Review Essay

The Prudence Thing: George Bush's Class Act

In This Review

A World Transformed

A World Transformed
By George Bush and Brent Scowcroft
Alfred A. Knopf, 1998, 576 pp. $30.00 Purchase

No one is under oath when writing their memoirs, but this joint account by former President George Bush and his national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, has better credentials than most. They not only had privileged access to official documentation, as well as their own sources, but also were generously helped by former staffers like Richard Haass, Condoleezza Rice, and Philip Zelikow. Furthermore, the two authors separate their observations, which take the form of individual comments on a central narrative. This structure gives the work a freshness that makes it readable as well as authoritative. In short, it is a good buy, both for scholars and the general public.

That said, the book contains few surprises. The three years it covers, from January 1989 to December 1991, were among the most momentous of the century, including as they did the liberation of Eastern Europe, the Tiananmen Square massacre, the unification of Germany, the Gulf War, and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. They have already been microscopically examined by scholars, journalists, and memoir writers. But the view from the Oval Office is unique, even if the events are already familiar. In particular, the book tells us nothing that we did not know about President Bush himself. Both in background and personality, he was well fitted for the task of navigating the rapids through which the United States and the world passed during those three stupendous years. He was a thorough professional, having spent the best part of two decades in high office in Washington. He knew how government worked and how the world worked. As vice president he had come to know most of the world's leaders -- usually at the funerals of their predecessors -- and was on friendly terms with many of them. Unlike some of his own predecessors, he was not dependent on policy experts he did not trust or cronies trusted by nobody else. As a man born to the senatorial (if not the presidential) purple, he accepted power easily

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