THE BOOKS GEORGE W. BUSH ‘WROTE’…. It’s probably fair to say that even George W. Bush’s remaining defenders wouldn’t characterize him as learned or cerebral. Whatever his well-hidden strengths might be, the failed former president has been rather candid about his lack of interest in books, newspapers, and people with post-graduate degrees.
But Bush appears to take some pride in having written his new book. Ryan Grim reports today that this isn’t quite what happened.
Crown Publishing … got a mash-up of worn-out anecdotes from previously published memoirs written by his subordinates, from which Bush lifts quotes word for word, passing them off as his own recollections. He took equal license in lifting from nonfiction books about his presidency or newspaper or magazine articles from the time. Far from shedding light on how the president approached the crucial “decision points” of his presidency, the clip jobs illuminate something shallower and less surprising about Bush’s character: He’s too lazy to write his own memoir.
Bush, on his book tour, makes much of the fact that he largely wrote the book himself, guffawing that critics who suspected he didn’t know how to read are now getting a comeuppance. Not only does Bush know how to read, it turns out, he knows how to Google, too. Or his assistant does.
The memoir features anecdotes about events Bush didn’t witness, and remarks Bush didn’t hear. Perhaps he got confused about what a “memoir” is.
I’d just add a minor detail Ryan didn’t mention: this has happened before. About 10 years ago, Bush published an “autobiography” of sorts, written entirely in first person, called “A Charge to Keep.” The book, however, was entirely ghost-written.
But at least that book didn’t include lifted text. For that matter, Bush never really claimed to have written his autobiography, making these revelations about “Decision Points” slightly worse.
In most instances of Bush’s literary swiping, he was at least present for the scene. But the point of a memoir is that it is the author’s version of events. Bush’s book is a collection of other people’s versions of events. But that’s not what Bush promises readers. “Decision Points is based primarily on my recollections. With help from researchers, I have confirmed my account with government documents, personal interviews, news reports, and other sources, some of which remain classified,” he offers. Bush, in his memoir, confesses to authorizing waterboarding, which is a war crime, so the lifting of a few passages might seem like a minor infraction. But Bush’s laziness undermines the historical value of the memoir. Bush “recollects” – in a more literal sense of the term – quotes by pulling his and others verbatim from other books, calling into question what he genuinely remembers from the time and casting doubt on any conclusions he draws about what his mindset was at the time.