Reading for Me

The Books I Have Read…..Just for Me

#12: Destiny and Power (Jon Meacham)

Pulitzer Prize winning author Jon Meacham has written a phenomenal biography of the 41st President of the United States in Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush. The book traces Bush’s life through its beginnings in New England, through his service in World War II, in the oil fields of west Texas, and throughout his political career. The final section of the biography focuses on Bush’s life post-presidency and gives special attention to his relationships with his sons George W. and Jeb.

I found the account insightful and humorous. I loved how notations from President Bush’s personal diary were scattered throughout the entire work, bringing a sense of  understanding and intimacy to the discussion. I was especially moved by the depiction of George H.W. Bush’s special relationship with his mother. The account of his final visit with Dorothy Bush before her death in the final days of his tenure as President was especially moving.

Mrs. Bush was breathing with difficulty, and Bush and his daughter [Doro] wept by her bedside. The president reached over and leafed through his mother’s “frayed Bible.” In its pages were notes that he had written her from Andover and a birthday card he had mailed her from the navy.

He held her hand, thinking of all the times she had lovingly rubbed his through the years. After a few hours he and Doro left for Washington. To Bush, the sight of his mother struggling to breathe put the rest of life in proper perspective. “I don’t know that Mum knows I’m President of the United States,” he told his diary, but “I do know that is not important anymore.” (p. 527)

As I realized that I was reaching the end of the biography, I began to wonder how I would adequately sum up the importance of this work. Bush 41 seems to be such an underrated, under appreciated leader by many. How could I possibly convey my feelings to my audience of readers? It seems as though Meacham recognized that his readers would need help in finding the right words to express the importance of George H.W. Bush. To help, he provided the following moment from an interview the author conducted with President Barack Obama reflecting upon his attitude toward the legacy of Bush 41.

. . .Bush, Obama thought, was “one of our most underrated Presidents,” and, in the middle of a late winter afternoon a quarter century after Bush left Washington, the incumbent president made the case for the Bush legacy.

“I would argue that he helped usher in the post-Cold War era in a way that gave the world its best opportunity for stability and peace and openness,” Obama said in the telephone interview from the White House. “The template he laid in a peaceful and unified Europe and in what for at least twenty-five years was a constructive relationship with Russia and the former Soviet satellites, and the trajectory away from nuclear brinksmanship at a time when things were still up in the air, was an extraordinary legacy.” As challenging as the world remained, “the one thing that we don’t have right now is any serious prospect of a great power war anywhere in the world,” Obama said. “Part of the reason for that is that I think George H.W. Bush did a really good job in managing that post-Cold War transition.” At home, Obama cited the Americans with Disabilities Act — something, Obama said, “that it’s hard to imagine a current Republican president initiating. . .So although President Bush was sometimes mocked for talking about ‘a thousand points of light,’ the fact is, even in his policies, there was a genuine conservative compassion there that manifested itself in working with Republicans and Democrats on the Hill to get some big things done.” (pp.599-600)

I highly recommend this biography for every American who is interested in the history and the challenges of the Office of the President. The men who have served and lead our nation from the Oval Office have shouldered immense burden as they attempted to make the lives of America’s citizens better. They all have had faults. Most have experienced success of some degree while in office. They all should be honored, respected, and thanked for their service — regardless of our political leanings.

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Betty Ford: First Lady, Women’s Advocate, Survivor, Trailblazer (Lisa McCubbin)

Lately, I’ve found myself interested in reading more biographies. I suppose I am enjoying stories of the lives of others who have found success despite the odds. At the end of the summer, I was browsing the biographies in a local Barnes and Noble and the cover of the Betty Ford biography struck my eye. Mrs. Ford, dressed in a green pant suit, sits atop a conference table in the White House with her hands meeting just below her chin. With such an interesting pose, how could I resist reading her story?

What did I know about Betty Ford going into my reading? Very little. First lady who struggled with drug and alcohol abuse and ultimately had a recovery center named after her. That was it. McCubbin’s exploration of this remarkable woman’s life, struggles, and successes opened my eyes to all that this pioneering woman accomplished.

As a young adult, Ford was involved in the performing arts – a dancer who worked with Martha Graham in New York. After marrying her husband, she was quickly thrust into the public eye because of his political career. The Fords found themselves in the national spotlight when Jerry was appointed Vice-President after the resignation of Agnew due to scandal. Watergate would later bring down President Nixon, resulting in Jerry and Betty Ford taking up residence on Pennsylvania Avenue.

While in the White House, Betty was an advocate for women’s rights – most notably her efforts to see the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. Mrs. Ford would battle breast cancer and brought the disease to the attention of the American public with dignity; her transparency and honesty about her diagnosis are credited with an immediate increase in women being regularly screened by their doctors.

The tragedy of her addiction to prescription drugs came at a time when the issue was not spoken of in polite society at all. What began as treatment for an inoperable pinched nerve that caused Betty tremendous pain, turned into a destructive force due to the fact that none of her doctors noticed the lethal combinations being prescribed to Mrs. Ford. After an intervention in their California home by her family and close friends, Betty defeated her personal demons and became clean. Rather than being satisfied with just her own personal sobriety, Mrs. Ford became an advocate for others who suffered and desperately needed help. Her efforts led to the creation of the Betty Ford Center and largely transformed the field of addiction recovery.

What do I think of Betty Ford now? I see her as a loving wife and impressive woman who spoke her mind despite the influence of others. She was incredibly compassionate and looked for opportunities to serve society before we even knew that we needed her leadership. Betty was charming and witty — always the ultimate hostess — who struggled with learning that it was okay for her to take care of herself first. After reading McCubbin’s biography of the first lady, I feel as through I know Mrs. Ford personally. I’m certain we would have enjoyed a laugh together and I would have cherished time spent with her. Our world could use another Betty right about now.

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#25: Charles Spurgeon: The Prince of Preachers (Dan Harmon)

I realize that I know very little about some of the major pioneers of the Christian faith in the 19th and 20th centuries. I decided to read this simple biography of the English minister, Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892). I was struck by his eloquence and the tremendous things that were accomplished for the Kingdom of God despite Spurgeon’s simple beginnings. Though not highly educated himself, Spurgeon placed great value on education and opened a school of ministry for preachers as well as teaching and caring for the orphans of England. Spurgeon was confident in his convictions and never afraid to speak his mind clearly. He addressed the horrors of slavery as well as reforms that needed to occur within the church itself. What most surprised me, however, was Spurgeon’s use of humor.  One of my favorite quotes (taken from his collection of proverbs known as Salt-Cellars) is about knowing when things are not worth trying:

Don’t put a cat on a coach-box or men in places for which they are not fitted. There is no making apples of plums. Little minds will still be little even if you make them beadles or churchwardens. It is a pity to turn a monkey into a minister. Many preachers are good tailors spoilt, and capital shoemakers turned out of their proper calling. When God means a creature to fly He gives it wings, and when He intends men to preach He gives them abilities. (p. 104)

One cannot overstate the effectiveness of Spurgeon’s ministry. Thousands of lives were changed through his presentation of the Word of God. It is estimated that some twenty million people attended services at the Metropolitan Tabernacle during Spurgeon’s tenure there. The conclusion to his final sermon from that pulpit on June 7, 1891 reminds us of  his devotion and concern for the sinful in need of a Savior.

If you wear the livery of Christ, you will find Him so meek and lowly of heart that you will find rest unto your souls. He is the most magnanimous of captains. There never was His like among the choicest of princes. He is always to be found in the thickest part of the battle. When the wind blows cold He always takes the bleak side of the hill. The heaviest end of the cross lies on His shoulders. If He bids us carry a burden, He carries it also. If there is anything that is gracious, generous, kind and tender, yea, lavish and superabundant in love, you always find it is Him. His service is life, peace, joy. Oh, that you would enter it at once! God help you to enlist under the banner of Jesus Christ! (p. 114-5)



#1: Paul: A Man of Grace and Grit (Charles Swindoll)

The first book of the year!  I selected this book as preparation for an upcoming class I will be teaching this summer and honestly didn’t have high expectations.  Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised.  Not only was the biography well-written and thoroughly researched, it also provided insightful commentary and connections to modern day life.  This 6th volume of Swindoll’s “Great Lives from God’s Word” series definitely made a believer out of me.  I will probably pick up the other volumes in the series eventually.

Here’s one of my favorite passages that came near the end of the work:

I [Swindoll] was reading to Cynthia [his wife] from Sports Illustrated about a 90-year-old basketball scout that still does work for the Detroit Pistons.  That’s right — the man is ninety years old!  He still gets on a plane, checks those prospects out, and brings back a reliable report.  I love it!  He said he flew past sixty-two without even a thought of retirement.  Strong determination.

I read somewhere, “We wonder at the anatomical perfection of a da Vinci painting.  But we forget that Leonardo da Vinci on one occasion drew a thousand hands.”  Leonardo possessed that same strong determination Paul modeled in Rome.  Thomas Edison came up with the modern light bulb after a thousand failed attempts.  By the man’s own admission, it was mainly strong determination that gave the incandescent light to the world, not an inventor’s creative genius.

But we’re not talking about college athletes or persistent, brilliant inventors.  We’re talking about being a determined servant of Christ.  There’s no easy route to spiritual maturity.  It doesn’t happen overnight.  Remember, it’s a grueling journey at times.  So, don’t bother to publish a pamphlet on all the obstacles you face.  Don’t become famous for complaining.  The apostle says, “Forget the past; reach for the tape.  Keep running.”  Develop and maintain an attitude of strong determination.  (Swindoll, 310-311)

My score for this book:  4 out of 5.

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