I have to admit by being completely surprised by this book. From the title and from reading the dust jacket, it sounded a tad conspiratorial to me, as if it were trying to force a template on history that wasn't there. But Phillips's case about the worldview that the Bush and Walker families generated that determined the policies and points of view and values of both George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush is close to overwhelming. I expected going into the book that it would be mildly informative; coming out, I have to say that no book that I have read on either of the Bushes (and I have at this point read pretty all of them) has been as informative and as full of insight as this one.
It is essential to stress two things. First, unlike some of the one star reviewers who obviously haven't cracked the book, Phillips means this as a warning against all political dynasties, which was, in fact, a major concern of the Founding Fathers. They were terrified of political families whose influence would extend from one generation to another. And this fear persisted well into the 19th century. Anyone doubting this should read a good biography of John Quincy Adams. Phillips points out early in the book that the Kennedy family was a bit of a dynasty (and would have been one for certain had Robert F. Kennedy not been assassinated in 1968), and he acknowledges that if Hillary Clinton were to run and win in 2008 that would also constitute a dynasty. His decision to focus on the Bush/Walker family derives from the fact that they in fact have had two presidencies in less than a decade, as well as other members of the family holding other political positions (Preston Bush was a U.S. Senator and Jeb Bush a governor). Second, this book is an exploration of many of the ills of the political system. The faults and flaws are not tied merely to the personalities of Bush 41 and Bush 43, but are systemic and run across the political spectrum, and across the political spectrum. Put simply, the problem is the dominance of the industrial-military complex that Eisenhower tried to warn us against (though Phillips would characterize it as the industrial-military-investment-energy-secret service complex). In "Who is an Author?" Michel Foucault argued that the author was a nexus through which all of society produced a book. In a sense, Bush 41 and Bush 43 are merely conduits through which the great conglomerate that Phillips describes with such clarity makes concrete its goals. Even if Bush 43 is defeated in 2004, this complex is not going to go away. Bush is part of the problem, but merely a part.
The power of the book derives from the deep background he provides of the founders of the Bush/Walker dynasty. Ironically, although two Bushes have become president, the real founding of the family came on the Walker side. George Herbert Walker, Bush 41's maternal grandfather, is the Joseph Kennedy of the Walker/Bush clan. Every indication is that Preston Bush, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush are marginally gifted individuals, with no real abilities of their own, who have managed to be successful because of the mass of extraordinarily high-level connections established by George Herbert Walker. It was through Walker that the two families became allied with many of the most powerful individuals in 20th century American life, connections that Bush 41 and Bush 43 have exploited over and over and over again. I had read before about key individuals who had assisted, say, Bush 43 in ventures like Arbusto or Bush 41 in the Zapata oil operations, but reading of the individuals who would step is with enormous investments meant little to me. But those investors were without exception individuals who had become aligned with the family through George Herbert Walker. These are classic instances of what is known as crony capitalism, which has been key to the ascent of both Bushes to the White House.
Phillips does a magnificent job at detailing the family connections to the investment world, the world of oil and energy, to the Middle East (extending back not merely to the first president, but to George Herbert Walker and his massive business ties to the region in the 1920s and thereafter), and (largely through their Yale connections and through Walker's business ties) to the intelligence community, and especially the CIA. Most disturbing is the way he describes the family's enormously circumscribed view of economics. Essentially, the family knows nothing of business or economics outside the narrow purview of investment (even their connections with oil and energy has been on the investment side). They have little knowledge or contact with industry or small business or, really, any aspect of the economy outside of investing. Therefore, the family assumption is that if you take care of investors, you have taken care of the only thing in an economy that matters. If investors are doing well, you needn't pay direct attention to any other facet of the economy, like jobs or manufacturing capacity. Although many economists are deeply concerned about the current state of the U.S. economy (with gigantic deficits, enormous debt to nations like China, and continued employment difficulties), from the narrow view of the Bushes, things are good because they have taken care of the investment class.
I heartily recommend this book to anyone concerned with the current state of politics in America. It is not, as I said, merely a book on the Bushes, but on many of the things truly wrong today in America. Essential reading.