From Publishers Weekly
Powell, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, has made a name for himself writing provocative studies of presidents (FDR's Folly
and Wilson's War
). In this biased, unpersuasive account, Powell argues that virtually every plank of Teddy Roosevelt's Progressive agenda—including trust-busting, regulation of food and drugs, and the income tax (which Powell describes as "blood money") was a disaster. He sees Roosevelt as a dangerous tyrant who sought to expand the power of the executive office in order to promote his own interests. Powell's libertarian politics color almost every page of this study. To wit, his critique of Roosevelt's conservationism: "By establishing federal control over so much U.S. land, he defied the prevailing American view that land use decisions were best made by private individuals who had a stake in improving the value of their property." Powell also turns his guns on muckraking reporter Jacob Riis, remembered for his journalistic exposés of urban poverty. Powell says that instead of unmasking poverty, Riis should have asked "whether the poor were better off" in his day than they had been in the past, then approvingly quotes Thomas Hobbes's description of life as "poor, nasty, brutish, and short." This is irresponsible revisionism at its worst. (Aug. 8)
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Powell takes Theodore Roosevelt to task, criticizing the historical plaudits attached to the Rough Rider's presidency. Flowing from a free-market perspective, Powell scores TR's trust busting, maintaining that monopolies, if they existed at all, were ineffective. TR's support for an income tax, touted as a soak-the-rich scheme, earns Powell's condemnation for its growth into a soak-everybody scheme. The analytical polemic continues with TR's creation of food and drug inspectorates, bureaucracies Powell flays as unnecessary since food processors had market incentives to keep food safe. Nor is TR-the-conservationist safe from Powell's pikes as the author argues Roosevelt damaged rather than preserved the environment. And as for TR's Big Stick, that was an original sin that opened the door to America's foreign interventions in the twentieth century. Readable, forceful, and opinionated, Powell's third presidential jeremiad (after Wilson's War,
2005, and FDR's Folly,
2003) should ignite debate between supporters and opponents of big government. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved