12/09/2010 11:30 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Listening to Bush Reading Bush

Why would a Liberal Democrat who opposed the Iraq War and most other policies of President George W. Bush read his new book, Decision Points?

The answer is: to hear him read it.

Let me explain. I share a serious vision problem, a form of macular degeneration called Stargardt's Syndrome with some 30,000 to 50,000 Americans. Mine has long ago advanced to a point where I can no longer read books or other printed material, even in very large type. (Is there still an "E" at the top of the eye chart?)

To compensate I have a software program (Zoomtext) that reads to me most anything I can bring up on the computer screen. And, more to the point, I download books to my iPod. Unlike the artificial Zoomtext voice, audio books have wonderful readers, many of whom can do five or six different voices seemingly effortlessly. But it is usually special to have the author do the reading as with David McCullough's 1776. His reading of that work added depth and nuance.

I downloaded Decision Points to hear former President George W. Bush read his own accounting of his presidency and to listen to hear what could be learned from his voice when recounting his time in office. I wanted to hear if there was any sign of emotion in the voice when discussing the Iraq war or the economic disaster he left for his successor.

Some observations. First, he clearly had had some diction lessons. His normal slurring together of words and syllables was almost absent and the mangling of a phrase nearly gone also. But there were definite traces of this tendency and he never, on three or four tries, gets the pronunciation of Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, even close to correct. I found the tone flat, even bloodless, to a fault with little evidence of emotion or inflection. It is as if he is reading something written by someone else, which may be close to the truth.

The substance was no more satisfying. The book is organized in chapters around decisions, from his deciding to stop drinking to the surge in Iraq. Each has an apparently mandatory human moment where he greets a wounded soldier or African AIDS victim to show his compassionate side. There is no coherent story as the decision to invade Iraq is several chapters removed from the surge. Inconvenient facts are left out such as ordering the UN inspectors out of Iraq to clear the way for the invasion. The surge is displayed as the president's idea, ignoring the behind the scenes work of Gen. Keene and Vice President Cheney. But since he is the "Decider" and this book is about decisions, how could it be otherwise.

The book lacks introspection, critical judgment or depth. For example, the chapter on Afghanistan reads like a chronology of events, not an analysis. We learn the dates of the fall of Kabul, the various Loya Jurga and elections and, only at the end some recognition that maybe he left a mess to his successor. Chronology dominates other chapters also while three quarters of the Iraq invasion chapter is aimed at justifying the absence of weapons of mass destruction.

In sum, it is not a book that succeeds either on the substantive or literary level. But it is haunting to hear the voice responsible for so much destruction read the chronicle of his deeds so soullessly.

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