When Laura Bush moved into the White House on January 20, 2001, everyone wanted to know what kind of first lady she would be. Would she be like Mamie Eisenhower Would she follow in Barbara Bush's footsteps Would she be another Hillary Clinton "I think I'll just be Laura Bush," she would say. On Saturday, April 30, 2005, the world got a glimpse of what that meant when she pushed aside the leader of the free world and stole the show at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner. Wearing a shimmering lime green Oscar de la Renta gown, Laura wisecracked that she was a "desperate housewife" married to a president who was always asleep at nine. Replayed constantly on the air, the stand-up routine with its impeccable comedic timing turned the first lady into a glittering star. But while the performance catapulted her to new status, it did not answer the question of who this former teacher and librarian really is and just what role she plays in influencing her husband and shaping his administration.
After examining George W. Bush's White House in 2004's A Matter of Character, Kessler turns his attention to Laura Bush. He's the first author to secure her cooperation for a book project, and he speaks not only with her but with several of her close friends. The resulting portrait is unsurprisingly flattering; "as first lady," Kessler writes, Laura "is in a class by herself." In placing her on a pedestal, however, Kessler engages in a string of unsubtle jabs at her predecessor, assigning Hillary Clinton a range of faults from meanness to poor interior decorating skills. He also smoothes out some rough edges; Laura's widely quoted response to her future mother-in-law's query about what she did ("I read, I smoke and I admire") gets abridged to "I read." Kessler stays away from controversial issues, although he does reveal Laura's input into executive appointments and in areas such as increased funding for the arts. Best viewed as a sympathetic rebuttal to Ann Gerhart's critical The Perfect Wife, this inoffensive biography examines Laura Bush without ever quite explaining her. (Apr. 4) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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April 01, 2006
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Excerpt from Laura Bush by Ronald Kessler
From the air, Midland looks as if a hurricane had just hit. The few trees are short, like Christmas trees. The grass is yellow, the land flat. Dust coats the paved roads. There are no lakes or rivers. Visitors could be forgiven for thinking they were stepping off onto the moon.
With annual rainfall of only thirteen and a half inches, Midland is so arid that, to keep their lawns green in summer, residents must water them every day. To create flower beds, they often have to use jackhammers to cut through the brittle crust formed from caliche, a weathered soil rich in calcium. Until the city started mixing more surface water from the Colorado River Municipal Water District with its own well water, tap water would cause brown stains on teeth because it had excess levels of fluoride.
Two or three times a year, usually in the spring, a bad sandstorm hits, obscuring the sun as in a total eclipse. The sand stings and enters the nostrils. Drivers peering through their windshield cannot see the front of their car. The sand seeps through the frames of windows and doors and piles up on floors and windowsills. Sand frosts the panes as well.
The wind uproots the tumbleweeds tangled balls of light, stiff branches that can balloon to the size of a Volkswagen. The tumbleweeds roll before the wind and clump together in masses of five or ten along the cinderblock walls residents build around their backyards to try to keep out the sand. Into this inhospitable environment, on November 4, 1946, Laura Lane Welch was born.
Located 335 miles west of Dallas in what is known as West Texas, Midland was named for Midway Station, a section house where railroad employees could stay overnight. The Texas and Pacific Railway built the station in June 1881 halfway between Dallas and El Paso, an area crisscrossed by a Comanche trail and wagon roads. The name was changed from Midway Station to Midland on January 4, 1884, when a post office was established. Until Herman N. Garrett moved his herd of sheep there in 1882, the area had no permanent residents. In 1885, Midland County was established with Midland as the county seat.
Soon, Nelson Morris, a Chicago meatpacker, bought 200,000 acres from the state for his Black Angus ranch and introduced cattle to the area. Farmers began moving in, and by 1920 over 4,600 acres in Midland County were devoted to cotton. In 1923, oil was discovered seventy miles southeast of Midland, touching off a boom that has continued, off and on, to this day. Located at the center of the Permian Basin, which has 22 percent of the nation's oil reserves, Midland would become one of the greatest petroleum-producing areas in the country.
Laura's ancestors on her father's side can be traced back to England and to Christopher DeGraffenried, a Swiss nobleman born in 1691. DeGraffenried moved to Philadelphia and eventually to Charleston, South Carolina. Laura's paternal grandfather, Mark Anthony Welch, was born in Texas in 1873. He began as a carpenter and became a homebuilder. According to family legend, he became a friend of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, and sometimes traveled with him. His wife, Marie Lula Lane, was born in Arkansas in 1873. They moved to Lubbock, Texas, 120 miles north of Midland, in 1918.