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'Decision Points,' a memoir by former President George W. Bush. (Getty)

Presidential Memoirs Are Rarely 'Reflective,' Historian Says

Nov 9, 2010

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Reported by

Don Gonyea

Decision Points, President George W. Bush's look back at key moments in his life and presidency, is now in bookstores and available for downloading to e-books.

The book and the interviews the former president have been giving have gotten attention for his saying that the "all-time low" point of his years in the White House was when rapper Kanye West said Bush didn't care about black people and for his defense of the decision to go to war in Iraq.

As we reported on Morning Edition, "part of the book is personal, with stories it's awkward to hear him talk about," including his history as a serious drinker:

In reporting for that story, I spoke with Texas A&M historian George Edwards. Here are a few things he had to say that didn't make it into our radio report:

— "Most presidential memoirs are ... a bit boring. ... The only really reflective memoirs of presidents," were by Richard Nixon and Ulysses S. Grant.

— "Historians want to dig back" and go through original documents, "but it certainly doesn't hurt to have the president saying one more time ... what he was thinking, how he saw things. So, I think, you ignore the president's views at your peril if you want to get a good handle on history."

— The president waited until after the recent midterm elections to release his book, and thereby avoided inserting himself directly into the intense pre-election news coverage. But, "people still blame President Bush for problems that we had in Iraq ... they still blame him for the economy and the failed state of the economy. ... He's not been resurrected, that's for sure. And he may never be. Or, people may have a broader perspective if things should work out ultimately in the Middle East."

Among the news outlets Bush has spoken to so far about his book are:

USA Today: "Unusually Reflective Bush Gives His Side Of The Story."

NBC News: "Bush Admits Mistakes, Defends Decisions."

The Times of London (its story is behind a pay firewall): Waterboarding suspected terrorists, Bush told the newspaper, "saved lives."

(NPR National political Correspondent Don Gonyea covered George W. Bush starting with the 2000 campaign and until the end of his presidency.)

— Posted by Mark Memmott

— Contributing: Thomas Dreisbach

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