Friday, August 8, 2014

#221 / Bully Pulpit

I have recently finished The Bully Pulpit, the latest book from Doris Kearns Goodwin. Click this link for a review that ran in The New York Times. The Bully Pulpit is a good book, and well worth reading.

You would think that a book with this title would be all about Theodore Roosevelt, his rise to the presidency, and then about the Progressive Party, which Roosevelt created as the vehicle for his quest for a third presidential term in 1912. And so it is. But not exclusively. 

In her preface, Goodwin says that she began the book with the idea of writing about Roosevelt and the Progressive era. Along the way, however, Goodwin decided that William Howard Taft was an equally worthy subject. It turns out she was right!

As an American history major in college, I did a lot of reading about the Progressive era, and I had a pretty good feeling about Roosevelt. 

I had no feelings about Taft. Who knows anything about him?

In Goodwin's book, Taft turns out to be, in many ways, the hero of the story. You end up liking him quite a bit, and quite a bit more than Roosevelt, as a matter of fact. At least that was my reaction. Taft's personal evaluation of Roosevelt, as they battled it out for the presidency in 1912, is found on page 725 of Goodwin's 752-page book. Having read all of those 752 pages, Taft's statement strikes me as a reasonable summing up of the Roosevelt character: 

[Taft] now looked upon Roosevelt simply "as an historical character of a most peculiar type in whom are embodied elements of real greatness, together with certain traits that have now shown themselves in unfitting him for any trust or confidence."

If you don't know why this statement might ring true (I didn't), plunge right into The Bully Pulpit.

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