Amid the circus of the 2016 political primaries, President George H. W. Bush—the careful, soft-spoken Senator who hated talking about himself—seems almost like an alien from a different planet. That's one of the things that makes him a valuable study, says author Pulitzer-Prize winning author Jon Meacham. Meacham, who has written biographies of Presidents Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, and Franklin Roosevelt, turns his pen toward the 41st president in his latest book, "Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush," which he discussed on Boston Public Radio with Jim Braude and Margery Eagan on Monday. 

On being the last sitting president of the World War Two generation:

Meacham: He’s our last combat veteran president. He’s the last president shaped by a Victorian and Edwardian childhood. It was clearly a privileged life, but one in which public service was an ambient part of his reality…In the space of a quarter century we’ve gone from having a Republican president who was congenitally incapable of talking about himself, to a Republican front-runner who talks about little else. I’ve got to say, talking about the senior President Bush is a little bit like talking about the Peloponnesian War. Here’s a man who said, ‘no one wants to hear about  the great I am, no one wants to hear a brgaadoccio.’”... We’ve lost his world. It is impossible to imagine George H. W. Bush surviving the Republican primary in these times. The book, the portrait, is about this last consensus figure—someone whose best friends were Democrats. To him, bipartisanship wasn’t elective, it was just part of the air he breathed.

On the personal tragedies that shaped him, but also stayed hidden during his campaign for the presidency:

Meacham: This is another example of how we’ve changed…Before George H. W. bush was thirty years old, consider this, before he was thirty years old, he had lost 2 crewmates in the Second World War in a shoot down over Chichijima, he’d watched a man get cut in half on the deck of a carrier, and he lost one of his own children. Before he was 30. That’s just more contact, more actual engagement with life and death, than most of us, blessedly, will ever have. This is a much more complicated and interesting man than the Dana Carvey, 'supermarket-scanner-look-at-his-watch' caricature would have it…The rise of personal narratives in politics, the idea of a candidate almost a soap operatic figure, really took hold in '92. President Clinton was one of the great confessional politicians. One of the ironies of our time is that Bill Clinton said he felt our pain, and I take him at his word. But so did George Bush. Bush just was congenitally incapcable of expressing it.  

On the vicious 1988 campaign against Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis:

Meacham: Let’s be very clear: this is not St. George of Kennebunkport. I’m not arguing for canonization. The 1988 campaign was very rough. I talked to Governor Dukakis about it, who was incredible generous and insighful about the whole experience. But there’s the thing: [in] the test of a political life…do we judge them on what they do to win power, or do we judge them on what they do with power? If we judge them on the former, everybody is going to fall very, very short of any historical judgment, including Abraham Lincoln, who—in order to win power—said slavery in the Southern states must continue to exist…George H. W. Bush ran very tough campaigns, beginning in 1964 when he ran for the Senate in Texas. But what he managed to do, interestingly to me, and what redeemed him for me—otherwise this would be a very different book—is that once he had power, he tended to do the right thing.

To hear more from author Jon Meacham on "Destiny and Power," tune in to Boston Public Radio above.