Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bush, Decision Points, and more in the book pages

"The first great American autobiographies both appeared in the 19th century, were born of conflict and written by public men — "The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass" and "The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant," writes Tim Rutten in the Los Angeles Times.  "Since then, what we might call the publishing-industrial complex has turned the reminiscences of our public men and women into a never-ending stream."  Decision Points by George W. Bush is the latest addition to this genre.  "Where does Bush's account of his astonishingly eventful eight years rank in such company? Probably far higher than many of his detractors expected," Rutten writes.

Writing in the Washington Post, Jonathan Yardley finds the book "competent, readable and flat. The voice in which it is written is occasionally recognizable as that of George W. Bush -- informal, homespun, jokey -- but more often it's the voice of a state paper, impersonal and dutiful."

Not so fast, writes Anis Shivani in Huffington Post
Reviews in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and New York Times treat Bush respectfully -- much as a Machiavellian prince would desire to be treated after going into retirement; too often reviewers play Bush's game by humanizing him, or treating him with humor, or safely relegating him to history. But Bush truly was a transformative president, among the rare few, and we deceive ourselves -- as many in the commentariat continue to do, as with Maureen Dowd's light-hearted mockery of him -- if we consider him an anomaly, a rare eruption of a virus that won't repeat itself. This book's ideas will have resonance with a large segment of the population, and a notable number among the elites; we need to study Decision Points (Crown, Nov. 9) seriously, as onerous a task as it may be, if we are to make sense of the perpetual aura of crisis that has enveloped America, and why we seem to be stuck on a self-destructive path.
Continue reading here.

DRIVEN WEST:  Andrew Jackson and the Trail of Tears to the Civil War by A. J. Langguth is reviewed by Jon Meacham for the New York Times.  According to Meacham, the author argues that
the passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, Jackson’s breaking of Indian treaties and his support of the Southern states, especially Georgia, in resisting a Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of the Cherokees were “salvos . . . fired in the nation’s first civil war” — a war that gave us the next, more cataclysmic one three decades later. But the horrors of the Trail of Tears did not take America from the 1830s to the horrors of the Civil War.
The author "rightly identifies the struggle between central and state power as the defining American drama, and the battle over Indian removal is a much neglected story that he brings to interesting life." However "the narrative itself does little to advance or even articulate in any sustained way the argument implied in the subtitle: that Jackson’s removal policy led to the Civil War."  Continue reading here.

Also reviewed in the New York Times is THE KILLING OF CRAZY HORSE by Thomas Powers.  Other books reviewed this week: Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff in the Los Angeles Times; FACTS ARE SUBVERSIVE: Political Writing From a Decade Without a Name by Timothy Garton Ash in the New York Times; THE CIVIL WAR OF 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies by Alan Taylor is in the Boston Globe.