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Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White…

Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House (2013)

by Peter Baker

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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An epic recounting of the Bush Presidency According to the author's notes, this book (clocking in at 658 pages for the paperback edition, and that excludes the notes and index!) took nearly 10 years to research and write. And no wonder. This is a book that tells of the Bush/Cheney administrations: from each of their origins and pre-White House lives through the inauguration of Bush's successor, Barack Obama and the departure of each man for their respective homes.
This book won't change anyone's mind. It's not written to do that and regardless of where one sits on the political spectrum, they will find things that will support how they feel about this particular administration. However, it DOES provide a history (definitive? Baker doesn't think so.) of Bush and Cheney in the White House.
The book begins with Bush considering Cheney's request to pardon his chief of staff, Scooter Libby. At the end of the book we will return to this request, except perhaps with the knowledge. After a historical look at the Bush and Cheney families and the youths of the respective men, Baker's work begins to pick up as he takes us through the campaign.
From then on out the book drops in and looks at particular events of the Bush presidency, some with more focus than others. The disputed 2000 campaign, attacks on 9/11 (plus the consequences from civil liberties to intelligence gathering), the decision to invade Iraq (and beyond), the re-election campaign in 2004, the domestic agenda (Social Security, immigration, Medicare), Hurricane Katrina, the 2006 midterms, the Scooter Libby saga, the financial crisis, the 2008 election, and the very end of his presidency.
Throughout the history we look at the partnership of Bush and Cheney. And while these are the two main "characters" of this story, familiar names drop in. Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Karl Rove, etc. all appear. We see the drama, the Machiavellian moves, the politics, etc. And while Baker's book is not necessarily meant to sway one's thinking, it's not hard to see that perhaps Bush (just other presidents before him and likely after him) was surrounded by personalities too focused certain things and not enough challenges to their mindsets from within (or without, from aides perhaps too junior to feel safe in objecting or disagreeing). What was perhaps most fascinating was the drop-off in Cheney's influence as Bush came into his own (and public opinion turned against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving Cheney without what was perhaps his strongest areas). In the beginning Cheney's influence and voice often carries a big impact, but as the end of their time in the WH looms, he sometimes all but disappears from the text. Which is the point of Baker's book, although again it is not for political purposes. It's just a story he's telling.
We also spot other familiar names such as Vladmir Putin, Saddam Hussein, etc. They are not major players though. Neither are the Democrats. Mentions of big names appear here and there as relevant to the events as described in the moment, but the book focuses very much on what is going on in the White House itself.
In some ways this reminded me of a sort of "The West Wing"-like story, except in written form and for a Republican White House. And indeed, there is a line where Baker makes a reference to Fargo, North Dakota and mentions the phrase "the West Wing" in the next line (if you've seen the show you'll understand the Fargo reference). Another possible Easter egg is where General David Petraeus tells President Bush he is "all in," but I am not fully certain if it is, since I haven't read Petraeus's book.
This book was hailed by critics and by readers alike, and no wonder. Sometimes I stay away from political books because I am not interested in authors who clearly have a slanted political agenda in any direction. Baker takes pains to recount conversations and events, noting when people's recollections differ and if certain party(ies) disagree on what was said or how something was supposed to happen. That was something I really appreciated.That said, this isn't for everyone. It's a LONG book and if you hate non-fiction, you probably won't be interested. Baker doesn't stray from his topic but sometimes his level of detail (for example, lists of military supplies and discussion of tactics) can make one's eyes glaze over. But even if you hate Bush/Cheney with the deepest of hatred for whatever reason, read this book. It would likely make a GREAT reference for a student. I'm glad I bought it at full price. ( )
  acciolibros | Feb 11, 2018 |
Well written and well balanced. I did not learn anything startlingly new from it as I had followed the events pretty closely at the time. Based on my memory this seems to be a well researched, factual account. I recommend it to anyone who wants to understand the Bush/Cheney Whitehouse better. ( )
  bness2 | May 23, 2017 |
Days of Fire is an interesting, fairly objective, narrative of the Bush presidency and the role and relationship of Dick Cheney and President Bush. It focuses on the events that overtook the Bush presidency and the actions of Bush and Cheney as they attempted to lead the country through the myriad of disasters - most of their own making.

There can be no doubt that Bush - immediately after 9-11, found his voice and guided the country effectively for the first year of the War on Terror. However, even the most ardent Bush supporter would have problems understanding the U.S. involvement in the Iraqi war. The disaster that occurred there - despite the surge that saved the war - would define his presidency.

The book treats Bush fairly, he comes off as well meaning and compassionate but with an unfortunate willingness to shoot from the hip without due consideration. It amazed me that almost all his policies seemed to change significantly throughout his eight years of presidency. The book however certainly doesn't hide the numerous mistakes made and how by being loyal to a fault he made things worse.

Cheney however comes to the Vice President's role fully formed - he is what he is and he won't be anything else - and as a result comes off as a cold hearted bastard.

It also was surprising to learn about the in-fighting between Bush's top aides and the agendas that were being fought for and how Bush was under-served by most of them.

Interesting and well written, certainly not the last word on the Bush presidency, but an important one, Days of Fire is a worthy read.

( )
  bhuesers | Mar 29, 2017 |
Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House by Peter Baker, The New York Times White House Correspondent, is considered the definitive study of the Bush 43 administration. It is a long and difficult read but an important book that ought to be read. There are many very lengthy passages on the process as Bush was making decisions. He was deliberative and there is a lot of detailed discussions with his advisers, SecDef, Sec State etc. I don't know that you need to read these in great detail but it does give you a feel for how Bush made decisions and he was decisive. He was of great integrity and did what he thought was right despite the politics. In the end you come away with a personal feeling about Bush. He was of great humanity, kind, caring, sensitive to others and finally emotional. The sight of a wounded soldier brought tears to his eyes. Whatever you feel about his politics he is a great man. ( )
  SigmundFraud | Feb 19, 2014 |
I received Days of Fire as part of a Goodreads giveaway.

Peter Baker takes on the oft-speculated relationship between George W. Bush and Dick Cheney during their professional careers. The narrative is well-balanced and gives insight into two figures that easily fall prey to caricature (and I'm speaking as an anti-Bush administration liberal), and the amount of research and interviews Baker must have undertaken are truly impressive. Depending on your political persuasion, you will probably find some parts easier reading than others, but Baker effectively points out the good and bad in Bush, Cheney, and other figures in the administration.

I thought a lot of attention was paid to the Iraq War, which makes sense as it's arguably the central issue of the Bush presidency (and the Bush-Cheney relationship), but I would have liked to hear more about the conservative social agenda pursued by the administration.


( )
1 vote ceg045 | Feb 19, 2014 |
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To Susan and Theo And to my parents for a lifetime of love
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(Prologue) George W. Bush was sitting behind his desk in the Oval Office, chewing gum, staring and listening - in fact listening longer than usual.
George W. Bush had already dropped by to see three congressmen when he strode down the high-ceilinged corridor of the Cannon House Office Building to find the fourth on his list.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385525184, Hardcover)

In Days of Fire, Peter Baker, senior White House Correspondent for The New York Times, takes us on a gripping and intimate journey through the eight years of the Bush and Cheney administration in a tour-de-force narrative of a dramatic and controversial presidency.

Theirs was the most captivating American political partnership since Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger: a bold and untested president and his seasoned, relentless vice president. Confronted by one crisis after another, they struggled to protect the country, remake the world, and define their own relationship along the way. In Days of Fire, Peter Baker chronicles the history of the most consequential presidency in modern times through the prism of its two most compelling characters, capturing the elusive and shifting alliance of George Walker Bush and Richard Bruce Cheney as no historian has done before. He brings to life with in-the-room immediacy all the drama of an era marked by devastating terror attacks, the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, and financial collapse.
     The real story of Bush and Cheney is a far more fascinating tale than the familiar suspicion that Cheney was the power behind the throne. Drawing on hundreds of interviews with key players, and thousands of pages of never-released notes, memos, and other internal documents, Baker paints a riveting portrait of a partnership that evolved dramatically over time, from the early days when Bush leaned on Cheney, making him the most influential vice president in history, to their final hours, when the two had grown so far apart they were clashing in the West Wing. Together and separately, they were tested as no other president and vice president have been, first on a bright September morning, an unforgettable “day of fire” just months into the presidency, and on countless days of fire over the course of eight tumultuous years.
     Days of Fire is a monumental and definitive work that will rank with the best of presidential histories. As absorbing as a thriller, it is eye-opening and essential reading.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:23 -0400)

"From the senior White House correspondent for The New York Times comes the definitive history of the Bush and Cheney White House--a tour de force narrative of those dramatic and controversial eight years. Taking readers into the offices of the West Wing and the cabins of Air Force One, Peter Baker tells the gripping inside story of the Bush and Cheney era. Theirs was the most fascinating American partnership since Nixon and Kissinger, an untested president and his seasoned vice president confronted by one crisis after another as they struggled to protect the country, remake the world, and define their own relationship along the way. Packed with revealing anecdotes and told with in-the-room immediacy, Days of Fire narrates two profoundly significant and conflicted terms marked by 9/11, Iraq, Katrina, jihad, nuclear proliferation, genocide, and economic collapse. George W. Bush was one of the most polarizing presidents of our time, jettisoning decades of foreign policy pragmatism to redefine America's mission as a crusade to bring freedom to the world. Yet his early dream of transforming Republicans into the party of "compassionate conservatism" and building an "ownership society" were dashed by two consuming wars and a devastating financial crash. At his side was Dick Cheney, the trusted adviser who became the most influential vice president in history only to watch as Bush drifted away, leaving the two at odds over a wide array of fundamental issues. Baker's interviews with more than two hundred players--White House aides, cabinet secretaries, generals, senators and congressmen, relatives and friends of both men--help reveal the truth of their complicated and shifting relationship. Days of Fire is the first book to capture in a truly defining way all eight years of the most consequential presidency in a generation. It is an essential history and thrilling reading"--… (more)

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