New biographies offer insight into political figures

Two wonderful new biographies have arrived at the Bartholomew County Public Library, with political threads connecting them.

Moving into the throes of a presidential election year, we are informed by Jon Meacham’s latest work, “Destiny and Power: The Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush.” Perhaps the last great gentleman in politics, his privileged, Eastern upbringing in a competitive family produced a strong individual who joined the Navy on his 18th birthday, flew an airplane that was shot down in a combat mission over the Pacific, married young, started a family, graduated from Yale and began a new life in the oilfields of Texas.

Via access to Bush’s personal and presidential diaries, Meacham brilliantly threads us through his rise in the Republican Party, and we are privy to the thoughts and reactions of a very classy, private man who pursued a life of service as a guardian of America, Eisenhower-style.

We are treated to a timely and fascinating account of how his era shaped him, and along the way, new light is shed on his response to the earliest emergence of the right wing of the party and the slow demise of its moderate center.

There is some astonishing foresight as we read his take on people such as Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney from their early days in Washington politics. The book is a spectacular and moving portrait of Bush 41, timely, dramatic and unforgettable.

Imagine being captivated by a biography on another living legend, this time a Supreme Court justice. Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik have captured the white-collared, tiny little lady with her hair in a bun, and make us sit up and take notice in their affectionate tribute, “Notorious RBG: the Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”

Not at all scholarly, this book takes its chapter headings from the lyrics of late rapper Notorious B.I.G., providing a bare-bones biographical narrative interspersed with a selection of her most important court opinions and dissents, all the while inserting cartoons, photos, poetry, opera lyrics and even a recipe. The opinions are annotated in plain language by prominent legal academics.

Easy, illustrated and enjoyable to read, this shows RBG and her work in a large historical context — as she advanced equal rights for all — in opinion after opinion on a court stacked with men for years after Sandra Day O’Connor retired.

She continues her work with two more women now on the court, Elena Kagan and Sonya Sotomayor.

Suzanne Smith is a Reference Librarian at the Bartholomew County Public Library and can be reached at ssmith@barth.lib.in.us.