But on the eve of the release of his memoirs, the former president is back in the public eye in a big way, starting a publicity tour that includes a prime-time network special and a visit to Oprah's couch.
Excerpts from the book and interviews about it offer new insight into Bush's presidency, but show a familiar certainty and self-assuredness about the decisions he made.
On launching a war with Iraq, Bush expresses no hesitation when asked if he would make the same choice again, knowing all that he knows today.
"You just don't have the luxury when you're president," Bush tells NBC's Matt Lauer in an interview set to air Monday night. "I will say definitely the world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power, as are 25 million people who now have a chance to live in freedom."
He acknowledges missteps, with the public response to Hurricane Katrina, for instance — a photo of him surveying the damage from Air Force One was a "huge mistake." But it was Kanye West's statement in a fundraising telethon that Bush didn't "care about black people" that he calls "one of the most disgusting moments in my presidency."
"My record was strong I felt when it came to race relations and giving people a chance. It was a disgusting moment."
Among revelations in Bush's book are a potential biological weapons attack on the White House just after the attacks of Sept. 11. The New York Times also reports from excerpts that Bush considered replacing Vice President Cheney on the ticket in his reelection bid, at Cheney's suggestion.
Bush also offers his thoughts on contemporary politics, telling Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity that the "tea party" movement is "a good thing for the country."
"It inspires me to know that our democracy still functions," he said in the interview, set to air Tuesday.
He also said he wishes his brother, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, would run for president.
"He has made it clear he is not running in 2012," he said. "And when the man says, 'I'm not running,' he means it."
Beyond that, he says he's keeping out of politics — even when it comes to talking about his successor, or another potential White House hopeful — Sarah Palin.
"I am not a political pundit. I'm really not," he tells Oprah Winfrey. "A lot is gonna happen between now and the nominating process. I have no clue."
In the book and interviews, Bush dwells on his heavy drinking earlier in life, calling it “a love” that interfered with his family life. Bush quit drinking at the age of 40, about 10 years after receiving a drunk driving ticket that first became public weeks before the 2000 presidential election.
Once, he said, he was drunk at his parents’ dinner table, with his family and wife. “And I'm sitting next to a beautiful woman, a friend of Mother and Dad's,” he recalled. “And I said to her out loud, ‘What is sex like after 50?’”
The episode showed he was a “wiseass,” Bush told Lauer. Then, on his own 50th birthday, the same woman wrote to Bush when he was governor of Texas and asked if he had discovered the answer, the former president said.
As Bush's publicity tour rolls on, he also is set to break ground on his new presidential library in Dallas on Nov. 16. It is due to be completed in 2013.