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The Book Wrangler


By Bob Patterson


The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty by Kitty Kelley ($29.95 Double Day)


There’s a joke that might be old enough to join AARP that asks do you want to know how to make a million dollars.  The next line is: “First you borrow a million dollars from a friend ….”  Most Democrats who don’t know someone who will lend them a million dollars don’t laugh at this point, because they assume that the punch line will come later.  Folks who laugh at this point know that in some circles, where life is like a game of Monopoly in real time, a million bucks is considered “chump change.” 


Democrats would assume that if you did know someone who would lend you a million dollars, it would have to be a risk-free endeavor because that’s a lot of money.  In some leagues, if you borrowed that much money and lost it, it’s time to shrug your shoulders and say: “My bad.”  The folks who would laugh at this point will read the new Kitty Kelley book and get annoyed with the tone of the writer.  She indicates that such a cavalier attitude about borrowed money is crass and insensitive. 


There’s an old joke about buying a yacht.  If you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it.  The Bush family doesn’t like it when they tell a story about what it’s like when the chauffeur is driving you to school and he goes into a snow bank during a blizzard.  Do you have to immediately jump to the conclusion they were rich?  Can’t you give them some sympathy for at least trying to get to school under those adverse circumstances?  That’s the response they want from that particular anecdote and not some judgmental evaluation of their financial condition. 


The Bush family is renowned for keeping their family matters private.  Reading the list of transgressions catalogued in this book, one gets the feeling of what it must be like to be a parish priest hearing confessions on a Saturday afternoon.  It must feel like listening to someone read a grocery shopping list style recitation of transgressions.  The same thing over and over and over.  Yeah, yeah get to the end so the priest can grant absolution and get on to the next parishioner.  With some very rare exceptions, absolution is going to be granted and there are no questions about remorse or possible future repeats of the offenses. 


One of the first reviews of this book appeared in the New York Times and the reviewer (who’s work was alluded to in many other subsequent reviews) was of the opinion that Ms. Kelley didn’t give the readers any sense of revealing their subject’s psychology and motivation.  That’s not the response this reviewer got.  Maybe there wasn’t a psychologist’s evaluation of the motivation, but it does seem like this book is comparable to a bird spotter’s guide to a certain genus.  Just like someone who reads about owls in Fielding’s Guide and then sees a bird who hunts and night and asks the void the question: “Who?” the reader of Ms. Kelley’s book will know what modus operandi to expect.  It seems fairly obvious to this reviewer, what Prince Jeb’s 2008 campaign for President will most likely be like.  (Presuming, of course, that a constitutional amendment hasn’t been passed to permit George W. to run for a third term in that contest.)


How thorough and well done is the book?   As an example, consider the topic of Prescott Bush’s dealings with Union Banking Corporation.  That aspect of his life is covered by reading pages 58 to 63.  Ms. Kelley goes over the highlights and concludes:  “No intelligence documents available from that era suggest that Prescott endorsed Nazi ideals or supported Germany’s rearmament.”


She could have skipped that particular topic or she could have gone into it much more deeply and risked boring the readers with excessive attention to something that happened more than sixty years ago. 


Partisan Bush supporters might accuse Ms. Kelley of flimsy or slipshod research.  Readers who are using the book to bolster their negative opinion of the current president, might wish she was more caustic.  People very familiar with the ramifications of that association might read those pages and wonder why she didn’t make reference to Vesting Order 248.  In the Notes section at the back of the book, the listings of material consulted while writing Chapter Four indicate that the author was aware of the document’s existence and content and chose to omit any reference to it in the text of The Family.  It’s the biographical writer’s equivalent of the “fielder’s choice” in baseball.  Cover the subject quickly or go slowly and methodically and risk loosing the reader’s interest.  Future historians will get what they want in the Notes section.  The folks already familiar with the family Bush, who buy the book to be outraged and/or entertained, will get hints about the meaning of that business association in the main body of the text.  If you don’t know what to expect, the subtleties of this particular business associate might slide past virtually unnoticed.


Oscar Wilde said that a one-time excursion into certain behavior could be considered an experiment, a second occurrence made it a habit.  By that standard, the Bush family has some habits that explain why they prefer that the press not report the details of their conduct in private.


Ms Kelley repeatedly recounts examples of conduct that indicate that what members of the Bush family say during a political campaign often have no basis in reality nor in the speaker’s personal philosophy.  Isn’t that just an exercise in pure logic?  Why say something that’s going to cost you the election?  If you are going to do something that self-defeating, then why even bother running?


The final chapter of the book outlines the presidency of George W. Bush in a style that resembles an opinionated column by a writer who doesn’t hold the same political philosophy that the subject under consideration does. 


Throughout the book her style is a bit plodding and pedantic.  Excerpts from this book will be used by the president’s political opponents.  Examples of crisp and vibrant prose, which will be cherished by connoisseurs of elegant quotes, completely eluded this reviewer, who made it a point to read every word in the text.


You want criticism of the book?  The binding felt flimsy, fragile, and brittle.  People who bought this hoping to purchase a collectors item that will be valuable in the future would be well advised to put it in an airtight time capsule container.  Sensation seeking readers, from both parties, who want to be outraged and incensed, would be better off to buy the latest copies of the tabloid newspapers.  Undecided voters who wanted to read this book as a way of making their final decision would be better served by consulting campaigndesk.org and factcheck.org (not .com).


This reviewer will probably lend his copy to an acquaintance or two who will enjoy reading the book for free.  Now that this review has been written, getting that copy of this particular book back from the aforementioned friends will be of less concern than their enjoyment potential gained by the loan.


On a scale of 1 - 10 (10 = best) it did hold my attention and I was able to do this review.  I’d give it a tepid 5.  Maybe I’d be more enthusiastic if I had waited a few months and got it on a remainder table, but by then it wouldn’t be a current event topic. 




Copyright 2004 – Robert Patterson


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

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