Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Posted by Rebecca Brendel

Reviewed by: Jim Patrick

What I ReadThe Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What It's About: The book’s lengthy subtitle indicates the wide scope of historian Doris Kerns Goodwin’s latest publication.  She gives detailed biographical sketches of not only Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, but also of their parents, wives and children.  As in her other bestselling books, she fills her account with fascinating stories of the domestic lives of the Tafts and Roosevelts, including courtships, friendships and fall-outs, and parental sorrows and joys.  The wives, Nellie Taft and Edith Roosevelt, are both featured prominently in this book.  For example, Nellie Taft is shown to be much more ambitious and “political” than her husband William who always wanted to remain a judge.  Edith Roosevelt faced many challenges, such as marrying a widower with a young child, and being the wife of such an impetuous risk-taker as Theodore Roosevelt.  William and Theodore were the best of friends and close political partners until Roosevelt became disillusioned with Taft’s presidency.  The emergence of this painful rift is recounted in riveting detail by Kearns Goodwin.

The book’s subtitle also signals another major topic of The Bully Pulpit—the work of groundbreaking journalists of the Progressive Era, such as Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell, and others who wrote for McClure’s magazine.  Kearns Goodwin clearly admires these journalists and their crusading spirit.  She illustrates how Roosevelt and the journalists had a generally positive and mutually beneficial relationship, while Taft was leery of the press and disliked having to cultivate relationships with reporters.

What I Thought: Loyal readers of Doris Kearns Goodwin know that her books arrive slowly but are always worth the wait.  Whether writing about Roosevelts, Kennedys, Lincolns, or any other historical subject, Kearns Goodwin always tells wonderful stories with her history, and she has a knack of making historical names come alive as real characters on her pages.  That’s why she is not only an excellent historian, but a popular one, as well.  At 750-plus pages, The Bully Pulpit is not a fast read, and its ambitious scope might be intimidating to those who haven’t read previous books by Doris Kearns Goodwin.  However, the various strands of this real-life epic are woven together by the author with her usual grace and skill, making for another enjoyable classic in the field of popular history.

Readalikes: The Roosevelts: An Intimate History by Geoffrey C. Ward; Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris; Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

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