LONDON – George W. Bush has started work on his memoirs. Count to ten before you respond.
The autobiographies of political leaders are not a very elevated literary form. First, few leaders write well, though there are exceptions, like Nehru, Churchill, and de Gaulle. No wonder that most of them employ a “ghost,” like the one in Robert Harris’s excellent thriller of the same name, which is really a devastating critique of Britain’s former premier, Tony Blair.
Second, these memoirs are usually little more than slabs of self-justification interspersed with lists of famous people met in the course of life at the top. To take one example, while Bill Clinton speaks with warmth, wit, and great eloquence in the flesh, his autobiography is not worth reading.
Third, these books are usually written largely for a big paycheck. But it beats me how publishers ever recover the huge multi-million dollar advances they hand out. When the great General George C. Marshall – whose memoirs of World War II and of his tenure as America’s Secretary of State would have been worth every penny – was offered $1 million by a publisher in the1950’s for his autobiography, the old man replied, “Why would I want $1 million?” What a different world we now inhabit.