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Publisher's Summary

Number One New York Times Best Seller

In this brilliant biography, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meacham chronicles the life of George Herbert Walker Bush.

Named One of the 10 Best Books of the Year by The Washington Post and One of the Best Books of the Year by The New York Times Book Review Time • NPR • St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Drawing on President Bush’s personal diaries, on the diaries of his wife, Barbara, and on extraordinary access to the 41st president and his family, Meacham paints an intimate and surprising portrait of an intensely private man who led the nation through tumultuous times. 

From the Oval Office to Camp David, from his study in the private quarters of the White House to Air Force One, from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the first Gulf War to the end of Communism, Destiny and Power charts the thoughts, decisions, and emotions of a modern president who may have been the last of his kind. This is the human story of a man who was, like the nation he led, at once noble and flawed. His was one of the great American lives. 

Born into a loving, privileged, and competitive family, Bush joined the navy on his 18th birthday and at age 20 was shot down on a combat mission over the Pacific. He married young, started a family, and resisted pressure to go to Wall Street, striking out for the adventurous world of Texas oil. Over the course of three decades, Bush would rise from the chairmanship of his county Republican Party to serve as congressman, ambassador to the United Nations, head of the Republican National Committee, envoy to China, director of Central Intelligence, vice president under Ronald Reagan, and, finally, president of the United States. In retirement he became the first president since John Adams to see his son win the ultimate prize in American politics.

With access not only to the Bush diaries but through extensive interviews to the former president himself, Meacham presents Bush’s candid assessments of many of the critical figures of the age, ranging from Richard Nixon to Nancy Reagan; Mao to Mikhail Gorbachev; Dick Cheney to Donald Rumsfeld; Henry Kissinger to Bill Clinton. Here is high politics as it really is but as we rarely see it. From the Pacific to the presidency, Destiny and Power charts the vicissitudes of the life of this quietly compelling American original. Meacham sheds new light on the rise of the right wing in the Republican Party, a shift that signaled the beginning of the end of the center in American politics. Destiny and Power is an affecting portrait of a man who, driven by destiny and by duty, forever sought, ultimately, to put the country first. 

©2015 Jon Meacham (P)2015 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“Should be required reading - if not for every presidential candidate, then for every president-elect.” (The Washington Post)

“Reflects the qualities of both subject and biographer: judicious, balanced, deliberative, with a deep appreciation of history and the personalities who shape it.” (The New York Times Book Review)

 “A fascinating biography of the 41st president.” (The Dallas Morning News)

What listeners say about Destiny and Power

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Amazing story, great narration

I loved this book and the performance. The one criticism I would level is that the author is a definite Bush apologist. Sometimes that helps you better understand Bush, but sometimes it's a little pandering. Overall it's one of my favorite books I've read this year.

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Fair and insightful

George H. W. Bush is one of the few presidents that did not write his autobiography after leaving office. Jon Meacham has produced the “official biography” on H.W. Bush. I have read a number of Meacham’s books including “American Lion” which won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize.

Meacham did extensive research for the book and was allowed access to Bush’s diaries and numerous interviews with family and friends. Needless to say he also had access to the presidential papers and other archive materials.

Bush 41 comes across as an ambitious and emotional man, which is different from the aloof and polished figure we normally see. Meacham also reveals him to be a witty observer of other people’s quirks. Bush 41 was raised in privilege but did service to the country in World War II and as an elected official. The book covers his life from birth to the current date. I found the last quarter of the book the most interesting.

The book is well written and meticulously researched. Meacham comes off neutral and lacking ideological fervor that allows him to paint a picture of Bush that is new. The book does have an affectionate feel for Bush, but Meacham has a judicious balanced approach to the material. The book also provides quite a bit of new information that makes the book well worth the read.

The book is long at 800 pages or 25 hours. Paul Michael does a good job narrating the book.

14 people found this helpful

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A compelling read

What was one of the most memorable moments of Destiny and Power?

It was most interesting seeing all the politicians of the time (from Kennedy through Rumsfeld, and Regan) through his perceptions.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No. Too long.

Any additional comments?

I'm not American, and don't have a political leaning toward either party. I thought the book a touching and humanizing read on GHWB and his family. He is an old style gentleman, and this comes through clearly. He had little stomach for the polarized nature of his party and most particularly for the far right. He seemed disappointed in a swing to the far right by Dick Cheney (who had served as GHWB's own secretary of defense - something I had forgotten). He also felt that as VP under GWB, Cheney was given too much power and autonomy. GHWB was loyal, dedicated, and tried to do what was right for his country and president(s), but he certainly made mistakes and missteps and I don't think this was glossed over. He is just a genuinely nice man. It was a very interesting read.

9 people found this helpful

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Amazing

I love all Meachum books. This one covers the life of an incredible individual who is part of an incredible family. Put your politics aside and get ready to learn how fortunate our country was to have him serve. I had reservations about him and the job he did. Those reservations are no more.

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George H W Bush, behind the door of 41

A courageous and confident man who has willingly opened up his core self to examination in a brave, unvarnished & unique way into the real man, his values, beliefs, and actions.

4 people found this helpful

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A Gentleman

I did not vote for President George Herbert Walker Bush. I did have the pleasure of meeting him years ago. President Bush is as he appears. Kind, caring, sensitive and just plain old nice! He has integrity, honors his word and above all, he is a gentleman.

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very nice portrayal of the family

Love the character theme the author chose and that he doesn't shy away from strengths and failures

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An Amazing Life

Who was your favorite character and why?

George H.W. Bush

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

The way he describes his post presidential life.

Any additional comments?

President Bush has lived an amazing life spanning World War II, the Gulf War and the fall of communism. Through it all he has been a steady presence when it was needed. There are too few like him.

1 person found this helpful

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A necessary reminder

Would you consider the audio edition of Destiny and Power to be better than the print version?

cannot say

What did you like best about this story?

The reminder of things that have been forgotten

What does Paul Michael bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

an American voice

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

A time when when one could love a Republican president

Any additional comments?

all democrats and many republicans should listen to this book to remind themselves of a time when politics did not descend to comments on an opponents bathroom breaks

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The last of an era

Just finished this book and was really moved, which doesn’t normally happen with Presidential biographies. The contrast with recent presidents is stark, as if George H. W. Bush belonged to a different era, and maybe that’s exactly what it is. Bush 41, unlike all recent Presidents, did not write an autobiography. But, he did give complete access to his diaries and family members, but sat for multiple interviews from 2006 to 2015 (yes, 9 years). He also did not require any review or editing privilege. His wife Barbara also allowed access to her diaries. The result is a comprehensive study of the 41st President and a window into his thinking.  Bush 41 was extremely ambitious and competitive as was his family.He was born into privilege in a very close-knit family and grew up in Connecticut and the family retreat in Kennebunkport, Maine. His father was a Senator representing Connecticut. He joined the Navy and became a carrier-based bomber pilot in WW II. His plane was shot down in a raid on a Japanese radio tower. He was eventually rescued by a submarine, but his crew-mates were never found. After his discharge he went to Yale University and could have gone on from there to a comfortable life working in his father’s private bank, his grandfather’s investment firm or many other Wall Street Firms that chased him. Instead, he wanted to take a different path and moved to Texas to work in the oil fields, starting with painting oil rigs and moving on up until he had enough experience to seek out investors to begin exploring on his own.  He and Barbara lost a daughter to Leukemia at age 3, which remained painful throughout his life. He failed in his first attempt to run for office in Texas, but later was elected to the House. Nixon appointed him as Ambassador to the UN and later as the Chairman of the Republican National Committee. President Gerald Ford appointed him as the Chief of the Liaison Office to the People's Republic of China, and in 1976 Bush became the Director of Central Intelligence. Bush ran for president in 1980, but was defeated in the Republican presidential primaries by Ronald Reagan.  Bush was a man who was a leader with ambitions for high office, but was a man of character. He truly believed that “public service” was truly meant to be a service to the public and not just a means to power, influence, and personal benefit. His favorite phrase, repeated often, was “duty, honor, country.” Second to that was his mother’s oft quoted encouragement to, in everything, be kind. When Reagan asked him to be his Vice-Presidential candidate, he assured Reagan that there can only be one President and that he would give his input when desired but would fully support the President’s decisions. He would never do anything to undermine the President, and he kept that promise to the extent that he was criticised for changing his views for political reasons. His views hadn’t changed and it wasn’t politics. He simply believed that his responsibility was to support and promote the agenda of the President.  At the end of Reagan’s second term, Bush entered the race for President. He was not expected to win. No sitting Vice-President had been elected to the Presidency since 1836, but he was able to beat Dukakis in a hard-fought race. To list a few of his accomplishments, he presided over the final years of the Cold War and argued strongly with Gorbachev for the reunification of Germany. When Panama’s President Noriega declared war on the US and took Americans hostage he ordered the invasion of Panama. When Iraq invaded Kuwait, he brought together a coalition to drive out the Iraqis, but refused to go further than the mandate given to end the occupation and take out Sadaam Hussein. Bush negotiated and signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and signed the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.  But, Bush lost the 1992 presidential election to Democrat Bill Clinton. Bush 41 was the last of the WWII generation to be elected as President. Bush was not a politician as we think of politicians today. He didn’t like campaigning and didn’t like underhanded tricks. He hated it when newspapers brought rumors up Clinton’s affair with another woman as Arkansas governor. But, with his commitment to duty to country, he also took it hard that a draft-dodger who had protested against the Vietnam War while studying in Britain could be elected President. He believed what President John Adams had written (and which is carved into the White House State Dining Room’s mantel), “May none but honest and wise Men ever rule under this roof.”  His graciousness in both victory and in defeat, his pursuit of honesty and openness, his sense of duty and service, his refusal to tear down his opponents both in campaigning and governing, his commitment to the Constitution, and submission to authority set him apart from all those who have come after him. He stated that there was a stark difference between campaigning and governing and that it’s important to maintain a strong separation between the two. That’s not to say that he was a saint. He never fully embraced his responsibility and role in the Iran-Contra Scandal during Reagan’s term. But, his character and commitment is a stark contrast to today. And, he knew his place when he left office, refusing to interfere in political affairs after he left office, even when his son became President. “There can only be one President at a time.” The only times that he has spoken out in criticism has been during the term of President Trump.  The author has done a good job of bringing everything together in a readable and interesting form while covering the important details. He does not hesitate to cover the bad with the good. He had basically unfettered access to Bush’s official records, to his family and friends, and many hours face to face with Bush over several years. An epilogue adds details of events that happened between the initial writing of this book and Bush’s death in 2018 at age 94. This is a book that I wish everyone would read today.

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  • BFBG
  • 05-25-20

Great book. Recommended

Excellent book. What a great character to write about. Thank you. Thoroughly enjoyed it. I would recommend it.

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  • michael Billington
  • 11-13-15

A wonderful biography of an underrated president

Would you listen to Destiny and Power again? Why?

yes Meacham has written a brilliant book that is both highly informative and easy to listen to.

Who was your favorite character and why?

George H.W Bush, he emerges as a far more interesting and complicated man than his public image would suggest.

Have you listened to any of Paul Michael’s other performances? How does this one compare?

The narration is excellent, very impressed with the reading.

If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

Ambition, Power and tragedy

Any additional comments?

This is a book I was really looking forward too and it did not disappoint. Well written and full of wonderful insights. Brilliant