...a comprehensive and compelling narrative punctuated by searing verdicts of all the places where the author thinks the 43rd president went off track ... While not a fresh portrait, it is one worth debating at a time when the political class is struggling to understand the meaning of Mr. Trump’s rise ... The value of Mr. Smith’s account is not original reporting but a thorough assimilation of the existing record.
Written in sober, smooth, snark-free prose, with an air of thoughtful, detached authority, the book is nonetheless exceedingly damning in its judgments about George W. Bush’s years in office ... Smith’s deft synthesis mainly rests on information gleaned from the library of first-wave accounts ... In a few places, Smith draws uncritically from questionable sources but overall Bush reads as authoritative and trustworthy ... Smith ably crystallizes and confirms the prevailing understandings of the Bush presidency rather than forcing a reappraisal.
Smith offers an exhaustive, excruciating autopsy of the American invasion [of Iraq] and its bloody aftermath ... Smith’s theory about Bush’s 'personalization of presidential power' sometimes leads him to let other administration officials off the historical hook ... Smith’s biography of Bush unearths little new information on its subject. Most of Bush relies on previous books by journalists like Peter Baker, Robert Draper and Bob Woodward or the memoirs of key figures including Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and Bush himself. Nonetheless, Smith is an able synthesizer who weaves together a readable if often workmanlike narrative out of these sources. More important, despite his unremittingly negative assessment, Smith is neither a partisan nor a polemicist.
Bush doesn’t feel like a hatchet job. Like Bush himself, it is susceptible to sudden changes of heart and tone, and it never quite gets over a sense of loss for aspects of the pre-9/11 figure that Smith seems to enjoy imagining, however sketchily, in the book’s early stages ... As persuasively as anyone before him, Smith presents a strong story of how a successful military mission quickly unaccomplished itself; turned into quite something else ... Smith may have the Carlylean sense that history is shaped more by the decisions of individuals than by the large movements of social forces, but he is fundamentally more a historian than he is a biographer, and much more comfortable when his current subject is holding a meeting in the Roosevelt Room than when he is riding his off-road Trek bicycle.
[Contains] some of the harshest language of any biography prepared by a respected scholar ... the preponderance is negative, and the pace of that negativity is relentless. Much is on the mark; Smith is particularly good on the nuances of Bush’s character. But the overall tone is so critical that it clouds an otherwise carefully researched portrait.
One of the most memorable jokes of the 2015 White House Correspondents Dinner was President Obama's crack that 'I think Dick Cheney was the worst president of all time.' It might have brought down the house, but Jean Edward Smith thinks Obama had it wrong ...the author says, George W. Bush was very much his own man, on a mission from God to bring democracy to the Mideast at almost any cost ...says some of Bush's failures as president were, ironically, rooted in his success as a two-term governor of Texas ... Smith sees Bush as an essentially decent man ... But the dominant theme of his presidency, in Smith's view, was a toxic blend of arrogance and incuriosity.
Smith’s book isn’t filled with shocking revelations or gossipy details. Instead, the author makes ample use of memoirs and accounts by friend and foe alike, including Bob Woodward’s books on the Bush era, Peter Baker’s Days of Fire, Kevin Phillips’ American Dynasty and Bush’s own Decision Points, among many others. He has also effectively mined numerous periodicals, government records, and speeches, and synthesized them into a well-rounded portrait of Bush as president ... It’s not an inspiring story, but it is well told and devoid of intellectual laziness. Bush’s missed opportunities and failures are sad and frustrating, but Smith’s account is necessary and valuable in this election year.
Smith takes the president's own words and subsequent writing to show how others may have enabled the decision to invade, but Bush pushed the agenda, as he did from the moment he took office ... While Smith writes with a deft sweep and sense of history, Bush will not stand as the definitive treatment of this president. It relies too much on contemporary journalism, memoirs and subjective reports, and drips with condescension toward its subject. Only after the relevant documents are declassified, along with a cooling passions, will a more complete portrait be ready to be written.
The first sentence of Bush, Jean Edward Smith’s biography of George W. Bush, obliterates any pretense of objectivity... Let’s be clear: Bush is not a smear campaign. Nor is it a work of partisan hackery. Rather than wasting our time with a politically charged blooper reel of the worst presidency of our lifetime, Smith instead has created a dense and fastidiously researched biography that litigates Smith’s point ... It’s like a documentary that clings too close to its subject, forcing everyone else out to the edges of the screen and dissolving context into nothingness ...despite all its detail and research, still feels like a tiny-but-important piece of a larger story. Maybe this isn’t Smith’s fault. The vacuum that is George Bush’s presidency is so huge, and so intense, that it demands dozens of these sorts of investigations.
Smith argues persuasively that Bush created many of his difficulties with his style of governing by delegation and his penchant for making unilateral decisions, often without discussing alternatives and consequences with top advisers ... The result is an excellent initial assessment of a presidency that began in controversy, when the Supreme Court halted a recount in the electorally decisive state of Florida, and ended with the international and domestic failures that saddled Bush with the most sustained negative ratings of any modern president. Though Bush partisans may disagree, the intervening facts fully justify the author’s negative assessment.
[Smith] makes a voluminously detailed — and compelling — case that vindication is unlikely to come for the Bush administration anytime soon ... Surprisingly, perhaps, Smith may well give Bush too much credit for his domestic policies. He does not mention the serious and substantive criticisms of the president’s No Child Left Behind 'teach to the test' educational initiative. Or his failure to support a provision authorizing the government to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies in his prescription drug plan for seniors. Or the deficits generated by his tax cuts ... Bush, we now know, is an avid reader. One wonders whether he will peruse Jean Edward Smith’s well-documented, unflattering indictment, and what this remarkably unreflective man will make of it.
[Bush is] overly harsh in many respects. Yet Mr. Smith presents a strong case that, though it may be debatable whether Mr. Bush was America’s worst president, his 'decision to invade Iraq is easily the worst foreign policy decision ever made by an American president' ... Harsh though the book is, overall it is well-researched, well-written and convincing.
Smith did not have access to his subject, nor to internal documents from the Bush White House, and he appears to have conducted relatively little primary research. A practiced reader of contemporary political nonfiction will find few new facts or anecdotes in these pages, which rely heavily on the works of topnotch journalists ... What Smith is selling here are perspective and his powers of analysis — in short, credentialed wisdom ... Bush is not a true biography; it’s a book about the Bush presidency. Smith does not profess to know what makes his subject tick...The readers of Bush will find few answers about George W. Bush’s motives and motivations. In its pages, he is very much a caricature.