Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Barbara Bush: Presidential Matriarch

I finally got through this book last week and I have to say it took me quite awhile and I really think that’s because it is not, in my opinion, well executed. Barbara Bush: Presidential Matriarch by Myra Gutin is part of the Modern First Ladies Series. I’ve reviewed several others from this series already as I’m slowly reading my way through the entire series.

I was looking forward to this one as I find Barbara Bush to be very interesting. I think my biggest complaint is the lack of personal detail in the book. The author interviewed Mrs. Bush, but that isn’t what shows in this book. Instead, it seems like it is all based on her speeches. I definitely did not need to know how many speeches she gave each year and what they were on…I can look that up if I really wanted to know for some reason! While some of her speeches and how she gave and wrote speeches needed to be covered, it seemed that her tenure in DC was just speech after speech when you read this book. I get that Mrs. Bush was busy – I didn’t need a rehash of every speech she gave to tell me that. I do find it odd (and I’ve noticed this before this book) that Mrs. Bush always says “George Bush” rather than George or my husband….it just is strange to me.

I also came away with the opinion that the author doesn’t like George H.W. Bush and thinks he just used Barbara as a political tool. Let’s be honest – almost all politicians do that! And they are a couple from the 40s and 50s – they fit that mold. You could almost “hear” the author disapproving at times. The author herself brings this up in what I think is a great quote in the last chapter (Conclusions) of the book, “First ladies are rarely representative of the time they serve in the White House; most are typical of the era of their upbringing. This was the case with Barbara Bush, who seemed to have more in common with Bess Truman than with any other first lady of the twentieth century.” (pg. 164)

Something that did come through clearly – and I think validly – is Mrs. Bush’s dislike of the media. I very much enjoyed the quip as the Bushes were leaving Washington:
Mrs. Bush recalled that on Bill Clinton’s Inauguration Day, she and the former president were preparing to fly home to Houston when reporters complained to her that a press pool would not be permitted to accompany the Bushes. She writes, “That amused me, and I told them that any of them who voted for George should speak up…The silence was deafening.” (pg. 144)
Since much of this book seemed to be written based on journalistic sources (including most of the new interviews), this did come through well. I also think the best chapters were the early ones – on the Bushes’ early life and first beginnings in politics. This is also where I got the most “new” information.

Overall, I really didn’t learn that much new information from this book and felt that it was sadly lacking giving a new, personal, insight to Mrs. Bush. Now I completely understand the limitations of writing on someone who is still alive and therefore many of the sources you want to access are still closed (like Mrs. Bush’s personal diaries), but that also means that there are tons of people out there, who worked with the person in question, that you can talk to. I simply felt that this could have been much more in depth and personal than it was.

While there are some very useful tidbits in the book, I honestly can’t say that I would recommend for someone looking for a biography to read on Barbara Bush and wanted more than simply a reference book.

No comments: