Thursday, November 06, 2014

The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism

On the plane to Chicago in late October, I finished reading The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Jim Dunn gave it to me last Christmas and I finally got around to reading it. It fits nicely into my ongoing project to read books about all of the presidents.

This is probably one of the most ambitious books that I have ever read. It traces the life stories of both Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, as well as their wives and a handful of journalists. It was also a very different book than I expected. Picking the book up earlier in the year and reading the first few pages, I had expected it would focus on the period from when Roosevelt returned from his Africa safari to his running for a third term. Instead the book looks at the whole arc of Roosevelt's and Taft's lives and how their lives were intertwined.

I really enjoyed the three volume biography of Roosevelt by Edwin Morris. This book paints a little different picture of Roosevelt. It paints him as more of a politician and less of a reformer. It also attributes a lot of his legislative success to a group of crusading journalist.

I have never read anything about Taft. I found him a compelling figure. His resume included a Superior Court Judge, Solicitor General of the United States, Governor-General of the Philippines, Secretary of the War under Roosevelt, President of the United States and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Taft's wife is an interesting character; she is one of the key factors that pushed him towards the presidency. I need to find another more focused book on Taft.

Overall, I give the book a solid "B+." It contains an enormous amount of information, but Doris Kearns Goodwin has done an amazing job of showing the lives of Roosevelt, Taft, their wives and a handful of journalists were tied together.

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