Book Review: “Decision Points” by George W. Bush

After reading Ulysses Grant’s Memoirs, I’ve decided to read more of the books written by past US Presidents. I think it’s a fascinating way to get inside their heads, to see how they portray their lives, their upbringing, and their presidency.

The construction of Bush’s memoires was interesting. He laid out his life story from birth to the presidency in a linear manner, but then once he gets to his presidency, each chapter focuses on the major issues of his time and carries them through to the end of his administration in 2008. First, as you could probably guess, he spoke about the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and how he used the government intelligence agencies for the next 7 years. He then spoke about Afghanistan from 2001-2008, then Iraq from 2001-2008, then his education polices from start to end, and so on.

And that makes the book title make sense: Decision Points. Bush’s book is a book about major decisions he made and how he justifies them.

I always felt a little bad for Bush. By his own admission, he wanted to be a reform president who was known for his education and financial policies. Instead, 19 Saudi hijackers forced him to become a wartime president.

It was interesting to see how much the attacks on 9/11 tinted the lenses on his presidency for the remaining seven years in almost every arena. He approved broad, and what some might call unconstitutional powers to intelligence agencies and the military because he did not want a second 9/11. He invaded Iraq because he feared they would develop nukes, that these nukes would end up in the hands of terrorists, and then there would be a nuclear 9/11. Ditto for North Korea, he feared dissemination of rogue nuclear devices that would trigger a nuclear 9/11.

The parallels to Eisenhower’s administration are unmistakable. The Japanese surprise attack at Pearl Harbor deeply wounded the psyche of that generation of Americans, and with the advent of atomic weapons the fear of a surprise attack that annihilated an area the size of New York City created full-on hysteria. While Eisenhower made admirable steps to rid the world of nukes by offering the Soviets chances to work together to decommission their weapons, when these attempts failed he leaned hard into the production of more and bigger nuclear weapons for the US arsenal.

Why? Because he feared an atomic repeat of a surprise attack that had scarred a nation.

Obviously, what you make of Bush’s book will largely depend on whether you support him. I grew up a Bush-supporter because that’s how my parents voted. I may have voted for Bush in 2000 had I been old enough, but certainly not in 2004. I think now I have a better understanding of why he made the decisions he did, and I think I came away with my view of Bush slightly elevated, since the book reminded me of some of the good he did in areas that had nothing to do with war or terrorism.

I do think that, in decades to come, Bush will receive more favorable reviews than he’s had thus far, but I would still peg him pretty far down the list of my favorite presidents.

I also recommend this book to anyone interested in modern American history! George W. Bush was, for better or worse, an extremely consequential president, and it might provide you some valuable insight if you choose to read it. Right now I’m going through an audiobook version of Barack Obama’s Promised Land, so I’ll have a review of that ready when I’m done.

11 thoughts on “Book Review: “Decision Points” by George W. Bush

  1. I used to read autobiographies and biographies of politicians and others. I stopped, particuliarly with the politicians, because they are all written with a ulterior purpose, an agenda. As you write about Bush’s memoir — he tried to justify his acftions and decisions. I’m not interested in a justification. I want an honest presentation of the events and the person’s life. But most people who write these books do so with an agenda in mind — either to hold the person up, put them on a pedestal, or to attack them and tear them down.

    Liked by 2 people

    • True. That’s why it’s important to read such books with care, knowing that the politicians will be painting themselves in the best possible light.

      But of course everyone has an agenda, even the ones who claim to be completely objective! There’s always an agenda just under the surface (and that’s not necessarily a bad or nefarious thing, it just is a part of what makes us human).

      Liked by 2 people

      • The last one I read was Robert Gates’ autobiography. By the end of the book, I could only conclude that he was as near to perfect as is possible and that he never made a mistake or misjudgment. It was everybody else who did those things. But never him.

        You are right, of course, about people and agendas.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Nice review. I want to read more presidential memoirs. Right now, my top priorities are Coolidge and Buchanan. Coolidge because he rocks, 😀 and Buchanan because I’m curious to know his account of how he let the country descend into Civil War.

    As for GWB’s book, I’m sure it would be interesting to read about how he justifies many of his hugely-consequential decisions. I’ll be curious to hear what you think of Obama’s book as well.

    Liked by 2 people

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