Autobiographies always have one crucial downside and that is that the people who write then are usually trying to justify their actions. With President George W. Bush’s memoir Decision Points, this is the case as well, yet it was a surprisingly interesting read.
I’m a history buff (I’ve actually majored in history in college) and I’ve read many biographies and autobiographies of US presidents. What I liked about Decision Points is two things: it is focused on leadership and it’s thematically, not chronologically written. That means President Bush skips over many of the less interesting details and focuses on the areas in which he’s had to make major decisions, for instance 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, Katrina, stem cells and the financial crisis at the end of his presidency.
In the first chapter, he writes about his decision to quit drinking. It’s a very personal chapter and it sets the tone for the rest of the book because as he writes “Quitting drinking was one of the toughest decisions I have ever made. Without it, none of the others that follow in this book would have been possible.” He also talks quite a bit about his faith in this chapter.
As a leader, it’s very interesting to get a behind the scenes look at why President Bush made certain decisions. It’s often easy for us to judge our leaders for the bad decisions they’ve made, but we forget that we have the luxury of hindsight. Also, we don’t always realize the exact circumstances or the available information. Especially on the topic of Afghanistan and Iraq, it was illuminating to get a better insight into his thoughts and reasoning for making the decisions that he did. You do come away with a better feel on how unbelievably complicated the job of president is.
Decision Points shows President Bush as he really was and is. His writing, his thinking, his reasoning, it offers a good insight into his personality and character. I feel like I’ve come to know the man better after reading his book. One negative thing I did learn about President Bush is that he rarely admits mistakes. I didn’t keep count, but there can’t have been more than ten instances where I’ve read him admit he was wrong about a decision he made. That’s not a good character trait for a leader, a bit more humility would have been good.
As for leadership lessons from this book, there were some takeaways for me. One is the importance of surrounding yourself with good leaders who are able to give sound advice. The second is the realization that there are times when you have to make a decision. As president, you often cannot afford to do nothing and so you have to make decisions based on faulty info. As youth leaders, we have the luxury that we can often wait before making a decision. But do we know how to make decisions when we really have to and when we have little information? Something to think about.
So, do I recommend this book? Yes, if you’re interested in politics you should really read this one. It’s one of the better presidential (auto)biographies and it’s highly readable. But if you’re already not a fan of President Bush, you might want to skip this one as it will conform some of your prejudices and raise your blood pressure to a dangerous level 🙂