Bill Minutaglio




November 5, 1999: When you are first to publish a biography about the man many believe will be our next president, you expect to get some attention. But the pace of life for Bill Minutaglio, author of First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty, has been nothing short of frenetic lately: 15 interviews a day on high-profile shows like Fresh Air, Hardball, and The Today Show, readings around the country, constant phone calls from reporters. Though interest in the book has picked up since its mid-October release, the buzz began soon after Minutaglio started researching one year ago. "I knew it'd be sort of a wild ride, but I didn't know what to expect exactly," says Mike Smith, Minutaglio's primary research assistant for First Son. "We had lots of people interfering, claiming to know the right people to talk to; lots of people were calling us with information."

Minutaglio, a reporter for the Austin bureau of The Dallas Morning News, interviewed over 300 people in an attempt to answer the one question which drives any good biography: What makes the subject tick? "Someone said to me in Washington that one of [Bush's] favorite movies is Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery," Minutaglio says. "It's kind of interesting because George W., for a lot of Americans, is sort of a mystery. People know he looks like his father, they know he seems to be this charismatic kind of guy, but beyond that, what makes him tick, what's his poetry?"

photo by John Anderson

The answer seems to reside in Bush's family legacy and relationships. Born with what an Odessa radio show host described as a "silver boot up his ass," Bush has struggled throughout his political life to distinguish himself from his father and thus avoid the stigma of dynastic privilege -- the idea that he is only in politics because it's what Bushes do.

At the same time, George W. remains fiercely loyal to his family (he is given to phrases like, "you must be willing to throw yourself on the grenade for family") and has closely followed in his father's footsteps: same prep school (Andover), same college (Yale), same fraternity and secret society at college (DKE and Skull and Bones), same business interests in the same Texas town (oil in Midland), same political aspirations. Ultimately, First Son suggests that the difficult marriage of Bush's family devotion with his desire to appear as an independent political entity are key to understanding a personality that goes beyond Bush's upbeat, charismatic public demeanor.

How, then, does Bush's personality actually translate to a leadership style? Here you must draw your own conclusions, for Minutaglio's book purposely avoids detailed discussion of policy and governance. The decision to take a psychological approach originally came from the Random House publishing offices, but Minutaglio agrees with it. "Their thinking was that, by and large, most people around the country want to know more about what his upbringing was, and maybe the policies of someone in one state aren't going to make a lot of appealing reading to people in another state. That was their argument and I agree with it," Minutaglio says. Minutaglio was, in fact, chosen by Random House to author the book because he is not a political writer by trade: Most of his 16 years with The Dallas Morning News have been spent writing human-interest features.

For now, Minutaglio is somewhat of a media darling. The Bush biographies and their authors have become as politicized as their subject, especially since St. Martin's Press recalled Fortunate Son: George W. Bush and the Making of an American President by Texan J.H. Hatfield after discovering Hatfield's credentials were suspect. The buzz surrounding that incident speaks cogently to the press' hunger for news on George W., and to how heavily scrutinized those who write about him are. "I won't write about a guy while he's running for office again," Minutaglio says."I was writing while his campaign was developing and others were on the hunt for information about him. It became daunting because I became the news story."


Bill Minutaglio will be a panelist on the "Mighty Men: Three Biographies" panel on Sunday, November 7 at 2pm in Capitol Extension Room E2.012.


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More by Jessica Berthold:

Herman Silverman's Michener and Me: A Memoir
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