Picks and Pans Review: Simply Barbara Bush—a Portrait of America's Candid First Lady

updated 11/06/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/06/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Donnie Radcliffe

It is a challenge to write about Barbara Bush. Her self-effacing manner makes her difficult to probe, and she sometimes deflects personal questions with a joke. When Donnie Radcliffe, a veteran Washington Post reporter, noted that she had read very little about the First Lady's early life, Bush replied, "What have I ever done that would make you want to read about me?"

As Radcliffe recounts it, Barbara Pierce was a child of privilege raised in Rye, N. Y. Her father, Marvin, an executive of the McCall Publishing Co. was Barbara's hero; her beautiful mother, Pauline, was a compulsive shopper. Shortly before her wedding, Barbara's father warned her that the biggest problem in marriage was that people couldn't handle money. He lectured her on living within a budget, and when young Barbara asked how he, of all people, could say such a thing given Pauline's extravagant ways, Marvin Pierce explained, "What I do is give her half what I can afford to give her, and then at Christmas and at our anniversary, I give her the other half. She thinks I'm a hero all the time."

Pauline died in a freak automobile accident—her husband lost control of the car when a cup of coffee his wife had set on the seat started to slide and he reached for it—when Barbara was 24. "She always thought the grass was going to be greener sometime, some other place.... I don't believe that," Bush told Radcliffe. "I believe life is right now."

It is hard to make a page-turner out of the life of a woman who has resolutely done it the old-fashioned way—abandoning diets and dyed hair—a woman who has been satisfied with being a wife and mother. Barbara Bush never tells hurtful stories out of school about her friends or family. Still, if it is only for the early years—the one-quarter of Barbara's life that did not include George Bush—Radcliffe has given us a fascinating glimpse of one of America's most popular First Ladies. (Warner, $14.95)

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