Decision Points - Critical summary review - George W. Bush

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Decision Points - critical summary review

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Society & Politics and Biographies & Memoirs

This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: Decision Points

Available for: Read online, read in our mobile apps for iPhone/Android and send in PDF/EPUB/MOBI to Amazon Kindle.

ISBN: 978-0307590619

Publisher: Broadway Books

Critical summary review

In his autobiography “Decision Points,” written after his eight-year long presidency of the United States, George W. Bush looks back upon the most important decisions of his life and how he came to make them. He hopes that reading his book will help and inspire others in their decision-making as well. So get ready to learn how to make decisions from one of the presidents of the United States!

Private life

George W. Bush grew up as the eldest of the six children of Barbara and George H. W. Bush. While he had a happy childhood, one tragic event occurred when his younger sister Robin died of leukemia, at just 3 years old. He says that his parents showed him nothing but unconditional love.

He grew up in Midland, Texas, and soon followed closely in his father’s footsteps: he went to boarding school at Andover, then to Yale, and then decided to join the army as a pilot in 1968. His father had served as a naval aviator in World War II.

Bush decided to join the army because of his commitment to the Vietnam War, which aimed to stop the spread of communism. He is staunchly anti-communist, saying: “It was as if mankind had a sickness that it kept inflicting on itself. The sobering thought deepened my conviction that freedom - economic, political, and religious - is the only fair and productive way of governing a society.”

Upon turning 30 years old, however, Bush was ready to settle down. He was introduced to Laura Welch by common friends, and after a short and stormy courtship, he proposed to her in 1977. He still calls marrying her the best decision of his life. 

Both wanted children but were struggling to have any. So after a few years of trying, they decided to adopt a baby. In 1981, however, Laura miraculously got pregnant with twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna.

Growing up in Midland also had a huge impact on Bush’s decision to finally run for president in 1999. He had spent much of his 20s on the campaign trail to satisfy his hunger for adventure - not to mention his father had been a president of the United States as well. In 2001, George W. Bush was inaugurated as the 43rd president of the United States. In his inauguration speech he had promised to unite the people of America in “a single nation of justice and opportunity.” 

Stem cells

One of the first major decisions facing President Bush after his inauguration was whether to provide federal funding for stem cell research. Now, he was faced with a decision that had strong supporters on either side. 

Embryonic stem cells hold the promise of possible cures for a variety of illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Stem cells can mutate into a variety of different cell types, and are therefore used in medical research. To acquire stem cells, however, a human embryo is destroyed. This brings up an ethical conflict: should researchers be allowed to destroy human life in order to save countless others with potentially life-saving medical treatments. 

To come to an informed decision on the subject, Bush started by gathering information from experts on both sides of the debate to clarify his guiding principles. From this, he formed a tentative conclusion and again asked the advice of experts on the subject.

The stem cell debate also coincided with the abortion debate. Bush is anti-abortion, saying that he can see “the dilemma facing a scared teenager with an unplanned pregnancy” but believes that adoption would allow not only one, but three lives to be saved - since this would allow parents to fulfil their wish of adopting a child.

In his decision-making, Bush is also strongly guided by his faith. In July 2001, he visited Pope John Paul II in his summer residence. During the stay, he also broached the topic of stem cell research and was encouraged by the Holy Father to protect human life in all its forms. Reassured by this, Bush then decided to fund stem cell research on existing stem cells, where the embryo had already been destroyed. But he was also clear on the fact that he would not allow federal money to be used to destroy further embryos.

After announcing his decision in a prime time speech to the nation to make sure that the American people would see his informed approach, he received a lot of backlash on the subject. When asked to veto his decision in 2006, he refused, saying, “If I abandoned my principles on an issue like stem cell research, how could I maintain my credibility on anything else?”

To underline his resolution, he then invited a group of “snowflake babies” to the White House. These were the babies that had grown out of the frozen embryos intended for destruction, but had been adopted instead by couples.


Arguably one of the most challenging decisions that faced Bush during his presidency was the terrorist attack of 9/11. The attacks of al Qaeda on the twin towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington shook the nation and for Bush, changed the meaning of his presidency, “In a single morning, the purpose of my presidency had grown clear: to protect our people and defend our freedom that had come under attack,” he says.

When the attacks happened, Bush was in a school in Florida to speak about educational reform. While sitting in on a class, he was informed by Chief of Staff Andy Card about the attacks. Aware of the journalists present, Bush’s first response was to project calm, even though he was raging within that anyone had dared to attack his country.

He then chose to immediately reassure the American people and to keep them updated throughout the day, with two TV addresses. Horrified by the scenes unfolding on the screen, he prayed to God for guidance. He also immediately wanted to get back to the White House to further assure the public that their president stood by their side, but out of security concerns he was not allowed to return until later that evening.

His next steps were clearly laid out: he had to sort out the facts of who had attacked them, where, and why; he also needed to secure the nation and send help to the affected areas. Finally, in the long term, he needed to devise a strategy to bring the terrorists to justice. The attacks on 9/11 were the biggest surprise attacks since Pearl Harbor in 1941. Bush even went so far as to call this the first war of the 21st century, within the first 24 hours of the attacks.

His aim in the situation was clear: to defend America and the American people. So on September 12, he laid out three goals for the following few days: keep the terrorists from striking again, make clear that America was in a new kind of war, and help economic and societal recovery. In an unprecedented move, he declared not only the terrorists as the enemy, but also anyone who might harbor them.

Bush says that in this most terrifying time of his presidency he drew strength from his faith, history, his family and White House staff, along with his West Texas optimism.

War with Iraq

The war on terrorism was not the only war of Bush’s eight-year presidency. As well as waging a war against Afghanistan in 2003, he gave the order for Operation “Iraqi Freedom” - an attempt to oust Iraq’s terrorist president Saddam Hussein from power.

Hussein had not only tortured and abused his people but had also failed to declare whether or not he had any nuclear or chemical weapons. Declaring war on him was Bush’s last resort  - he resolved to do so after Hussein failed to respond to multiple entreaties from the U.S. and the United Nations. 

Bush says he decided to declare war because: “After the nightmare of 9/11, I had vowed to do what was necessary to protect the country. Letting a sworn enemy of America refuse to account for his weapons of mass destruction was a risk I could not afford to take.”

By 2003, Iraq was liberated. Although Saddam Hussein had not yet surrendered, Bush decided to make a surprise visit to American troops stationed in Baghdad, to boost morale. This was a top-secret mission, so much so that his secret agents did not realize he had been gone until he returned from Iraq.

Looking back on the Iraq war, Bush still believes that he did a great service to humanity and to America by defeating Saddam Hussein and ending his reign of terror. Even though it later turned out Hussein did not own any dangerous weapons of mass destruction, Bush believes: “The nature of history is that we know the consequences only of the action we took. But inaction would have had consequences, too.”

In hindsight, he thinks the operation could have gone more smoothly if troops had responded more quickly and aggressively once Hussein’s regime had fallen, as this would have helped to protect the Iraqi people. He also believes that there was an intelligence failure regarding whether Hussien had weapons or not - Hussein later admitted that he was scared of looking weak to Iran which was why he did not debunk the myth.

Hurricane Katrina

One of the greatest natural disasters of Bush’s presidency was Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The coastline of Mississippi was destroyed by 120 mph winds, New Orleans was flooded, and more than 450,000 people lost their homes. On top of that, looting and violence were happening in the affected areas.

Bush is criticized for his response to the disaster, seen by some as unfeeling for the victims and as having provided an inadequate response from the government with regards to emergency relief. Far from being unfeeling, he says he was deeply horrified and moved by the events unfolding before his eyes. But once public opinion had been formed against him, it was impossible to reverse it.

On his decision-making in the face of the disaster Bush says: “I prided myself on my ability to make crisp and effective decisions. Yet in the days after Katrina, that didn’t happen. The problem was not that I made the wrong decisions. It was that I took too long to decide.” Hurricane Katrina cast a cloud over his second term in office.

Bush says the problems with the emergency response were at the state level, not federal, since emergency response is usually carried out by local authorities first, before federal help is given upon request. The mayor of New Orleans, however, refused to give the mandatory order to evacuate until it was too late and federal help was not immediately requested. Nevertheless, the U.S. Coast Guard heroically saved many lives in the immediate hours after the storm.

Bush admits he also made mistakes in the handling of the storm, especially by not deploying active duty troops until the third day. 

Final Notes

As a president, the decisions made carry immense weight. So in order to arrive at informed decisions, Bush always sought to first gather the facts and then lay out a plan for responding to a problem. This approach served him well, even in the immense crises he faced such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. He also always strongly relied on his faith.

Readers of “Decision Points” should be aware that the book is an autobiography, so George W. Bush seeks to present himself in the most favorable light possible.

12min Tip

Next time you face a difficult decision, why not use some of the tips learned in “Decision Points” to guide you to an informed resolution?

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Who wrote the book?

George W. Bush was the 43rd President of the United States. He is a member of the Republican Party and previously served as the 46th governor of Texas. He comes from a pol... (Read more)

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