As many political figures are frequently judged by the loudest voices, we tend to form assumptions quickly and easily about those in power. Presidents are prime subjects for these swift judgments, but their wives are not exempt from public scrutiny either. Barbara Bush could conjure a myriad of strong perceptions, according to a just-released biography.

To some, she may have seemed like a woman who did not exert herself outside the traditional role of caretaker of the home, choosing to drop out of college to marry young and raise a family. Others infamously remember Bush for her bitter rivalry with Nancy Reagan. Still many others “…embraced her as a down-to-earth grandmother who sported a triple strand of faux pearls and joked about her wrinkles.”

While these impressions may hold ground in some cases, according to Susan Page, the Washington Bureau chief of USA Today and steadfast reporter of six presidencies, these pieces of information are incomplete in forming the holistic figure of “the most underestimated First Lady of modern times.”

Using the material from five extensive interviews conducted in the last six months of Bush’s life, her private diaries, interviews with three former presidents and over 100 Bush family members, friends and former aides, Page delves into the true history of this important figure. These in-depth documents and personal accounts confirm that while Barbara Bush felt that a fitting name for her biography would be The Fat Lady Sings Again, her formidable spirit and quiet perseverance justifies the final title The Matriarch.

One of the bleakly transformative experiences of Barbara’s life was her daughter Robin’s fight with leukemia. Treatments for the disease were painful but both parents felt that they had to try every chance of recovery available. Through these procedures and Robin’s fading health, Barbara Bush never allowed herself to cry in front of her daughter, putting her feelings before her own despite how difficult this personal rule could be at times. The strength she cultivated in these hard times prepared her for remaining calm in the many high-stress situations to come.

Barbara Bush was uniquely positioned as both the wife of one U.S. president and the mother of another. She acted as an essential confidante and advisor through the Cold War and 9/11. She urged her husband to pay closer attention to the plight of homelessness and those affected by HIV/AIDS.

Boldly diving into the drama between Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush, Page details the relationship from fledgling dislike to visceral hatred. One particularly saucy account of exclusion at the dinner welcoming Prince Charles and Princess Diana to the White House is vividly described and not to be missed.

While giving political credit and influence where it is due, Page breaks down barriers between Barbara Bush’s lofty position and reputation to reveal intimate details of her as a human being, a stern woman with a self-depreciating sense of humor, fiercely loyal to her family and true to her own beliefs.

The Matriarch is now available for purchase.


— Photo by Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY staff

Susan Page is the Washington Bureau chief of USA Today, where she writes about politics and the White House. Susan has covered six White House administrations and ten presidential elections. She has interviewed the past nine presidents from Richard Nixon through Donald Trump — and reported from six continents and dozens of foreign countries. (She interviewed Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter after they had left the White House.) She has appeared as an analyst on the PBS NewsHour, CBS’ Face the NationFox News Sunday, NBC’s Meet the Press, CNN’s State of the UnionCBS This Morning and other TV and radio programs.

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