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Inside the Presidency of George H. W. Bush

Edited by Michael Nelson and Barbara A. Perry

A History Book Club Featured Alternate

Narrated by Gregg A. Rizzo

Available from Audible

Book published by Cornell University Press

Although it lasted only a single term, the presidency of George H. W. Bush was an unusually eventful one, encompassing the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the invasion of Panama, the Persian Gulf War, and contentious confirmation hearings over Clarence Thomas and John Tower. Bush has said that to understand the history of his presidency, while "the documentary record is vital," interviews with members of his administration “add the human side that those papers can never capture."

This book draws on interviews with senior White House and Cabinet officials conducted under the auspices of the Bush Oral History Project (a cooperative effort of the University of Virginia's Miller Center and the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation) to provide a multidimensional portrait of the first President Bush and his administration. Typically, interviews explored officials’ memories of their service with President Bush and their careers prior to joining the administration. Interviewees also offered political and leadership lessons they had gleaned as eyewitnesses to and shapers of history.

The contributors to 41—all seasoned observers of American politics, foreign policy, and government institutions—examine how George H. W. Bush organized and staffed his administration, operated on the international stage, followed his own brand of Republican conservatism, handled legislative affairs, and made judicial appointments. A scrupulously objective analysis of oral history, primary documents, and previous studies, 41 deepens the historical record of the forty-first president and offers fresh insights into the rise of the “new world order” and its challenges.

Contributors: Henry J. Abraham, University of Virginia; Jeffrey A. Engel, Southern Methodist University; Hugh Heclo, George Mason University; Sidney M. Milkis, University of Virginia; Michael Nelson, Rhodes College and University of Virginia; Barbara A. Perry, University of Virginia; Russell L. Riley, University of Virginia; Barbara Sinclair, University of California, Los Angeles; Bartholomew Sparrow, University of Texas at Austin; Robert A. Strong, Washington and Lee University; Philip Zelikow, University of Virginia.

Michael Nelson is the Fulmer Professor of Political Science at Rhodes College and a Senior Fellow at the University of Virginia's Miller Center. He is the author or editor of many books, including Governing at Home: The White House and Domestic Policymaking, How the South Joined the Gambling Nation: The Politics of State Policy Innovation, and The Presidency and the Political System.

Barbara A. Perry is a Senior Fellow in the Miller Center's Presidential Oral History Program at the University of Virginia. She is the author or editor of numerous books, including Rose Kennedy: The Life and Times of a Political Matriarch, The Michigan Affirmative Action Cases, and Jacqueline Kennedy: First Lady of the New Frontier.


41 successfully uses oral histories to provide insight into the George H. W. Bush administration, its composition, and its decision-making processes. The only one-term president since 1981, Bush faced a pivotal moment in history: a transition to governing in a post–Cold War era; and growing intra-party splits within a Republican Party upset with a budget compromise that raised taxes yet contributed to an historic surplus within a decade. 41 provides a valuable perspective into the intense polarization in Washington today.”

—Janet M. Martin, Bowdoin College, author of The Presidency and Women: Promise, Performance, and Illusion

“The presidency of George H. W. Bush deserves more attention. The integration of new oral histories into the analysis throughout this book demonstrates that these oral histories will be a highly useful source for further scholarship.”

—Thomas Langston, Tulane University, author of The Cold War Presidency: A Documentary History

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