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Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House Hardcover – October 22, 2013
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“Filled with enlivening detail and judicious analysis, Days of Fire is the most reliable, comprehensive history of the Bush years yet.”—Jim Kelly, The New York Times
“Mr. Baker, a White House reporter for the New York Times, has pulled off something of a journalistic miracle: He has written a thorough, engaging and fair history on the Bush-Cheney White House, the most polarizing presidency since Johnson's (Andrew, not Lyndon), with the possible exception of the current one.”—Jonathan Karl, The Wall Street Journal
"The story of those eight years would seem far too vast to contain inside a single volume. Yet here that volume is. Peter Baker neither accuses nor excuses. He writes with a measure and balance that seem transported backward in time from some more dispassionate future."—David Frum, New York Times Book Review
“A fine new book about [Bush’s] time in office … The Bush-Cheney era weighs heavily on America. Its divisions and disappointments help to explain much about today’s politics, from public war-weariness to the anti-establishment contempt that seethes among the Republican grassroots and the Tea Party. Insiders have already penned enough don’t-blame-me memoirs and score-settling biographies to dam the Potomac. Mr. Baker concentrates on relations between the two men at the top of the executive branch. His shrewd, meticulous reporting offers a useful corrective to tales of a puppet-master deputy manipulating an inexperienced boss.”—The Economist
“Peter Baker, the intrepid New York Times reporter lately covering his third president of the United States, has achieved the unthinkable—a vivid page-turner on the ultimately divided not-co-presidency of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.”—W. Gardner Selby, Austin American-Statesman
“In producing the first comprehensive narrative history of what will surely remain one of the most controversial presidential administrations in U.S. history, Baker has done yeoman’s service. All subsequent writers dealing with the subject will find his book indispensible … Baker’s conclusion, which will almost certainly stand the test of time, is that Bush is his own man and was responsible for the decisions made in his name.”—Walter Russell Mead, Foreign Affairs
“Baker offers clear-eyed perspective on the fateful decisions of a decade ago … [A] kaleidoscopic, behind-the-scenes narrative.”—Michael O’Donnell, The Christian Science Monitor
“Magisterial … Baker has done a tremendous job of knitting together the disparate strains of a complex and multilayered narrative. For all its density, the book proceeds at a beach-read velocity that makes it a pleasure to peruse. Especially enjoyable is Baker’s commendable urge to puncture many of the easy myths that still surround the Bush years. Anyone who reads it will come away from this account with their understanding of the period greatly increased—which, after all, is just what a history like this is supposed to accomplish … [A] remarkable achievement.”—Christian Caryl, The National Interest
“A magisterial study of the way [Bush and Cheney] influenced each other, waxing and then waning, during the fateful eight-year presidency of George W. Bush.”—Jamie Stiehm, US News
“[Days of Fire] is steeped in facts, and the writing is clear and crisp. You will also be impressed by Baker’s research and reporting … All told, Days of Fire delves deeply into the Bush-Cheney partnership and offers breathtaking insights into power, passion and politics at the highest levels of our government.”—BookPage
"The complex partnership of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney undergirds this authoritative narrative of their tumultuous eight years in Washington. Baker, the senior White House correspondent for New York Times, skillfully navigates how Bush, a national security neophyte, came to rely heavily on the former Wyoming congressman and secretary of defense, a consummate Washington insider. Although Cheney became one of the most influential vice presidents in American history and grew to relish his Darth Vader reputation, Baker upends the popular perception that Bush did his bidding … Baker delivers a fast-paced read that deftly weaves the trials and tribulations of the Bush presidency into a monumental tale of hubris and missed opportunities for greatness."—Publishers Weekly, starred review
"A thorough, objective and surprisingly positive examination of the Bush-Cheney years. Written as though it has the perspective of a century's distance on the events of the last decade, New York Times senior White House correspondent Baker dispatches false and puerile memes—Bush stole Florida, blood for oil, Bush lied and kids died, etc.—to the dustbin of history as he delivers "the most documented history of the Bush-Cheney White House to date." The author is no Bush cheerleader; he shines a pitiless light on the failures of judgment, erroneous intelligence and excessive reliance on subordinates that led to the debacle in Iraq, which undid Bush's second term. Baker concludes that Bush "was at his best when he was cleaning up his worst." The author shows how it all went wrong, however, without a hint of partisan rancor. This briskly written but exhaustively detailed account defies expectations by portraying an administration of intelligent, patriotic adults with necessarily limited information striving to do what they believed was best for the nation in a dangerous era, with real but overlooked achievements. The president, in particular, appears as a man of decency who retained his optimism and dedication to principle as his polls declined to record lows and political allies fled. In delineating the businesslike relationship between Bush and Cheney, Baker refutes the popular notion that Cheney was the dominant figure, though Bush relied heavily on his experience during his first term … A major contribution to the rehabilitation of our 43rd president."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"An ambitious, engrossing, and often disturbing study of the inner workings, conflicts, and critical policy decisions made during the eight years of Bush and Cheney governance … This is a superbly researched, masterful account of eight critical, history-changing years."—Booklist, starred review
"Peter Baker's superb biography of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney will stand as the most complete and balanced discussion of the men and their administration for decades. Until the Bush library opens the wealth of papers that will expand our knowledge of their White House, we will be indebted to Baker for his brilliant reconstruction of this presidency. No one has drawn the complicated Bush-Cheney relationship more convincingly than Baker. Anyone eager to understand our current dilemmas does well to read this book."—Robert Dallek, author of Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power
"Peter Baker tells the story of Bush and Cheney with the precision of a crack reporter and the eye and ear of a novelist. This is perhaps the most consequential pairing of a president and vice president in our history. And Baker captures it all—the triumphs and defeats, the partnership and eventual estrangement. It is a splendid mix of sweeping history and telling anecdotes that will keep you turning the page."—Chris Wallace, anchor of Fox News Sunday
"It turns out George W. Bush was no puppet, and Dick Cheney no puppet master. Days of Fire takes us inside a relationship that came to define American conflict, peace, and politics. Forget everything else you've read. This excellent book tells us what really happened, from the mouths of the players themselves, and explains why, more than a decade after 9/11, we are still a nation at war."—Gwen Ifill, coanchor of PBS Newshour
"9/11, two long wars, a crushing recession, neo-cons, and turf wars defined the first decade of twenty-first-century American politics. In the middle of it all, the president and his powerful vice-president. The complicated and then contentious relationship between Bush and Cheney is worthy of Shakespeare. Peter Baker’s Days of Fire is a book for every presidential hopeful and every citizen."—Tom Brokaw, author of The Greatest Generation
"Without ever surrendering his critical detachment—this book is no valentine—Baker humanizes the leader whose post-Reagan agenda was hijacked by foreign terrorists and Wall Street crooks. You may or may not agree with George W. Bush's actions as president, but by the time you put Days of Fire down, you will understand them, and him, as never before."—Richard Norton Smith, author of Thomas E. Dewey and His Times
- Publisher : Doubleday; Complete Numbers Starting with 1, 1st Ed edition (October 22, 2013)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 816 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0385525184
- ISBN-13 : 978-0385525183
- Item Weight : 2.6 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.4 x 1.62 x 9.54 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #588,158 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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He’s a good storyteller. He captures the big stuff of course, but also little moments like Bush and Christopher Hill trash talking about baseball in the Oval. Cute, personal stuff that fleshes out who they really are as people not just as leaders.
The info about Bush calling Clinton occasionally is really interesting, the friendship didn’t just happen after his term as “formers”. He even called him when Bill was campaigning for Hillary and was accused of being a racist. I love knowing these kinds of little details.
On a personal note, there were many mentions of Al Simpson because he is such a good friend of Cheney’s. It made me very sentimental, and makes me keep a tiny sliver of an open mind about Cheney. I love Al, he was very kind to a friend of mine.
This is what I tweeted when I finished: @peterbakernyt I really enjoyed your Bush/Cheney book. I learned a lot & it felt very balanced & fair. The other times I’ve read @ a presidency I came away liking them less, but this was oddly the opposite, despite disagreeing with them a LOT. Thx for the really interesting work
Prologue: Days of Fire is a chronological account of the Bush and Cheney days in the White House. In the prologue, Peter Baker addresses the elephant in the room, which is the rumor and speculation that Dick Cheney heavily influenced Bush's decisions and policies. I always see "President Cheney" on blogs, and I was curious as to whether that was true, or just media-spinned rumor. After the prologue, you are then free to make that determination for yourself, which is the main reason I awarded 5 stars. I didn't feel influenced or persuaded, just informed.
Media Falsehoods: I am guilty at times of reading media accounts and taking them at face value. Almost daily on blogging sites do you see the claim that WMD were actually found in Iraq. Days of Fire gives a credible version of events leading up to the false intelligence that claimed WMD existed in Iraq, and the reports that followed the War that Iraq's weapons facilities were destroyed and never rebuilt after the first Iraq war in 1991. The media also fueled speculations that Dick Cheney was the one calling all of the shots. It also fueled the negativity of certain troops actions in Iraq (Abu Ghraib) and the handling of prisoners after 9/11. Although those are a stain on the military and government, Days of Fire addresses what actually happened and why, along with how many people were actually affected.
Personal Impact in Politics: (This section may be classified as a spoiler... I don't really think so, as what I discuss is a part of history and my own opinions. But I wanted to point out that I mention some events that were covered in this book.) I've had this idea/revelation floating around in my head for a few weeks now. It started with a post from a blogger that is extremely liberal on 99% of topics. The 1% was a surprise to me when a post of his illustrated his anger towards women who demand equal rights. He stated he thought the "war on women" was a joke and women were controlling and manipulative in order to achieve their goals. Wow! Where did that come from Mr. "Fair" Liberal? It turns out he is recently divorced. How is this related? Days of Fire addresses Dick Cheney's opinions and responses to his daughter's sexuality. Early in the book there is a paragraph that discusses everything Dick Cheney has voted for/against in his career. (I shook my head in disbelief that somebody could be so rigid!) It is apparent that his politics are on the far right of the political spectrum. However, when it comes to gay rights, he is liberal. That tells me many politicians make decisions and policies on things that do not directly impact them. Once something impacts them directly and they have to walk a mile, they often have a change in heart. This concept also shows when George Bush pledged billions of dollars to the fight against AIDS and other diseases in Africa. His sister died of leukemia and he was forever sensitive towards disease and disease research. I think it would be fantastic to have politicians that have walked a mile in others shoes, and never vote on something that they have no identity with. I realize this is improbable, but Days of Fire illustrated the complexities of government, and put out some fires that were fueled by the media and misunderstanding of the hard choices that had to be made. I sympathize a bit more with George Bush and saw a much more complex figure than I initially thought. I also shook my head numerous times during the book, as I couldn't believe how many avoidable mistakes were made.
Conclusion: I think it's important to read books like Days of Fire. I have this feeling that with the rise of ISIS and the emergence of more world powers, that our days of war are far from over. If anything, Days of Fire will help you see that its not just the push of a button, and decisions are not always black and white. Today it was announced that Chuck Hagel (Obama's Defense Secretary) is resigning. Its good to ignore the rumors and Op-ed's, and wait for the full story. I have also learned that each administration is filled with tough choices and difficult times, regardless if liberal or conservative. We should always remember GW made his decisions and policies in response to 9/11. We shouldn't forget how scary and awful that was.
It is worth noting that Baker frequently had to attempt to reconcile varying accounts of the debates within the Bush White House. Baker seems to have done this quite well. The debates on the best way to proceed in Iraq were particularly intense. The insight into the refusal to pardon Scooter Libby and its effect on the Bush Cheney relationship is profound.
Baker is a superb writer and his style fully engages the reader. Besides examining events, themes, personalities, successes, and failures of Bush Administrations, Baker provides an almost intimate look at the President’s daily life. The seemingly small asides and recounting of what it was like to be president then provide a remarkable insight into the flaws AND the humanity of the characters involved. This book will remain a basic reference for the Bush Presidency for some time to come.
in my opinion, Peter Baker may be the finest writer with a journalism background since Stanley Karnow.
Top reviews from other countries
In this book, Peter Baker, the Chief White House Correspondent of the New York Times, sets out to examine the relationship between Bush and Vice-President Cheney - an unusual relationship from the start since Cheney made it clear that he had no intention to run for the presidency at any point in the future. The received wisdom back in the early years was that Bush was a bumbling buffoon riding on his father's achievements; and that Cheney, one of his father's henchmen, was the power behind the throne - a shadowy and rather machiavellian figure - the puppet-master. Baker's position is that Cheney's influence was strong in the early years and that his support after 9/11 was crucial, but that ultimately Bush was his own man even then, and that Cheney's influence gradually waned as time passed.
Baker's account is very heavily weighted towards foreign affairs and the 'war on terror', particularly Iraq, presumably because this is the area in which Cheney was most involved. Although domestic policies are discussed from time to time, the coverage of them is nothing like as detailed or insightful. Again that works well for me, as a Brit, since it is the foreign policy that most interests me - however I felt it was a bit of a lack in the scope of the book. The other major weakness of the book, I felt, was a disregard of the influence of other world leaders on Bush's position (and vice-versa) - we remember him trying to accommodate Blair's domestic troubles over Iraq and we vividly remember the infamous 'cheese-eating surrender monkeys' phrase hurled (though not directly by Bush) at a disobedient France (now apparently 'America's oldest ally', since Syria). The attempt to gain the support of allies is discussed, particularly the whole UN resolution saga, but not with the depth that might have been expected, considering how much it damaged the position of the US in the eyes of much of the rest of the world. Interestingly Hans Blix doesn't get a single mention in the whole book, while Jacques Chirac rates only two.
However, other than these omissions or weaknesses, the book is an extremely thorough and detailed account of the workings of the White House during a presidency hit by catastrophe and disaster - from 9/11 to Katrina to the economic meltdown. Overall Baker takes a sympathetic view of both men, though he doesn't shy away from discussing the more unforgivable aspects of the period either - torture, water-boarding, Guantanamo et al. He does make the point, and makes it well, that such unconstitutional actions had precedents in previous presidencies at times of crisis, and shows how Bush pulled back from the worst excesses as the threat level decreased. Cheney however is shown as having developed an almost paranoid fear of another terrorist assault that led him to want to extend the power of the executive to extraordinary levels, and to justify almost any form of behaviour, no matter how morally repugnant, as necessary in the cause of security.
In the first half, the first four years, the book is very much about both men. However, in the second term, Cheney begins to fade away as Rice becomes the most prominent of the President's advisers, and the book becomes much more of a biography of Bush alone. This tallies with Baker's depiction of Cheney's gradual loss of importance to Bush, but does mean that the focus on the relationship gets a bit lost somewhere along the way. But that doesn't stop it being a fascinating record of a turbulent time in US history. I came out of it feeling that I understood Bush much better, but that somehow Cheney remained a bit of a shadowy figure.
In conclusion, this is a well written, detailed and interesting account, but not the complete picture of the period and I'm sure not the last word either on the Bush presidency or on his relationship with Cheney. The author's sympathy is more for the men than for their policies, necessarily; and as such it is a good reminder of how we ask people to perform impossible jobs and then criticise them for mistakes or failures. Bush and Cheney made some serious mistakes, not lightly forgotten or forgiven, but this book gives a revealing picture of the almost intolerable pressures they had to deal with, and of the toll it took of them. Despite some weaknesses, the book is a major work that sheds a good deal of light on the time, and it therefore gets a 'highly recommended' from me.
It chronicles in detail many of the decision processes and gives the lie to the idea that Bush was not his own man, especially during his second term. He seems to have made fewer misjudgements rather was often misled by his executive promoting narrow agendas, such as on the matter of Saddam's WMD. There seems to have been a tendency to paranoia among neocon war-mongers such as Cheney's coterie (eg Abrams, Bolton, Edelman, Wolfowitz - were they in support of the US weapons industry, or simply trying to undermine a perceived serious military threat to Israel?), who applied regular pressure on Bush to take 'action'. Wolfowitz was regularly 'making the case for going after Saddam...although he presented no evidence', which made Bush incensed, saying 'How many times do I have to tell you we are not...?''
Cheney rather selected himself for the position of vice-President, and seems to have envisaged it as a way to shape policy, working for a relatively inexperienced C in C through his established network of loyal staffers, without having to waste time raising funds and campaigning to stay elected.
At critical times during the invasion of Iraq Bush would be diverted to urgent domestic policies, especially tax cuts, and so Cheney could take the lead on important policies such as stalling (as a former CEO in the Oil Sector), US participation on Kyoto, or trying to rescue his CoS Libby being imprisoned for revealing the name of a CIA operative (one of many deliberate 'leaks'). This book written by a leading journalist is an excellent read.
The first part of the book seems repetitive of stories that have been told before: the controversial 2001 election, the September 11th attacks and the build-up to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some readers may think, "Bob Woodward has already written about all of this." But much of Baker's focus is on the relationship between Bush and Cheney, and to a lesser extent, Bush and Karl Rove. Baker demonstrates how, in the early stages of his presidency, Bush relied on Cheney (and to a lesser extent on Rove) for guidance, and how Bush grew in the job to the point where Cheney was relegated almost to the point of irrelevance. According to Baker, stories about Cheney being the puppet-master have no validity.
The book traces the relationship between president and vice-president and analyses how Cheney went from being the central figure in the Bush administration at the beginning to being pushed in the background in the second term, generally in the minority on many issues, and even at odds with his president on a number of issues, including the pardoning of Cheney's Chief of Staff "Scooter" Libby. Throughout, Cheney remains loyal and is never vocal in his criticism of his president.
Baker demonstrates how Bush's presidency was a collection of the most daunting challenges ever faced by an American President: a terrorist attack on American soil, two wars in response (one enjoying popular support at first, the other founded on a much questioned premise), the threat of ongoing attack, natural disasters at home, and the worst financial crisis since the great depression. In examining each of these challenges, a central theme emerges regarding Bush's leadership. In the words of former Bush speechwriter David Frum, "Bush made crises through neglect, and then resolved crises through courage." Baker makes the case that this is essentially correct.
The war on Iraq is the most prominent issue throughout Bush's presidency and it is ably and thoroughly covered by Baker. The dynamic between Bush and his generals is especially interesting. Bush is fearful of becoming another Lyndon Johnson (and of Iraq becoming Vietnam) and in doing so delays in bringing about the surge which ultimately ends much of the fighting. Bush is focused and driven while his support and public approval is hemorrhaging.
Baker notes how Bush was, at times during his presidency, both the most popular and the least popular president in history. He rejects the notion that Bush is a stupid person, or is someone bound by ideology. He points out how well-read Bush is, and how many times he broke with conservative ideology when the circumstances called for it. Many of Bush's harshest critics were on the right as well as on the left. Baker concludes that Bush was his own man, that he was indeed "the decider."
This is an excellent book, one which details the stresses and strains on a president during difficult and challenging times. It is a fair accounting of George Bush's responses to those challenges, both good and bad, and of his personal strengths and weaknesses. It is neither hero worship nor Bush bashing, and Baker's lack of any agenda, pro or con, makes it so enjoyable. Readers who finish this book will leave with a different understanding and impression of the 43rd President, of how much he was influenced by others and of how much he was guided by his own core principles. It has the added dimensions of an assessment of the role that Dick Cheney played in the Bush administration and of Cheney's complex personality. This book is a worthwhile read for anyone wishing for an objective retrospective and analysis of the Bush Presidency, and is one of the best works of history to be published in 2013.