Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Bushes: Portrait of a Dynasty by Peter Schweizer and Rochelle Schweizer

Author's Note:  A very close friend and I have talked politics with each other since we were freshmen in high school.  We're on opposite ends of the political spectrum, but we've always had lively debates and have never gone to the "Bush is evil"/"Obama is a socialist" level of discourse that stains our politics today.  Quite often, he and I exchange political books as birthday/Christmas gifts.  This is a book he gave me back in 2004 and I reviewed on the old blog.

The Bushes: Portrait of a Dynasty, written by Peter and Rochelle Schweizer, is not so much about the Bush presidents as it is about the remarkable family that spawned them.  Starting at the turn of the century with the stories of Samuel P. Bush and George Herbert Walker, the authors chronicle the rise of the Bush family that almost mirrors the American story of the 20th Century.  The patriarchs of the Bush and Walker families worked very hard to make their fortunes, but in very different ways. SP Bush was a cautious investor, rarely taking risks, and slowly built up his vast fortune.  Herb Walker was a gambler.  He would make and lose vast amounts of money over the course of the year, but would always wind up ahead.  Following the stories of the Bush and Walker clans, you can see how they have influenced both Bush presidents.  George H.W. Bush was a sober, responsible man: like the generations of Bushes before him.  George W. Bush is more like a Walker: brash, headstrong, and adventurous.

Apart from the fascinating story of the Bush/Walker rise, the book is sprinkled with a lot of interesting historical tidbits.  One of the amazing characteristics of the Bush family is the ability to make and keep close friends.  When George H.W. was running his oil company in Texas, he took W. on a couple business trips with him.  During one of these trips, George and W spent time at the home of Jimmy Gammell, a Scottish investor with a major stake in Bush’s Zapata oil company.  While his father spent time going over finances and discussing their contract with Kuwait Shell Petroleum Development Company, W became friends with Gammell’s son, Bill.  Several years later, Bill Gammell went off to boarding school and became good friends with future Prime Minister Tony Blair.  After the September 11th terrorist attacks, Gammell would solidify his relationship with W by convincing Blair that Bush was someone to take seriously.

The Bush family can count 17 Presidents among their members (3 in direct blood line, 14 through marriage).  They are George Washington, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, Rutherford B Hayes, James Garfield, Grover Cleveland, Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and both Bush presidents.

The Schweizers did a good job of balancing the book.  It is not dry and academic, but reads almost like a novel.  They don't take a pro- or anti-Bush stance, but let the narrative speak for itself.  There are some parts, to be sure, where they gloss over some of the negative details of the Bush family history. If you are a Bush basher, you will probably not enjoy this book. If you are a supporter or open-minded person, there is a lot to be gained from reading this account of one of America's most influential families.

Posted on the old blog 11/11/2004.

No comments: