BookBrowse Reviews State of Denial by Bob Woodward

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State of Denial

Bush at War, Part III

by Bob Woodward

State of Denial by Bob Woodward X
State of Denial by Bob Woodward
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2006, 576 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2007, 576 pages

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What happened after the invasion of Iraq? Why? How does Bush make decisions and manage a war that he chose to define his presidency? And is there an achievable plan for victory?

Bob Woodward's latest book on the Bush administration (following Bush at War, 2002; and Plan of Attack, 2004) doesn't pick up where Plan of Attack left off but instead sweeps back to offer an overview of the Presidential life and times of George W. Bush, from the days when he first thought seriously about running for President, through the recruitment of his national security team, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and his second term as President. As such, State of Denial is not the third part of a trilogy, as it's being billed by the publisher, but an authoritative standalone account of the road Bush and his White House cohorts have traveled to get to this point.

The media reviews for State of Denial are mixed. While most praise the book itself, a number of reviewers comment on the considerable delta between Woodward's depiction of Bush in his first two books and his portrayal of him in State of Denial. Rick Perlstein writing for the New York Observer asks, "Considering that the subject and substance of Mr. Woodward’s three books overlap, doesn’t the revision indict the originals? If Part III is the better book because it’s a more accurate portrayal of the Bush administration's abject failures and inadequacies, doesn't that make the author look worse? What was he withholding? What was the eureka moment?"

Perlstein has a point. Woodward's portrayal of Bush as an intellectually incurious man whose religious convictions make him disinclined to deviate from his chosen path even if, in Bush's words, "Laura and Barney are the only ones who support me" (Barney being the presidential dog), stands in contrast to the resolute leader of Bush at War (2002), standing firm at the helm of his country. As Perlstein asks, "Why couldn’t Mr. Woodward have exploited his unique insider access to alert the Washington establishment sooner about the danger of harboring this feckless man-child in their midst? ... Or to put it in a way Bob Woodward would find familiar: What did the reporter know and when did he know it?"

Putting aside comparisons between Woodward's earlier books on the Bush administration and looking just at State of Denial, most reviewers agree that it offers a valuable nonpartisan primer on the Executive branch of the United States in the early years of the 21st century. While the overall picture that Woodward paints is hardly new, he fleshes out each chapter with previously untold anecdotes of incompetence, that enrich the reader's understanding of the inner workings of the current White House, led by a man who not that long ago admitted that he doesn't "have the foggiest idea about international, foreign policy."

Interesting Links
A short history of Iraq, attached to the review of The End of Iraq by Peter W Galbraith
The sidebar to Blood Brothers by Michael Weisskopf with details of the coalition and civilian body count in Iraq to date.

This review is from the September 20, 2007 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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