George H. W. Bush The American Presidents Series: The 41st President, 1989-1993

The American Presidents

Timothy Naftali; Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., and Sean Wilentz, General Editors

Times Books




224 Pages



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George Bush was a man of a different era. A patrician figure not known for eloquence, Bush dismissed ideology as "the vision thing." Yet, as Timothy Naftali argues, no one of his generation was better prepared for the challenges facing the United States as the Cold War ended. Bush wisely encouraged the liberalization of the Soviet system and skillfully orchestrated the reunification of Germany. And following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, he united the global community to defeat Saddam Hussein. At home, Bush reasserted fiscal discipline after the excesses of the Reagan years.

It was ultimately his political awkwardness that cost Bush a second term. His toughest decisions widened fractures in the Republican Party, and with his party divided, Bush lost his bid for reelection in 1992. In a final irony, the conservatives who scorned him would return to power eight years later, under his son and namesake, with the result that the elder George Bush would see his reputation soar.

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Praise for George H. W. Bush

"This is a well-timed book . . . It's easy to forget how many truly history-making events occurred on the watch of Bush I. Naftali covers them all—the end of the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of Yugoslavia, the first Gulf War (with its uncertain conclusion seen through very different eyes given the current Iraq War)—in an informative, yet easily digestible style."—Robert A. George, The New York Post

"[A] well-paced glimpse at the career highlights of a man whose presidency still remains murky and out-of-focus."—Kirkus Reviews

"The 41st president's political persona was the stuff of greatness, argues this entry in the American Presidents series. Historian Naftali credits Bush less with principles than with ‘tendencies' toward flexibility, realism and a moderate Republican version of decency. In his foreign policy, these qualities helped him nudge communism toward a soft collapse and build an international alliance to eject Saddam Hussein from Kuwait; domestically they led him to a budget compromise with Democrats, in which he acquiesced to unpopular tax hikes for the good of the nation. Bush's flexibility had a dark side, the author notes, that came out in his repeated tactical embrace of racial politics, from his opposition to civil rights legislation during his 1964 Senate run to the 1988 Willie Horton ads, and in his public support for Reaganomics despite deep private misgivings. Naftali forthrightly dissects Bush's misdeeds—especially his role in the Iran-Contra scandal—but he's less skeptical about the substance of Bush's policies, which he pointedly contrasts with Bush Jr.'s failures; he credits Bush's wars in Panama and Kuwait with helping America ‘overcome the burden of Vietnam,' without wondering whether this paved the way for the son's misadventure in Iraq. Naftali's is a brisk, useful . . . overview of a pivotal presidency."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Timothy Naftali; Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., and Sean Wilentz, General Editors

  • Timothy Naftali is the director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, having previously served as director of the Presidential Recordings Program at the University of Virginia. He is the coauthor of Khrushchev's Cold War and One Hell of a Gamble: Khrushchev, Castro, and Kennedy, 1958–1964, and the author of Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism. He lives in Los Angeles.

  • Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. Dominique Nabokov