18 August 2011

George Packer - Dead Certain: The Presidential Memoirs of George W. Bush

This article is from The New Yorker.

This article is a few months old (it came out in November of last year), but is still worth a read if you haven't seen it (or Bush's book) before now. I hadn't, and, thus, found Packer's review interesting.

The key question this article raises for me: how does one review a memoir? Packer has chosen to mix a few different approaches together into a unified picture of, perhaps the book, but more generally the person (GWB) who (we think) wrote it.

On the book's style:

Its prose aims for tough-minded simplicity but keeps landing on simpleminded sententiousness.

On the insights offered by the memoir:

The rare moments of candor come at other people’s expense.

On the book's subject, that is, Bush himself:

There are hardly any decision points at all. The path to each decision is so short and irresistible, more like an electric pulse than like a weighing of options, that the reader is hard-pressed to explain what happened. Suddenly, it’s over, and there’s no looking back. The decision to go to war “was an accretion,” Richard Haass, the director of policy-planning at the State Department until the invasion of Iraq, told me. “A decision was not made—a decision happened, and you can’t say when or how.”
What the review portrays, and brilliantly, is an author who is not simple-minded, not dumb, but, rather, so invested in the rightness of his own perspective on the world that he can't understand why that perspective is not universal:

One of the voices in the President’s ear was Elie Wiesel’s, speaking of “a moral obligation to act against evil.” The words were bound to move a man like Bush. “Many of those who demonstrated against military action in Iraq were devoted advocates of human rights,” he says. “I understood why people might disagree on the threat Saddam Hussein posed to the United States. But I didn’t see how anyone could deny that liberating Iraq advanced the cause of human rights.” Some of Bush’s critics found this argument specious and hypocritical; they failed to grasp the President’s profound need to be on the side of the redeeming angels. (The chapter on AIDS in Africa shows Bush at his best. His desire to display American caring led directly to a generous policy.)

Definitely worth a read. I'm probably not going to pick up Decision Points, at least for a while - I'm currently buried under a stack of other books that I need to work my way through first (hurrah for exam reading... and, yes, I'll eventually start posting some of my notes on here for y'all to peruse), but Packer's review is, as (to my mind) a good review should be, worth looking at as a document in its own right.

No comments: