Bush Book Club: Open-Kindle Test

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush signs a copy of his new book 'Immigration Wars' during the second day of the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference on March 15, 2013 in National Harbor, Maryland.

Photograph by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush signs a copy of his new book ‘Immigration Wars’ during the second day of the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference on March 15, 2013 in National Harbor, Maryland.


In the unending search for contrasts between the two public Bush brothers, rule out a love for books.

This was prompted by the report in the New York Times over the weekend about the multitasking-reading Jeb Bush — sometimes with two books in progress at once, thanks to the portable Kindle library this device-loving former Republican governor of Florida carries. A wag at  The New Republic has dug up an old Wall Street Journal column about Bush’s brother, the former president.

Karl Rove, aka “Bush’s Brain,” reported that what started as a friendly conversation years ago became a friendly competition.

“It all started on New Year’s Eve in 2005,” Rove wrote in a Journal column the day after Christmas, 2008. “President Bush asked what my New Year’s resolutions were. I told him that as a regular reader who’d gotten out of the habit, my goal was to read a book a week in 2006. Three days later, we were in the Oval Office when he fixed me in his sights and said, `I am on my second. Where are you?’ Mr. Bush had turned my resolution into a contest.

“By coincidence, we were both reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s  `Team of Rivals.’  The president jumped to a slim early lead and remained ahead until March, when I moved decisively in front. The competition soon spun out of control…  At year’s end, I defeated the president, 110 books to 95. My trophy looks suspiciously like those given out at junior bowling finals. The president lamely insisted he’d lost because he’d been busy as Leader of the Free World.

“The nonfiction ran from biographies of Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Carnegie, Mark Twain, Babe Ruth, King Leopold, William Jennings Bryan, Huey Long, LBJ and Genghis Khan to Andrew Roberts’s `A History of the English Speaking Peoples Since 1900,’ James L. Swanson’s `Manhunt,’ and Nathaniel Philbrick’s `Mayflower.’ Besides eight Travis McGee novels by John D. MacDonald, Mr. Bush tackled Michael Crichton’s `Next,’ Vince Flynn’s `Executive Power,’ Stephen Hunter’s `Point of Impact,’ and Albert Camus’s  `The Stranger,’ among others.”

At the close of the Bush administration, Rove was reporting:

“To my surprise, the president demanded a rematch in 2007. Though the overall pace slowed, he once more came in second in our two-man race, reading 51 books to my 76. His list was particularly wide-ranging that year, from history (‘The Great Upheaval’ and `Khrushchev’s Cold War’), biographical (Dean Acheson and Andrew Mellon) and current affairs (including `Rogue Regime’ and `The Shia Revival’). He read one book meant for young adults, his daughter Jenna’s excellent `Ana’s Story.’

“A glutton for punishment, Mr. Bush insisted on another rematch in 2008. But it will be a three-peat for me: as of today, his total is 40 volumes to my 64. ”

Recalling a meeting with Rove one day at the White House in which it soon became apparent that we both were reading the biography of Albert Einstein by Walter Isaacson — with full disclosure here that the author’s explanation of relativity still eludes me — there also were times when Bush would sit down with White House reporters, albeit off the record, and talk about his habits. Assuming here that the statute of limitations has passed on broader themes, Bush generally and eagerly volunteered his reading list and asked reporters what they were reading at the time.

All of this from Rove and the former president appeared calculated at dispelling myths ingrained since the days of “My Pet Goat” in the second-grade classroom in Sarasota, Florida, on Sept. 11, 2001 — this reporter was there for that oral reading by the second-graders.

That said, the tendency of the press to compare the relative intellects of the former governors of Texas and Florida is an endless annoyance to the younger Bush brother, who resents it so much he generally has retreated from national media interviews going back to his days (two terms) as governor of the Sunshine State. Which makes it all the more interesting that he should now, as he speaks of considering a campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, with a decision promised by year’s end, open his Kindle for the New York Times.

“I read more than one book at a time these days,” Bush explained in an email, the Times’s Michael Barbaro reported. “I think it is because it’s easy to download books on Kindle.”

We haven’t seen the Twitter-frequenting Bush tweeting this one, though, which makes one wonder if the perpetual fraternal comparisons aren’t still rankling. He has found room for it on his Facebook page, however.

And the commentators are circling:

Bush’s books, from The Times:

POLK — Walter R. Borneman

THE WORLD AMERICA MADE — Robert Kagan

KNOWLEDGE AND POWER — George Gilder

THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD — Zora Neale Hurston

ABRAHAM LINCOLN — Lord Charnwood

THE RULE OF NOBODY — Philip K. Howard

THE FUTURE AND ITS ENEMIES — Virginia Postrel

THE TRAGEDY OF AMERICAN COMPASSION — Marvin Olasky

A MESSAGE TO GARCIA — Elbert Hubbard

THE SMARTEST KIDS IN THE WORLD — Amanda Ripley

THE MAGNIFICENT MASTERS — Gil Capps

KILLING JESUS — Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard

There’s a great footnote to all this for anyone who loves Florida. Among the former governor’s favorite Florida writers: Dave Barry.

As Dave likes to say, “we are not making this up.”

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