...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.