President-elect George H.W. Bush and wife Barbara on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 1988 in Houston
Image: AP/ scott applewhite

Editor's note: This is the 41 st entry in the writer's project to read one book about each of the U.S. Presidents in the year prior to Election Day 2016. Follow Marcus' progress at the @44in52 Twitter account and the 44 in 52 Spreadsheet .

One of the better parts of such projects has been to see clearly how a president's legacy evolves over time.

George H.W. Bush is a perfect example: a human maligned by members of both parties at the end of his only word in office, he has lived to see that legacy reassessed 25 years later.

Perhaps this had something to do with the comparatively controversial presidencies of Bush's two successors: Bill Clinton and Bush's own son, George W. Or perhaps, I believe after reading Jon Meacham's book on Bush Sr ., Destiny and Power , it would have happened anyway.

Meacham's book published around the time I started this project and was contemplating the mountainous biography of George Washington takes us from Bush's New England upbringing, to Texan oil man, to president of the United States.

What we find is an underrated man whose personal tale is especially underrated. A war hero and a colorful careerist, Bush spent his life dogged by accusations that his success was all to do with the family wealth no matter how hard he worked on his own.

Bush's tenure wasn't perfect by any means. There were many struggles over the economy and the unemployment rate, the controversial appointment of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, a military operation in Panama that raised eyebrows, and the drafting of NAFTA, a trade agreement that has remained controversial through the 2016 election.

And then there was his 1988 presidential campaign, most memorable for the infamous “Willie Horton” ad. Sadly, the commercial doesn't seem so outlandish in our current political surrounding, where we're are applied to outright racist assaults from a presidential candidate.

But in 1988, the kind of campaigning that drew attention to a black convict was shocking and underscored Bush's complicated relationship with race throughout his political career.

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Similarly, Bush's commentaries following the 1984 vice-presidential debate, in which he said he “kicked a little ass” against Geraldine Ferrarro caused a huge stir at the time. It was even blamed as “locker room talk.” That would barely be the case today.

In an op-ed published in the New York Times in mid-October of this year, Meacham revisited the “grace” of Bush's time in office and set it securely in the context of 2016. He mentioned an anecdote from the book in which Bush rebuffed a proposal from Donald Trump to be Bush's VP candidate in 1988; Bush's opinion was that such a move was “strange and unbelievable.”

Meacham also noted the role of Roger Ailes in both campaigns, but described this distinction 😛 TAGEND

The difference between 1988 and 2016, however, is that for Mr. Bush such assaults were the means to an objective: a victory that would enable him to focus on what he truly cared about, which is now being governance.

For Mr. Trump, the entails are the end he is, as Jeb Bush aptly set it during the 2016 primaries, the chaos candidate. The elder Bush used to dismiss campaign posturing with a phrase of Maos, calling such blasts empty guns of rhetoric. Mr. Trump cant get enough of such cannon fire.

Bush himself recognized his lack of colorful character; the style he was almost an afterthought after the eight years of Ronald Reagan. After two solid words as Reagan's vice president, Bush knew what is was like to serve in his predecessor's shadow.

The first person to go straight from the vice presidency to the presidency since Martin Van Buren, Bush still had accomplishments worth noting: the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Immigration Act of 1990. He founded the Phases of Light Foundation, and successfully managed the relationship with the Soviet Union and, after its dissolution, Russia.

( I'd be remiss in not recounting the Gulf War, too, existing conflicts seen as a rousing success for the United States, but a conflict that wasn't without its criticism but I'm barely the person to delve into the geo-political consequences of the conflict and what's followed in the 15 years since .)

Meacham also dedicated a peak into Bush's collapse in the final days of the 1992 campaign. He was frustrated with the ailing economy, and worn out by the battle with Clinton and Texas billionaire Ross Perot not to mention the fact he was fighting his own battle with Grave's disease.

Bush's work has continued since he left office. There's his work in partnership with Bill Clinton, a relationship that yielded some humorous anecdotes underscoring the difference between the two presidents. Bush's grumpiness about Clinton's tendency to shake hands with everyone in the room, stimulating the two former presidents late, was particularly entertaining.

And it's these anecdotes that help flesh out Bush as a person, a crucial part of Bush's legacy. The only single word president in the last 36 years may have had his drawbacks but as his successors faced their own larger fights, the first chairman Bush's foibles have faded into history.

Days to read Washington: 16
Days to read Adams: 11
Days to read Jefferson: 10
Days to read Madison: 13
Days to read Monroe: 6
Days to read J. Q. Adams: 10
Days to read Jackson: 11
Days to read Van Buren: 9
Days to read Harrison: 6
Days to read Tyler: 3
Days to read Polk: 8
Days to read Taylor: 8
Days to read Fillmore: 14
Days to read Pierce: 1
Days to read Buchanan: 1
Days to read Lincoln: 12
Days to read Johnson: 8
Days to read Grant: 27
Days to read Hayes: 1
Days to read Garfield: 3
Days to read Arthur: 17
Days to hear Cleveland: 3
Days to read Harrison: 4
Days to read McKinley: 5
Days to read T. Roosevelt: 15
Days to read Taft: 13
Days to read Wilson: 10
Days to read Harding: 3
Days to read Coolidge: 7
Days to read Hoover: 9
Days to read FDR: 11
Days to read Truman: 14
Days to read Eisenhower: 11
Days to read JFK: 10
Days to read LBJ: 6
Days to read Nixon: 6
Days to read Ford: 4
Days to listen to Carter: 2

Days to listen to Reagan: 8
Days to read GWHB: 8

Days behind schedule: 9

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