Jason's Reviews > Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush

Dead Certain by Robert Draper
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Oct 23, 09

Read in February, 2009

This is an engaging and page-turning historical and literary narrative of the first six years of the G W Bush Presidency and the preceding 2000 Presidential campaign. The recently completed Bush presidency is obviously a consequential, controversial and intriguing time in American history. The book begins with a statement from the President to the author in late 2006 that you “can’t possibly figure out my Presidency until I’m dead.” What the author then does for the rest of the book is to demonstrate how complicated and complex this administration was, through the use of the form of literary narrative by character driven incidents, from first hand accounts from the President and those closest to him in his family and his staff.

Draper is a journalist, originally from Texas and now with GQ. His intent with this book is to let the actors speak for themselves, within the narrative he set up. As a result, all the major events that he covered are included: from the 2000 GOP nomination, September 11, the Iraq War, the 2004 re-election campaign, and Hurricane Katrina. Draper’s style is heavily influenced by his interviewees. A distracting element of Draper’s writing is to fill in emotions with his own vivid descriptions around the dialogue that drives his narrative. Also, being a contemporary journalist, his writing is a bit too colloquial at times, using slang to describe events, for instance.

The narrative that develops, from 1999 to early 2007 is of a complex, human man, whose political actions are driven by his convictions. Some of the more valuable incidents in the book show Bush’s management style and why he managed people and problems the way he did. This is a fair book. Given an extraordinary amount of access to the personal thoughts, and feelings, of the top Bush administration officials, Draper does not overly praise people, or take excess opportunity to criticize. Even Bush is highly self-aware of the problems he faces, his shortcomings as a leader, and his strengths. Instead he lets incidents speak for themselves. For example, in retelling the events around Hurricane Katrina, Draper shows how the President’s management style led the administration to be aloof from the aftermath, but more in control of the situation, once roused into action, and really more in control than the Louisiana politicians.

This is not a comprehensive narrative. For example, the South Carolina primary in 2000 gets over ten pages, the fall 2000 campaign against Al Gore and Florida recount, gets just a few paragraphs. Yet this book is a valuable contribution to understanding the Bush years, because of the high level of candid interviews that the author had with the people at the top. Because the book ends early in 2007, and misses the major events that took place over the last quarter of the Bush administration, perhaps a second edition of the book would be needed to show how the President reacted to events, once he had he reached the low point of service. That Bush was “dead certain” of his convictions and his actions based on them, would be further fleshed out.
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