The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of an American Dynasty
Hardcover (also available as an e-book and an audiobook), 978-1-5387-1364-8, 432 pgs., $32.50
April 2, 2019
The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of an American Dynasty is an in-depth portrayal of a woman who was well-known throughout the world. Long before Barbara Bush stepped into the spotlight, however, she was a regular girl, the middle child, bright but not as beautiful as her sister. Barbara was a young bride, married at the end of WWII to the first boy she ever kissed, destined for a life of love, heartache, criticism, adoration, and constant vigilance against those who could not or would not serve her family well.
Susan Page, an American journalist who has covered the White House through six administrations, gleaned many anecdotes from the Bush family matriarch during the year before Mrs. Bush's death. While Bush was failing physically, she still wielded a lucid mind and a sharp wit. The Matriarch is Susan Page’s first book, and she has skillfully crafted a comprehensive view of a woman who embodied fierce loyalty, perseverance, humor, and restraint and non-restraint alike in protecting and championing her husband and first-born son, both eventual presidents of the United States.
Through interviews and Bush’s diary, Susan Page has compiled a story of a dynasty that rivals any primetime drama. Bush was a product of her generation as she purposely chose to follow her husband from New England to Texas and then into the political ring, even as women were starting to put careers first. Her career was her family, and as her husband moved up the political ranks, she remained firmly by his side.
Bush often hid her insecurities about her weight and appearance behind her well-known sarcasm and self-deprecating banter. Her sturdy physique, strand of pearls, and trademark white hair made her appear older than her husband, drawing harsh criticism that cut her deeply. But Bush became an American icon as Second Lady for eight years and First Lady for four, full of spunk and with absolutely no filter.
Susan Page reveals the former First Lady’s true reactions when the media and public figures spoke against her or her husband, children, and grandchildren. Bush was outspoken, observant, and shrewd, but she usually knew when to be quiet, diplomatic, and tactful, even as she filed away in her diary all the slights, hurtful comments, and backstabbing.
The Matriarch begins typically enough with Barbara’s and George’s lineage and their eventual meeting, courtship, and marriage. The chapters that follow outline many well-known moments in the couple’s seventy-three-year marriage, but the private moments are what capture the imagination and show beautiful, sorrowful, joyful, and humorous glimpses into the life and thoughts of Barbara Bush. George and Barbara complemented each other and bolstered one another during the hard times, including through the death of a child, depression, loss at the political polls, and rumors and judgments. The couple weathered many storms together, both personal and political, and came out the other side battered and bruised yet fulfilled with a life of love and achievements and a large, close-knit family by their side.
Susan Page is the Washington Bureau chief of USA TODAY. She has covered ten presidential campaigns, interviewed the past eight presidents of the United States, and reported from five continents. The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of an American Dynasty is her first book.