If you’re expecting a slam job, you’ve either misread the title as Bumbling Into History or you’re unfamiliar with New York Times reporter Bruni’s intelligent writing. While this is no whitewash—Bush’s creative use of his native tongue is duly noted (“misunderestimated,” “a winning victory”), as is his sometimes childlike behavior: “I felt someone’s hands closing tight on my throat and turned around to see the outstretched arms of the future president of the United States, a devilish and delighted gleam in his eyes”—it’s not the one-dimensional lampoon prevalent in recent Bush books.
Ambling Into History is a chronicle of the months Bruni covered Bush’s White House bid—including interviews with the candidate and behind-the-scenes interactions, each revealing in its way—bookended by a prologue and closing chapters on Bush’s first months in office and the presidential transformation wrought by September 11. Supporting roles in the sharp and entertaining narrative are given to descriptions of media manipulation by Bush’s and other candidates’ campaigns, the press’s often-complicit role in same, the battle-weary camaraderie among reporters on the road, and telling exchanges with the elder Bushes and W.’s wife, Laura.
Surprisingly, given his verbal and observational gifts, Bruni’s final thoughts are neither deep nor especially eloquent. After 9/11, he writes, “while Bush seemed different, he also seemed the same,” and he later describes the newly focused leader as “both a bit platitudinous and a bit profound.” Okayyy . . . can’t argue with that.
It’s not Bruni’s conclusions that make this book worth reading; it’s the hard work he did getting there.