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The Bush Tragedy [Paperback]

Jacob Weisberg
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

20 Oct 2008
"The Bush Tragedy" opens up the black box of the plane-crash presidency of George W. Bush to examine the political wreckage. How did a man of such evident flaws and limited abilities find himself in the position of the most powerful man in the world? How and why did half of America fall for Bush before falling out with him? Weisberg analyses Bush through familial, personal, political and historical relationships, and examines how his idolisation of Reagan and his devout Christianity led to widely condemned policy decisions that have fundamentally changed the role and position of the US. "The Bush Tragedy" is a razor-sharp character study of one of the most controversial presidents in American history.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (20 Oct 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747596379
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747596370
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 12.8 x 19.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,011,016 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'The Bush Tragedy is political drama, family history and psychological insight in dazzling combination. If you read one book about George W. Bush and his presidency, this should be it' Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point and Blink 'Precisely because he does not think George W. Bush is a joke, Jacob Weisberg has been able to write a very witty and deeply penetrating profile of him' Christopher Hitchens 'The epic failure of the Bush Administration is a story for the ages and Jacob Weisberg - with a clever assist from William Shakespeare - has written a scorching, powerful and entirely plausible account of this perverse family saga. Not only that - it's a beautifully written and erudite book, hilarious at times, a joy to read' Joe Klein, author of Primary Colors

About the Author

Jacob Weisberg is editor of, where he writes a weekly column about politics and currrent affairs, 'The Big Idea' . He was previously Slate's chief political correspondent. Before joining Slate in 1996, he wrote for magazines including the New Republic, Newsweek, and New York Magazine, and has also written for Vanity Fair and the New York Times Magazine. He is the co-author, with Robert E. Rubin, of In an Uncertain World. He is also the author of the 1996 book In Defense of Government and the Bushisms series, including the most recent Bushisms V: New Ways to Harm Our Country.

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
4.0 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A somewhat flawed review of a flawed man 17 Nov 2008
I have been intruiged about how George Bush was not only elected once, but re-elected as US president. So, in a bored moment, I bought this book. It promised much,and is worth a read, but cutting to the chase, it was fascinating but fairly distorted ... not by lack of trying, but by trying too hard. Everything was force fitted into a mould that had some truth in it, but was pushed too far. In a little more detail, the backstory was fascinating, the early years likewise, and you can certainly see how his thesis of a man who wants to emulate his father's course, but also draw sharp contrast and be thought of as his own man. Having done this groundwork, it felt like the period of the presidency was skated over, and through the lens of folks like Karl Rove and Dick Cheney. Even here it paints only a sketch of Condi Rice who feels an intruiging figure who, from the little I know, I thought should have been smart enough to provide a more guiding hand. The books written fairly well, but nothing like as well as one might interpret from the reviews.

So, one of the things I was left wondering was how it got the rave reviews it did on the cover - e.g the front cover has a quote from Malcolm Gladwell (he of 'The tipping point') - "Political drama, family history and psychological insight in dazzling combination. If you read one book about George W. Bush and his presidency, this should be it". That would be the same Malcolm Gladwell thanked in the Acknowledgements for his 'keen insights and editorial suggestions' would it? And, the one who dwelt on Jacob's mother Lois extensively within 'The Tipping Point'. So, hardly the disinterested observer that you might imagine.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars IGNORANCE IS BLISS 29 Mar 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
'He doesn't know anything. He doesn't want to know anything. But he's not dumb.' That was Bill Clinton on his successor, quoted here. No author assessing the 43rd presidency of the USA at this late stage could be starting without a definite opinion of it. Weisberg has form, of course, as an anthologist of Bushisms, and the book's very title is a dead giveaway. For all that, this is a serious piece of research and analysis. Bush's multifarious shortcomings are never alleged to include low IQ. If he has a 'tragic flaw' it is depicted as self-deception and distorting the processes of reason to shore up preconceived views, and I give Weisberg credit for not falling into the same trap.

'Tragedy' in the title is used in two senses, one the diminished modern sense of 'disaster' the other the traditional use to denote a type of drama. At the head of each chapter and periodically in between Weisberg quotes from Shakespeare's Henry IV and V. His citations are neat and apposite, but I'm not inclined to labour them or treat them as more than a literary device. The real burden of Weisberg's argument starts with his delving into Bush's family history and tracing character traits that he thinks reappear in the person of his tragic hero. This is a very tricky area, and once again I'm not disposed to tread too hard on it but rather see how I react to the personality as depicted (from what I can make out of it from this distance), whatever its alleged genetic origins.

Broadly, the narrative here makes sense to me. To understand Bush, we have to have some picture of the other actors. Some are fairly two-dimensional. Rumsfeld comes across as a bullying know-all, Rice as a toadying hero-worshipper. Much more interesting are the depictions of Rove and, particularly, Cheney.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Family Madness ** 16 Jun 2008
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME
Drawing on some distorted form of Freudian analysis and dabbling in Shakespeare, Weisberg is at some pains to show how George W. Bush's family heritage formed the President's personality. The son is continually referencing his father in comments and actions, while at the same time trying to distance himself from the 41st President . This isn't the first effort along these lines, nor will it surely be the last. In this well-written, but terribly narrow assessment, the author carefully traces how W.'s actions are a reflection of his reactions to his President father.

The account opens with a summary history of the Bush and Walker families. Their rise, successes and especially their personalities lay the groundwork for what follows. Weisberg carefully follows W.'s life in Texas and his attempts at an education in the East. Yale was not a happy time for the young man, and his reaction to the alien world of "The Eastern Establishment" set patterns he would follow throughout his career. As he haltingly moves toward becoming the Republican nominee [although little is given of that process], Bush begins collecting the men - and a woman - who will become his "inner circle". Karl Rove is a sycophant with a dream, manipulating Bush while being subjected to W's banter. Rove is later joined by Dick Cheney, two men with a dream of remaking the Presidency and US society. It's a compelling, if highly disturbing picture.

The Iraq invasion is, of course, the pivot point for Weisberg's analysis, calling the crusade against Saddam Hussein a total blunder. Yet Weisberg, in his depiction, makes a major gaffe of his own.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.9 out of 5 stars  77 reviews
254 of 281 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most penetrating, and persuasive, explanation for Bush's failures 25 Jan 2008
By David Plotz - Published on
In The Bush Tragedy, Jacob Weisberg does what most of President Bush's critics have never tried to do: Take him seriously. In doing so, Jacob paints a devastating portrait of a man haunted by his father, crippled by a fatal lack of curiosity, and driven by ego to pursue aggressive and ill-considered policies. His Bush is not the cartoon of ignorant evil imagined by many of the president's critics, but a deeply complex man whose intellectual and emotional shortcomings have made him a disastrous president. Jacob, who (full disclosure) is a colleague and friend, has unearthed extraordinary new details about Bush's religious conversion, ancestral history, and family dynamics. My favorite bit--check it out on page 90--is an anecdote about how the president, always willing to make his own reality, decided that a painting of a horse thief was actually a portrait of a brave evangelist minister.
69 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars America's tragedy 14 Feb 2008
By Jon Hunt - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
It's hard to know how many books have been written about George W. Bush during the course of his presidency that skewer him on just about everything, but Jacob Weisberg's "The Bush Tragedy" is a welcome addition to that increasing number as the author looks at his subject from a standpoint different from many of the others....his family. Weisberg is dead-on on his assessments of our nation's forty-third president and from that vantage point, we get to know much more about this latest tragedy in a series of family members that were as dysfunctional as they come. And the current president is the worst of them all.

Growing up in Greenwich, Connecticut, I've always been well aware of the Bush family from the days when "W"'s grandfather, Prescott, served in the U.S. Senate. The Bushes, then, were known as the "respectable" Republicans...the kind that used to be identified with the east coast, and a point well reviewed in this book. Few in town these days want to be associated with the name "Bush" least the Texas kind. As the Bushes moved south and west they developed into another kind of family with George W. Bush taking the family name off the deep end, with the help of religious conservatives. If Bush #41 began a trend of the northeast toward the Democratic party, Bush #43 sealed the deal. Yet as Weisberg points out, "W", who had been a cajoler in his days as Texas governor and did his best to keep the name "Bush" as a uniter, turned out to be a divider as president. This is one of many aspects of "The Bush Tragedy" that Weisberg covers well.

Much of "The Bush Tragedy" features the ginning up of the war in Iraq...Bush's most notable and long-lasting failure. The author's accounts of the president's change of rationale for being in Iraq every eighteen months or so is terrific. Here, the Bush rhetoric comes under some intense scrutiny, all the better to remember those presidential miscues from a few years ago that now seem almost like scenes from another time.

George Bush has claimed to read a good deal of history and counts Teddy Roosevelt and Winston Churchill among his heroes. Weisberg brilliantly deconstructs this and the middle paragraph of a page not far from the end of the book sums up Bush to a tee. "The Bush Tragedy" is the most apt name for a book I've seen in a while. I highly recommend it and credit goes to Jacob Weisberg who reminds us that once in a while a really bad apple inhabits the White House.
42 of 47 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Seeking to understand the reasons behind the failed Bush Presidency. 5 Feb 2008
By Paul Tognetti - Published on
Trying to understand just what has gone wrong over the past 7 years was my motivation for picking up "The Bush Tragedy". To say that I have been disappointed in his presidency would be a gross understatement. In "The Bush Tragedy" author Jacob Weisberg offers up an intimate look at George W. Bush, his family and his inner circle of trusted advisors in an attempt to explain many of this President's ill-advised actions and policy initiatives since 2001. It is fascinating reading.

Throughout "The Bush Tragedy", Weisberg compares George W. to Prince Hal in the Shakespearian play "Henry V". The similarities between the two men are remarkable. It turns out that George W. Bush is a very complex individual whose personality was shaped and formed by a complicated relationship with his father, the former President and his brother Jeb with whom he has been in competition with all of his life. His father's failure to defeat and remove Saddam Hussein in the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and his subsequent defeat at the hands of the despised Bill Clinton in 1992 would leave an indelible mark on Bush 43. He was bound and determined to do things differently if he was elected President. After the disputed election of 2000, George W. would surround himself with a cadre of advisors who were idealogically driven and would ultimately contribute to the undoing of this presidency. This circle would include his political advisor Karl Rove, Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to name but a few. Weisberg points to numerous situations after 9/11 where these individuals and others would mislead the President and encourage him to pursue flawed policies including the war in Iraq. These decisions would prove to be the President's undoing. Of course George W. Bush's own lack of intellectual curiosity would contribute mightily to his downfall as well.

I would have to agree with Time political columnist Joe Klein who opined that Jacob Weisberg has written " a scorching, powerful and entirely plausible account of this perverse family saga." After reading "The Bush Tragedy", I feel that I have a much better handle on just what has happened in this country during the Bush 43 years. It really is quite tragic. This is a well-written and highly informative book that is well worth your time. Recommended.
53 of 61 people found the following review helpful
By Sanford - Published on
This is one of the best books about a Presidency in a long time. It is not so much about how Bush JR is obsessed with Bush SR, as some reviews have suggested, but an explanation of how and why Bush JR is like the Walker branch of his family, and his dad is like the Bush branch. It has a lot of new stuff including stunning detail about family politics. It tells us that Bush SR's dad Prescott Bush lived in a house bought by his father-in-law and worked at an investment bank owned by his father-in-law who was a Walker. Bush SR himself got his house in Kennebunkport ME by convincing the Walker widow who owned it to sell it to him. It also appears to show the George H. Walker branch of the family to be deceitful and dishonest (the current one worked at Goldman Sachs).

In other words, although the Bush family seems to sell hardwork and Yankee values, it has really lived on the hog of the Walker side. Bush JR was so obsessed with his richer cousins that he likes their brash style and adopted it for himself.

Of course all the psychoanalysis takes away from the book which reads as well and as seriously as any Presidential biography, even as good as David Mcculloch's John Adams. Few books this year have been so good
135 of 162 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sympathetic Psychoanalysis of Bush 43 22 Jan 2008
By Loyd E. Eskildson - Published on
Weisberg provides a psychological background for Bush '43 and his actions and decisions. The biggest focus is on George W.'s competition with, and efforts to be like his father - Yale graduate, war hero, successful oilman, political leader, and President. We also read (again) about his early drunken years, conflicts with his father, and religious conversion.

Weisberg goes on to provide explanations for why George W. was attracted to Karl Rove and Dick Cheney, as well as some of their backgrounds guiding them. Ultimately, Bush '43 sees how Rove's extremism and "take no prisoners" style has burdened his presidency.

Weisberg's book is sympathetic towards Bush '43, and does not pursue some of the more damning actions of his presidency. Nonetheless, he sees the Bush '43 years as a tragedy that will only become darker over the years.
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