Suppose, gentle reader, that you are not a professional writer, and
your father suddenly asks you to write a book about his life.
Hmmm, how do you go about it? Where do you start?
Then add one small complication: Your father has been President of
the United States.
Doro Bush Koch took on this unprecedented task, surely an offer she
could not refuse. Her solution is to write a daughter's-eye
portrait of the man and to leave the pontificating about events and
policies largely to those actually involved in such things. Her
book gives as much space to doormen, cooks and butlers as it does
to the likes of Bill Clinton and Mikhail Gorbachev.
No one will be surprised that the former President emerges as a
devoted family man, upright, honest and fun-loving. Even his
political opponents join in the chorus. George H. W. Bush, now 82
years old and rather lightly regarded by political historians, has
inspired an affectionate brief in his own defense.
Doro (her actual name is Dorothy, but the family adopted the
shorter form early on) went about her job with zest and efficiency.
Her list of interviewees runs to 133 names, and another 167 people
sent comments by letter. Half or more of her text consists of
verbatim excerpts from their responses.
One could hardly expect a balanced appraisal, given the
circumstances of the book's creation. Once you concede that point,
the book earns a place on your bookshelf by its folksy personal
tone. Doro shows genuine affection for her father, excusing his
personality quirks and giving him the benefit of every doubt.
The policy wonks she contacted, friends and enemies alike, praise
his good qualities and tend to applaud his performance as
President. He is given credit several times, for example, for
starting the process of dismantling the Soviet Union and opening up
eastern Europe in the late 1980s, surely a debatable point. His
opponents are --- again understandably --- depicted as
mean-spirited and mendacious. The nasty media take their lumps
All this halo-polishing can become a bit tiresome. Perhaps the
severest critic involved is Bush himself ("...I think I was maybe a
couple of quarts low on charisma"). One admirer put it concisely:
"he was a master of the small gesture." He himself admitted that he
was not comfortable with "soaring rhetoric."
The most interesting and revealing pages of this book are the
excerpts from Bush's private diaries and informal notes to friends.
These show us a very human and attractive side of the man's
He was considerate and often witty, even when delivering bad news.
Two days before Richard Nixon resigned in 1974, Bush sent him a
formal letter suggesting in statesmanlike phrases that he must take
that fateful step ("....this letter is made much more difficult
because of the gratitude I will always have for you..."). It was a
hard thing for Bush to do, but he did it with some style.
Doro has ably presented one side of the "Bush-41" story for the
record. Historians and others will surely continue to debate the
pros and cons of his Presidency. What she has done that they cannot
is to make her father live as a human being. Her emphasis on family
doings, horseshoe tournaments, golf and fishing gives her book both
color and personality.
Reviewed by Robert Finn on January 12, 2011