the greatest of concern and a hint of emotion in his voice. He knew what this day meant for us.
I was hustled inside and downstairs through a pair of big steel doors that closed behind me with a loud hiss, forming an airtight seal. I was now in one of the unfinished subterranean hallways underneath the White House, heading for the PEOC, the Presidential Emergency Operations Center, built for President Franklin Roosevelt during World War II. We walked along old tile floors with pipes hanging from the ceiling and all kinds of mechanical equipment. The PEOC is designed to be a command center during emergencies, with televisions, phones, and communications facilities.
I was ushered into the conference room adjacent to the PEOC?s nerve center. It?s a small room with a large table. National Security Advisor Condi Rice, Counselor to the President Karen Hughes, Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Bolten, and Dick and Lynne Cheney were already there, where they had been since the morning. Lynne, whose agents had brought her to the White House just after the first attack, came over and hugged me. Then she said quietly into my ear, ?The plane that hit the Pentagon circled the White House first.?
I felt a shiver vibrate down my spine. Unlike the major monuments and even the leading government buildings in Washington, the White House sits low to the ground. It is a three-story building, tucked away in a downward slope toward the Potomac. When the White House was first built, visitors complained about the putrid scent rising from the river and the swampy grounds nearby. From the air, the White House is hard to see and hard to reach. A plane could circle it and find no plausible approach. And that is what Lynne Cheney told me had happened that morning, a little past 9:30, before Flight 77 crossed the river and thundered into the Pentagon.
At 7:10 that night, George strode into the PEOC. Early that afternoon, he had conducted a secure videoconference from Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska with the CIA and FBI directors, as well as the military Joint Chiefs of Staff and the vice president and his national security staff, giving instructions and getting briefings on the latest information. Over the objections of the Secret Service, he had insisted upon returning home. We hugged and talked with the Cheneys a bit. Then the Secret Service detail suggested that we spend the night there, belowground. They showed us the bed, a foldout that looked like it had been installed when FDR was president. George and I stared at it, and we both said no, George adding, ?We?re not going to sleep down here. We?re going to go upstairs and you can get us if something happens.? He said, ?I?ve got to get sleep, in our own bed.? George was preparing to speak to the nation from the Oval Office, to reassure everyone and to show that the president was safely back in Washington, ready to respond.
By 7:30 we were on our way up to the residence. I have no memory of having eaten dinner?George may have eaten on the plane. He tried to call the girls as soon as we were upstairs but couldn?t reach them. Barbara called back close to 8:00 p.m., and then George left to make remarks to the nation.
We did finally climb into our own bed that night, exhausted and emotionally drained. Outside the doors of the residence, the Secret Service detail stood in their usual posts. I fell asleep, but it was a light, fitful rest, and I could feel George staring into the darkness beside me. Then I heard a man screaming as he ran, ?Mr. President, Mr. President, you?ve got to get up. The White House is under attack.?
We jumped up, and I grabbed a robe and stuck my feet into my slippers, but I didn?t stop to put in my contacts. George grabbed Barney; I grabbed Kitty. With Spot trailing behind, we started walking down to the PEOC. George had wanted to take the elevator, but the agents didn?t think it was safe, so we had to descend flight after flight of stairs, to the state floor, then the ground floor, and below, while I held George?s hand because I couldn?t see anything. My heart was pounding, and all I could do was count stairwell landings, trying to count off in my mind how many more floors we had to go. When we reached the PEOC, I saw the outline of a military sergeant unfolding the ancient hideaway bed and putting on some sheets.
At that moment, another agent ran up to us and said, ?Mr. President, it?s one of our own.? The plane was ours.
For months afterward at night, in bed, we?d hear the military jets thundering overhead, traveling so fast that the ground below quivered and shook. They would make one pass and then, three or five minutes later, make another low-flying loop. I would fall asleep to the roar of the fighters in the skies, hearing in my mind those words, ?one of our own.? There was a quiet security in that, in knowing that we slept beneath the watchful cover of our own.
Waking the next morning, I had the sensation of knowing before my eyes opened that something terrible had happened, something beyond comprehension, and I wondered for a brief instant if it had all been a dream. Then I saw George, and I knew, knew that yesterday would be with us, each day, for all of our days to come.
? 2010 Laura Bush
Excerpted from Spoken from the Heart by Laura Bush Copyright © 2010 by Laura Bush. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Through the Nursery Glass 1
Dreams and Dust 7
Traveling Light 69
One Hundred and Thirty-two Rooms 147
Goodness in the Land of the Living 195
"Grand Mama Laura" 239
"I Told You I Would Come" 335
Prairie Chapel Mornings 427
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Spoken from the Heart includes an introduction and discussion questions. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
From the flat, dusty streets of Midland, Texas, in the heart of the boom-and-bust American oil patch, to the gleaming columns and glistening marble hallways of the White House, Laura Welch Bush traveled a rare path. But many readers will find much to share in her particular story—from private family grief and a tragic twist of fate to waiting years for love and her struggle for much-wanted children. Use our reader’s guide to help re-examine Laura Bush’s private years and her life in the public eye.
THE FORMATIVE YEARS IN MIDLAND, TEXAS YEARS
- Laura Bush’s Spoken from the Heart begins with a story of loss: the death of her premature, newborn baby brother when Laura was just two-and-a-half years old. The theme of loss is woven throughout the book, the loss of two other baby siblings; the loss of her friend, Mike Douglas, in the car crash; the loss of her father to dementia; even the loss of privacy and anonymity first when she marries into the Bush family and then when her husband enters politics. How do you think these losses shaped her life and shaped her outlook? Did they make her more resilient or more guarded? Did reading about this legacy of loss change your own impressions and opinions of her?
- West Texas and Laura Bush’s Texas roots are a major component of her story. On page 20, she writes, “There was an underlying sense of hardship, a sense that the land could quickly turn unforgiving.” And on p. 121, “People in West Texas believe that they think differently, and to a large degree they do….Those who live there are direct and blunt to the point of hurt sometimes. There is not time for artifice; it looks and sounds ridiculous amid the barren landscape.” How did the land of West Texas shape Laura and the Welch family? Did you come away from the book thinking that people from that part of the United States are indeed different? What were the most noticeable differences or characteristics for you?
- Laura Bush was also deeply shaped by being an only child. On page 6, she says, “I remember as a small girl looking up at the darkening night sky, waiting for the stars to pop out one by one. I would watch for that first star, for its faint glow, because then I could make my wish. And my wish on a star any time that I wished on a star was that I would have brothers and sisters.” Do you think her response might have been different if her parents hadn’t wanted other babies so much? Do you think that there is an inherent loneliness born out of being an only child or did Laura’s circumstances make her feel it more acutely? What was your response to her mother’s decision to send young Laura on “solo picnics”?
- One aspect of Laura Bush’s West Texas life that comes through strongly in the book is the code of silence. Her family and others did not talk about veterans’ World War II experiences; her mother and father did not speak of the lost babies; and no one spoke of the horrible car crash the day after she turned 17. Her mother didn’t want to speak about her father’s drinking. Do you think this silence is unique to the culture of the area or to the era of the 1940s, 50s, and early 60s? What is your reaction to this code of silence, compared to our own time, when tell-alls and personal confessions are far more the norm and the rule?
- Laura Bush recounts in devastating detail the car accident that claimed the life of her high school friend. What were your own emotions reading her story of that night and the days that followed? Do you think it would have helped if she had gone to the funeral? What would you now say to someone in that position as a result of what Laura has described and discussed? Should her family and friends have talked about the crash and its aftermath? How do you imagine the silence about the accident shaped her? Do you think she has forgiven herself?
FINDING HER WAY AS AN ADULT
- Laura Bush entered college less than a year after John F. Kennedy was assassinated and graduated a few weeks after the deaths of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Women’s liberation was also on the cultural agenda. How is her own life during that period reflective or not reflective of the 1960s in the United States? How did that turbulent period affect her decisions, choices, and beliefs?
- From the time that she was a little girl, friendship was deeply important to Laura Bush. Yet she also made some very different choices from many of her friends: she did not marry early; she chose a traditional job, but wanted to work in more challenging environments; and she was restless, moving from town to town. What was your response to that era of her life? What do you think she was looking for? Why do you think the 20s can be such a restless period in a person’s, particularly a woman’s, life?
- When Laura Bush tells the story of her first, semi-blind date with George Bush, she ends by saying that perhaps if they had met at some other point, things would not have worked out, but on that night, “it was the right timing for both of us.” What, to you, was the most surprising part of their courtship and decision to marry? Do you think it is possible to meet someone and just know that he or she is right for you? What aspects of their lives do you think were the most important anchors for their marriage?
- Laura Bush begins her marriage with a political campaign. What do you think are the pros and cons of marrying into a political family? What do you imagine were the biggest difficulties for her coming from a small, private family and joining a large, sprawling, high-profile political family? What were your reactions to how she negotiated her new role?
- When George and Laura Bush got married, she returned to live in Midland, Texas—and stayed far out of the Washington political spotlight for most of George HW Bush’s presidency. How do you think those years of living as adults in their childhood hometown shaped both of the Bushes?
- Laura and George Bush struggled to have children, eventually filing for adoption and trying fertility treatments. She notes, “The English language lacks the words to mourn an absence….for someone who was never there at all, we are wordless to capture that particular emptiness.” How hard is it still to talk about infertility? Are we as a culture sensitive enough to couples who are struggling to have a child? What part of Laura Bush’s story of her efforts to have children resonated most with you?
- Much of Midland, Texas’s social culture revolved around drinking. Why do you think so much heavy drinking was acceptable for so many decades? Was there anything about Midland that made it a drinking town, or was it not that different from other parts of the United States in those years? What did you think of the fact that both Laura and her mother married men who drank almost every day? How would you compare the ways in which each woman handled the situation?
- Laura Bush and her mother-in-law, Barbara Bush, are both strong women, but in very different ways. What aspects of their relationship surprised you the most? What are some of the greatest tensions, generally, between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law? Who do you think was most responsible for the tone of Laura and Barbara’s relationship, in the beginning and, later, over time? Who should take the lead in an in-law relationship?
- Just as her husband is entering political life to run for governor of Texas, Laura Bush’s beloved father is succumbing to the worst of dementia. After he dies, she has a number of regrets about things she wishes they had done, from playing more music to making sure that he was at George’s gubernatorial swearing in—many of which she discusses on pp. 137-38. What side of Laura Bush do we see in this episode? What, to you, are the most important issues that she explores about care giving and the loss of a parent?
STEPPING ON TO THE NATIONAL STAGE: THE WHITE HOUSE YEARS
- Do you think that Laura Bush changes when her husband enters national politics? If so, how does she change? Does her story or the way that she tells it change? What do you think is the cause of those changes?
- On pp. 184-186, Laura Bush discusses some of the behind-the-scenes components of living at the White House—including the costs, having her hair styled each day, the clothing she needed to buy for herself, even the costs of meals. What were some of the things that you found most intriguing about her descriptions of life inside the White House? Why do you think some First Families find the White House lonely? What did you learn about the scrutiny political families face and the lack of privacy? Is it a fair trade-off?
- 9-11 was a transformative moment for the nation and also for the Bush family. What did you think of Laura Bush’s experience that morning in Senator Ted Kennedy’s office, as described on pp. 198-199? How might you have reacted to being escorted out of the Capitol by men with automatic weapons and being rushed to a basement holding room where you could not reach your husband? Knowing her life story up to now, what do you think made Laura Bush become “the comforter-in-chief”?
- Did your views of the war on terror change in any way after you read the book? What do you think now of the decision to send troops to Afghanistan and later to Iraq? How do you think Laura Bush saw her role as the wife of a wartime president?
- Do you agree that we, both in the United States and the West, have an obligation to help the women of Afghanistan? What was the most difficult part of the situation in Afghanistan for you to understand?
- As First Lady, Laura Bush took on many difficult causes, from women in Afghanistan, to a breast cancer initiative in the Arab world (a place where the subject is all but taboo), to malaria and AIDS in Africa, to a major initiative, Helping America’s Youth, focused on at-risk boys and also girls. Why do you think she chose these types of challenging causes? What sort of difference can a first lady make in addressing these types of problems? Did you know that she had such a busy and demanding agenda? If not, why do you think she didn’t get as much attention for her causes and her role?
- Laura Bush does take on the media, writing on p. 353, “Some of it was sloppiness, reporters who didn’t know an issue and got basic facts wrongs. But some of it was bias, where journalists, rather than being objective, could not put their own emotions and assumptions aside.” Do you think that is a fair criticism? Do you think Laura Bush was treated fairly by the media? How serious do you think the problem of media bias is and how much does it affect what we know and how we perceive issues and also our political leaders?
- George W. Bush was subjected to very harsh political criticism. The Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate called him a “loser” and a “liar.” Laura Bush writes, “The president doesn’t have the luxury of having like a smart-aleck kid on a school playground; he has to work not just with Congress, but with leaders around the world.” Do you agree that the criticisms were over the line and excessively personal? Do you think that people in the public arena should choose their words with more care? What are our responsibilities to maintain a free and healthy debate in the country, so that there can also be a free and passionate exchange of views?
- First Ladies are expected to have policy initiatives, but also to be flawless entertainers, receiving scrutiny for state dinners and a host of other events, even holiday themes and decorations. After reading Spoken from the Heart, do you think that we need to update our view of the role of First Lady or is the mix of responsibilities about right?
- What most surprised you about the book and about Laura Bush? What kind of person did you think she was before you read the book, and what kind of person do you see her as now?
- What do you think is Laura Bush’s legacy? What are the lessons you will take away from her public and from her private life?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
"spoken from the heart" is a very fasinating indepth memoir by former first lady laura bush which is very hard to put down. what makes this so special is it gives an insiders account of so many famous and historical events from her husbands political races and run for the president and life in the white house and 911 and the war in iraq and mrs Bush shares her faith and her love of literature and family. this is really intresting to learn more about some of the Bush family members as they might be intrested in future runs great historical book great gift idea for friend or family member
May 12, 2010, I saw and heard former First Lady Laura Bush at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California. How wonderful to see her walking alongside former First Lady Nancy Reagan as she entered the room to a standing ovation. What I admire about her book presentation (within her book) is a deep humility, a sense of purpose why God put her on this earth, and an abiding love for her husband. The story of their west Texas lives, meeting in seventh grade, George's friendships from the second grade, and the jokes about their dog who bit the reporter reveal why our nation selected them as leaders for eight years. Of course, the 911 recount from her perspective as a woman is unforgettable. After this, I feel like I could sit down and talk with her person to person. She is not an icon to worship, but one who shows transformation from the inside out. Greatness has not corrupted her. Her love for her husband, family, and the United States of America, as well as the whole world, traveling to help oppressed women in Afganistan is a model to follow for any young or old woman.
I was not prepared for the journey that this book took me on. This book is so much more than a memoir of a First Lady. The historical detail in this book is incredibly enlightening. You will be taken down roads of our past and revisit good times and bad. I am impressed, beyond words, of the richness of Laura's writing. I kept looking for mention of a ghost writer, but there is none. You will be privy to intimate stories of the White House and its goings on. I cried, I laughed and when the book ended, I turned back to page 1 and started again. "Spoken from the Heart" is filled with honesty, candor and deep personal emotions of a fine lady we were blessed to have as "our" First Lady.
I highly enjoyed and recommend this book! Mrs. Bush has always epitomized a devoted wife and mother. She has represented her family and our Country with the highest character and standards. This written account of her life experiences supports that exemplary life. She is at times very candid and forthright when it will benefit the reader's understanding of her experiences. And when she moves to protect her family as is befitting the Lady that she is, she holds close to her heart the words that might hurt others or put them in a defensive stance. Mrs. Bush offers the painful times in her life in a very candid and honest manner. You can feel her pain through her written words. I have been very privileged to meet President and Mrs. Bush on several occasions and they are simply put - very genuine people. Mrs. Bush is a person that I would love to have as a friend as I know that she would guard my secrets and offer solace for my hurts. Mrs. Bush know the life of a politician's wife and daughter-in-law very well and she offers a window into that life. She is articulate and knowledgeable and presents so many issues that I find intriguing. Mrs. Bush has never embarrassed our country by appearing in less than lady-like clothing whether in the White House or on her vacations. She offers the best of womanhood and is a beautiful person from the inside out. Our USA is better for the example of Mrs. Laura Bush. This is a book that I looked forward to with great anticipation and I have not been disappointed! It is an uplifting and inspiring account of her experiences and certainly Spoken From Her Heart! It is now a permanent member of my home library. I only wish that I could have afforded the signed edition!
I enjoyed this biography and am excited to add it to my collection. While there was nothing shocking or too revealing, it was interesting to read about what Mrs. Bush was doing during her White House years. I was a little disappointed that there was little written about the early years of her marriage and her years as the First Lady of Texas. Being a Texan myself, I have admired President and Mrs. Bush for many years. Mrs. Bush is very humble and grateful for the experiences she had as First Lady. I look forward to reading the President's upcoming biography in the fall.
In this memoir Laura Welch Bush, who always before has been a rather private person, gives us a candid peek into her life from youth to the early years of her marriage and life as a young mother of twin girls. She gives us an in depth account of her eight years as our First Lady detailing the causes she championed, the implications and the results of her travel at home and abroad and the relationships forged with everyone ranging from the highest foreign dignitaries to those she grew to know more intimately as White House staffers. She reveals her anxiousness following 9/11 and her distress from the demeaning political bashing directed at her husband. Joys and sorrows, triumphs and regrets are all included. The book reveals a great deal about this compassionate First Lady who carries herself with such dignity, grace and elegance. Her love of books is best revealed through her willingness to share that love raising a greater national awareness by championing new authors, establishing a National Book Festival and urging all to read with their children.
I just wanted to tell the Bush Family how wonderful and Precious people they are. I saw them on Oprah Winfrey show and I was amazed at how real and down to earth they are. Sometime politics paint a ugly picture of people that causes unnecessary negative feelings about them. I think they are the sweetest family and so down to earth. I am a democrat, which don't mean much to me. I claimed it because my parents claimed it, but politics does not determine how a persons heart is. May God bless your family, and may you have beautiful and happy grandchildren. You have wonderful daughters, which says a lot about how they were raised. I think many other politicians should be interviewed on TV, so the world can see the real beauty in them rather than belittling them to scorn. Continue writing more books and being a blessing to ll women. Good Luck and may God Bless.
I am enjoying every page of Laura Bush's new book Spoken From the Heart. Each page contains personal information that brings Laura Bush to a very down-to-earth level. Her early years through young adult are so common to many of us. Well worth the read.
I've not quite finished but felt compelled to write my excitement and joy over selecting this book. I could only imagine what life was like, especially after 9/11, but Mrs. Bush describes so well what it was from their perspective. She describes events with such a great gift of what happened. I highly recommend this book to understand what it was like, what life is like in the White House and to get to know Mrs Bush and some of Mr Bush. She strikes a great balance between events that would have been in the news and private moments.
Spoken from the Heart This book is moving in many ways. I have laughed and cried while reading it. Laura Bush has gone from the small oil town of Midland, TX, to the Governor's Mansion in TX, to the "White House," as our First Lady. I want to emphasize Lady as she is gracious, charming, elegant, smart and beautiful. She did not use her book as a platform to knock all of those who have said such terrible things about President Bush or herself. I had no idea how much was expected from a First Lady until I read this book. Nor did I realize how little private time they have for their family and friends. Laura Bush has worked hard to make people aware of the basic needs that everyone should have around the world. Women's rights in Afghanistan, to literacy, both here and to so many other countries as well. These are just a few of the things she has done. To list them all would take up several pages. But she points them out in her book in hopes that others will still get on board and help. Laura has really opened up and shared a large part of her personal life with us in this book. While there were others who wanted her to be something different than what she was; Laura Bush stayed true to who she is. She is still the girl next door and a loyal friend. I feel honored to have had her as our First Lady, and all that she has done. Laura Bush has "true grit" and it doesn't come any better than that. Rated G
Oh, to have you back in the White House again! Many did not realize how much you did for us. Thanks for the enlightenment. You are a very lucky lady to have George W., we were lucky Americans to have had you both. Thanks for this super good read.
Loved this book. Was written in such a way that it was a conversation going on and Mrs. Bush was personally telling the reader about her life. You felt that she was going to offer you a cup of coffee any minute.
Laura Bush emanates Class, Grace, and Love. She is a model for all American women. I am so glad I bought this book and I'm still at the beginning! I'm savoring everything she writes much of her childhood memories parallel my own. Her wit and charm are displayed on every page. What a gift to be alive during her time. Thank you Laura Bush
After reading only about 1/3 of the book I wanted to post something about it because I wanted to encourage others to read it, regardless of their politics. The book is written with such honesty and openness that you feel almost as if Laura Bush is speaking directly to you. Her soft spoken demeanor is apparent from page one. You can feel the sincerity of the author as she opens herself to public scrutiny. There is nothing phony about her or the book. She is what you saw when she was First Lady and she continues to be, the genuine article. She has no guile. From the first page I was smitten with the story of her life. She grew up almost parallel to the time in which I did and her descriptions of those years are dead on. Tears often came to my eyes in just the first dozen and a half pages because I was so moved as she described the lives of her ancestors, her parents, her family. She was not born with a silver spoon in her mouth; she does not sound spoiled or uppity, she has no bitterness and she never complains. Her story feels heartfelt and real. She is grateful for everything she has been given in her life. The language of the book is easy to read and the emotions engendered in me, by the descriptions, were profound and deep. I believe these same feeling will be evoked for other readers, as well. After reading approximately 3/4's of the book I appreciated it even more and thought that it should be read by all young adults in high school so they can get an accurate and gentle portrayal of what goes on in the White House even under the most dire circumstances. The serenity Laura Bush exhibits, the calm confidence and good humor in the face of threats, insults and tragedies is an example for all to follow. Only those with the most extremely biased politics will find fault with this book because there is no finger pointing, no insults, no anger at anyone at all, for that matter. During her tenure as First Lady, the White House experienced so many tragedies for which there was no blueprint in advance to help deal with the situation. From 9/11, to Katrina, to the beltway sniper, to the shoe bomber, to the tsunami, the shuttle explosion, the wars, Abu Ghraib, the suspected weapons of mass destruction, the demonstrations, the anthrax scare, the demonization of the Bush family and more, this White House never faltered, never made personal attacks against anyone, although it was consistently criticized by a largely politicized media blitz of hate. When Laura Bush discusses the press coverage, her pain and anguish over the way they falsely portrayed her and her husband and family is quite evident. The only time there is any indication of displeasure is when she discusses some of the rudest members of the press corps. Upon finishing the book, I was left with one thought. Laura Bush is a real lady, not only the former First Lady. The President was a gentleman and he had class as well. They would serve as good examples for anyone wanting to choose a career in politics.
This was a great book. Not only does Mrs Bush reveal herself, she also gives much history and a personal touch of being in the white house. On almost every page I was very touched with her, her family and her experiance. I beleive this is the woman of the 21st century. A must read for historians as well as those who love their families. She made me home sick for Texas and I must return to my home state some day. The best book I have read in over 40 years.
I found this book to be hard to put down. The story that Laura Bush unfolded about growing up, the tragic accident in Midland, being part of one of the largest political dynasty families in America - were interesting parts of the book. I found the personal insight into the personal feelings of the Bush family after 9/11 and the war in Iraq to be inspiring. The media never delved into the personal feelings behind these events. I have loaned the book out and have several friends waiting to read it.
The beginning of the book, where Mrs. Bush describes her early life in Texas and the stories of her parents were very interesting to me. She has gone for an extraordinary ride from small town girl to international celebrity and has handled it well. Probably because I am not very political, I found the discussions of politics and foreign government officials less than absorbing. She is committed to education and the basic rights of women who are downtrodden. I also would have liked more written about her relationship with her husband, but then again, I respect her wish to keep some things private. All in all, a book worth reading.
In "Spoken the heart," Laura Bush details her personal life and recounts her experience as first lady of the U.S. during one of the darkest periods in modern history. The first half of the book focuses on Laura's life prior to meeting George Bush. She vividly describes growing up in the fifties, living in Texas, witnessing historical events, and dreaming of becoming a teacher. She also doesn't shy away from describing the accident she suffered when she was seventeen-accidentally killing one of her classmates. It is this incident which forever marks her young life and changes her as a person for years to come, by taking away her faith. We then time-travel with Laura, as she graduates from college and takes on jobs in schools and libraries. For me though, the most important interesting part of the book is her life in the White House. Up to the time when her husband becomes president, Mrs. Bush leads a pretty calm lifestyle-only occasionally having glimpsed her father-in-law's White House years during his presidential tenure, or helping her husband run for Governor of Texas and subsequently forming a state-wide annual book festival. Fast forward to Mr. Bush's presidency, and Laura Bush suddenly descends into a thriller-like setting. Among the moments described in this book, is Mrs. Bush being summoned to an underground bunker during the horrific events of 9/11, being forbidden by the Secret Services to drink juice offered by the Afghanistan president's staff, and the whole American delegation becoming mysteriously sick during its trip to the G8 summit. The memoir is fairly lengthy and takes a while to get through, but ultimately creates a memorable read. The years of her husband's presidency were fairly eventful (9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the financial collapse of 2008 among other events), which makes Mrs. Bush's account even more interesting. Another thing to note is that this book is not political in nature, and therefore is likely to appeal to any demographic, regardless of personal views. With that being said, I found this book a fairly detailed account of Laura Bush's life behind-the-scenes, one that has never been fully exposed by the media and has been equally unfamiliar to the general public. Overall, a satisfying read.
Laura Bush opened her private life to share, and it truly is spoken from the heart. I have a high regard for Laura Bush. She has remained true to herself and her family. Her two daughters are beautiful and bright, and helpful to the world. Kudos to Laura for a story well told!
I have only read about 1/3 of the book but I wanted to post something about it because I would like to encourage others to read it, regardless of their politics. It is truly worth the read.The book is written with such honesty and openness that you feel almost as if Laura Bush is speaking directly to you. Her soft spoken demeanor is apparent from page one. You can feel the sincerity of the author as she opens herself to public scrutiny. There is nothing phony about her or the book. She is what you saw when she was First Lady and she continues to be, the genuine article. She has no guile.From the first page I was smitten with the story of her life. She grew up almost parallel to the time in which I did and her descriptions of those years are dead on.Tears often came to my eyes in just the first dozen and a half pages because I was so moved as she described the lives of her ancestors, her parents, her family. She was not born with a silver spoon in her mouth; she does not sound spoiled or uppity, she has no bitterness and she never complains. Her story feels heartfelt and real. She is grateful for everything she has been given in her life. The language of the book is easy to read and the emotions engendered in me, by the descriptions, were profound and deep. I believe these same feeling will be evoked for other readers, as well. How different she sounds than many of our current politician's wives!At this point, I would like to update my comments. I am pretty much through 3/4's of the book now and I have to say I think it should be read by all young adults in high school so they can get an accurate and gentle portrayal of what goes on in the White House even under the most dire circumstances. The serenity Laura Bush exhibits, the calm confidence and good humor in the face of threats, insults and tragedies is an example for all to follow. Only those with the most extremely biased politics will find fault with this book because there is no finger pointing, no insults, no anger at anyone at all, for that matter.During her tenure as First Lady, the White House experienced so many tragedies for which there was no blueprint in advance to help deal with the situation. From 9/11, to Katrina, to the beltway sniper, to the shoe bomber, to the tsunami, the shuttle explosion, the wars, abu ghraib, the suspected weapons of mass destruction, the demonstrations, the anthrax scare, the demonization of the Bush family and more, this White House never faltered, never made personal attacks against anyone, although it was criticized by a largely politicized media blitz of hate and in my opinion, they would have been within their rights to do so. When she discusses the press coverage, her pain and anguish over the way they falsely portrayed her and her husband is quite evident. The only time there is any indication of displeasure is when she discusses some of the rudest members of the press corps. Now that I have finished the book I can only say that Laura Bush is a real lady, not only the former First Lady. The President was a gentleman and he had class as well. They would serve as good examples for anyone wanting to choose a career in politics.
I will begin by saying that I liked this book! Overall, I thought it seemed like sincere account of the life of the former first lady. The first part of the book about her life growing up in small Midland, Texas was my favorite. The way she describes the intricacies of her family life and her childhood captivated my attention. After her marriage and progression into the political world, I felt that the tone because a bit more detached; however, I realize including every detail would have been impossible. Another thing that annoyed me at first was the statements that were included seemingly for her to defend her husband¿s decisions, but I got over that. After all, they are married, and it is natural for her to want to stand by his side in difficult times. The point of the book is not what she would have done as President! I liked the flow of the book, and I liked her polite and genuine voice. She also included many facts about many international tragedies that occurred over the eight years in the White House, and I further realized just how draining the task as world leader was and continues to be. I also enjoyed hearing about her humanitarian contributions as well as the philanthropic contributions of so many others who strive to help their neighbors and truly improve the condition of this world. I think people who generally respect Laura Bush and the job she did accompanying her husband through a grueling eight years would enjoy this read. If you hate all things Republican and all things Bush, then let me remind you that this probably is not the memoir for you.
A remarkable book. Whatever one wishes to think about the 8 years they were in the White House, it is astonishing how much they did in so many fields that the press seems mostly to have ignored. This is a story that needs to be loudly told everywhere people read books. It is also a tribute to both Laura and George that their lives have meshed so closely all these years.
I enjoyed this book. I learned more about the first lady and her behind the scenes job at the White House and the world. It was interesting to see her husband's administration from her point of view. I also learned about protocol for state dinners and dinners. She has more depth than she was given credit for in the press. She has done hard work for the health and education for the women of the world.