Book Excerpt: Jon Meacham's 'Destiny and Power'

ByABC News
November 8, 2015, 7:34 AM

— -- Excerpted from "Destiny and Power" by Jon Meacham. Copyright © 2015 by Jon Meacham. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a Penguin Random House Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Prologue: The Last GentlemanHouston, Texas, 12:15am. CST, November 4, 1992

Even in the dark, he tried to look ahead. It was late, and he knew he should sleep, but he just couldn’t—not yet, anyway. Too much had happened; too much was on his mind.

In the Houstonian Hotel’s suite 271 on the evening he lost his bid for a second term as president of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush climbed out of bed and slipped into an adjoining wood-paneled living room. Weary but restless, he settled on a small sofa. The room was empty, his heart full. There he sat, alone, struggling to make peace with the news that he, an American president who embodied the experience of the World War II generation, had just been defeated by Bill Clinton, the Baby Boomer Democratic governor of Arkansas. In his private, tape-recorded diary, Bush dictated: “I ache and I now must think: how do you keep your chin up, keep your head up through a couple of difficult days ahead?” He kept his voice low: Barbara, his devoted wife of forty- seven years, was asleep back in the bedroom. “I think of our country, and the people that are hurting, and there is so much we didn’t do” Bush told his diary. “And yes, progress that we made, but no, the job is not finished, and that kills me.”

Not so long before, it had all been different: George Bush had always finished the job. From his earliest days, he had done what his parents, his teachers, and his country had asked of him. He had not only met expectations but exceeded them, time and again. Born in 1924, he was a son of privilege raised in Greenwich, Connecticut, and at the seaside Walker’s Point in Kennebunkport, Maine. He had joined the navy on his eighteenth birthday. As a carrier-based bomber pilot in the Pacific in World War II, he had been shot down at the age of twenty—but had finished his mission, attacking an enemy radio tower on Chichi-Jima even after his plane had been hit. He had raised a family, lost a daughter to leukemia, built a business, and thrived in the treacherous world of American politics. As president of the United States he had ended the Cold War with the Soviet Union, lifting the specter of nuclear war from the life of the nation and of the world, and led a global coalition to military victory in the Middle East. The American economy, however, had slipped into recession on his watch, leading to a persistent public sense that he was a rich man out of touch with the concerns of the people in his care. The caricature wasn’t particularly fair, but, as Bush often said, politics never was.