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Grover Cleveland: A Study in Character [Hardcover]

Alyn Brodsky
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 11, 2000 0312268831 978-0312268831 1st
Grover Cleveland: A Study in Character is the first comprehensive study of our 22nd and 24th president in nearly seventy years. This distinguished leader, the only Democrat elected to the presidency between the Civil War and World War I, rose to political prominence through the ranks of mayor of Buffalo and governor of New York before his election to this nation's highest office.

Always concerned with the majority, never the favored few, Cleveland believed his ultimate allegiance was to the nation, not to a political party, and he acted on his strongly-held beliefs throughout his entire political life. At first considered an enemy of labor because of his firm handling of the bloody Chicago Pullman strike, many historians have overlooked Cleveland's numerous accomplishments, including his heroic quest to improve the quality of life for American Indians, his battles against the railroads and big business to prevent the destruction of American land, and his insistence on tariff reduction and remaining on the Gold Standard, which saved the nation from bankruptcy. The only president to be elected to two nonconsecutive terms, Grover Cleveland was the only president to be married in the White House and also the first to have a child in the White House.

Brodsky's engrossing work follows Grover Cleveland through his early life in upstate New York, his career as a trial lawyer, mayor, and governor through to his first and second presidencies and his last years as a lecturer and beloved member of the administration at Princeton University. Each chapter will cause readers to reevaluate our perception of this underrated President who, in his dying words said, "I tried so hard to do right," and to evaluate him in the context of his successors.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This admiring (indeed near-hagiographic) revisionist biography seeks to portray Grover ClevelandAthe only Democrat elected to the presidency between the Civil War and WWI-as a model of integrity and honor: "To compare Cleveland with our four most deplorable post-Harding presidentsANixon, Reagan, Bush, and ClintonAis to contrast a paradigm of virtue with the quintessence of duplicity." Brodsky, a historian and book critic for the Miami Herald and other papers, praises this Presbyterian minister's son for attacking corruption, cleaning up the civil service, enacting tariff and pension reforms and opposing the spoliation of the West by a land-grabbing clique of railroads, cattle barons and lumber companies. Yet Cleveland was basically a political and social conservative. Though he ran for president in 1884 as one who would challenge the power of monopolies and big business, once in office, he essentially served their interests. Cleveland called out federal troops to crush the Chicago Pullman strike in 1894 (12 were killed, 515 arrested). Brodsky lamely argues that Cleveland was sympathetic to the labor movement, but saw his primary duty as upholding the law, ensuring mail delivery and supporting interstate commerce. The author justifiably praises our 22nd/24th president as an anti-imperialist who refused to recognize a Hawaiian government set up largely by U.S. planters, yet he concedes that, in foreign affairs, Cleveland's achievements were insignificant. Cleveland may arguably have been the best president between Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, but that's not saying much, and this earnest if colorful biography fails to provide the kind of hard-nosed reassessment that might restore the luster to a president whose missteps severely weakened the Democratic Party for decades. Photos. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Grover Cleveland bought his way out of the Civil War draft, may have fathered an illegitimate daughter, and married someone 27 years his junior. Whereas some may see a theme in these events that helps explain his later conservative Victorian behavior, popular historian Brodsky (The Kings Depart; Madame Lunch & Friend) writes an old-fashioned political biography of America's 22d and 24th chief executiveDthe first major one in more than a half-century. He regards the split-term president as the nation's most underrated chief executive and the best of the eight who served between Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. In the short run, notes Brodsky, Cleveland lost public favor but lived long enough to regain it. On the other hand, his workaholic and inflexible style often undermined his effectiveness. Except for an occasional negative comparison to some recent contemporary presidents, this account is balanced, readable, and worthwhile. Recommended for public and academic libraries.DWilliam D. Pederson, Louisiana State Univ., Shreveport
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Truman Talley Books; 1st edition (September 11, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312268831
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312268831
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #773,587 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Honoring an Honorable Man October 14, 2000
A first rate biography of the only man to win two non-consecutive terms as U. S. president and one who captured the popular vote three consecutive times. Brodsky has struck a good stylistic balance between the readable and the informative, between bringing to an engaging personality to life and rendering an accurate historical narrative. It is the finest Cleveland biography since Allan Nevins' definitive work of nearly seventy years ago. I anxiously await his forthcoming work on Cleveland's wife, Frances, one of the more remarkable first ladies who figures predominantly in the current work.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Welcome, but only adequate November 20, 2000
Despite the vast number of professors of American History in our colleges and universities, it's hard to find biographies of many of our presidents. Therefore, we must be grateful for Brodsky's "Grover Cleveland." It is a readable, but not scholarly treatment of Cleveland and his presidencies. Brodsky, almost always sympathetic to Cleveland, effects a good balance between the personal and political, and is especially good in dealing with Cleveland's retirement years. His treatment of the presidencies concentrates on several principal issues like the tariff and silver controversies, and the Pullman strike. I would have wished for greater detail of the presidential years, the election campaigns, and fuller sketches of Cleveland's allies and competitors. I don't want to be too harsh about the book's comprehensiveness because I don't think Brodsky had any pretensions about writing a full academic biography. Accepting the book as a popular biography, I wish Brodsky were a more elegant writer. The book would have benefitted from tighter editing, if only to curb some of Brodsky's graceless metaphors. Nonetheless, it can be recommended in view of the dearth of available biographies of President Cleveland.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Absorbing, If Stolid, Elegy September 8, 2001
Let's not make more of this than it is: as sturdy and stolid as its subject, it's a lengthy paean to a clearly above-average President and a round condemnation of the Gilded Age in which he so earnestly labored. If you take this 'biography' on its terms, you may be charmed by Alyn Brodsky's plain spoken affinity for the man, his very young wife, and those generally fine men around him. But this is no true biography, it is a popular history and a mid-length life and times. To the author's credit, he makes no pretense otherwise. Here even Cleveland's surreptitious jaw cancer surgery, a well-kept secret for a quarter century, is not a malicious deception, but virtually the cross the great and good man deems right to bear in silence. The President's firm stands, fist slammed down on his desk, on the thorny issues of the day - high tariffs, gold standard, Hawaiian misadventure, veteran pensions, monopolistic practices, treatment of minorities - are all placed in a context of good civic ethics. This would be too much puffery were it not for Brodsky's sound defense, well researched, of Cleveland's thoughtful positions and sincerity as contrasted with his rivals'. Of course, in relation to such virtual or literal crooks and fools as Arthur, Blaine ('Continental Liar from the State of Maine'), Harrison ('is he as small as all that?'), Hanna ("king maker"), McKinley ("a bronze statue looking for his pedestal"), Tammany Hall, the robber barons, and Bryan, Cleveland is every inch (and pound) the hero. In sum, a worthy read, always absorbing, at times elevating.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Buffalo's President December 14, 2004
The City of Buffalo is much like its most famous historical figure, Grover Cleveland. Both were at their peak prominence a little more than a century ago, though maybe just a little forgotten by the rest of the world today. Both are conservative but Democratic. And words like "character" apply to both. Alyn Brodsky's 2000 biography, which focuses on that quality of Cleveland is as good a place as any for Buffalonians to find out a little more about the only elected president to emerge from the Queen City.

Cleveland is probably the least-written about two-term president. Though he is remembered largely as being the only chief executive to serve two non-consecutive terms, only history buffs remember much about what he actually did. This is largely due to the fact that he served in between two great American crises, the Civil War and World War I. At first blush, the issues of the day - bimetallism, tariff reform, the Pullman's strike to seem like the most inaccessible types of ancient first. Upon closer inspection, the past has much to say about the present.

The story of Cleveland and his presidency seem for all the world like the story of Bill Clinton: Both were elected to the presidency as governors after surviving sex scandals and enduring charges of draft dodging (Cleveland famously fathered a child out of wedlock and paid a substitute to serve in his place during the Civil War). Three of the biggest issues for both presidents were free trade (Cleveland had the tarrif, Clinton had NAFTA and GATT), imperialism, recession, and what to do with a big budget surplus. Both presidencies ended with Republican candidates winning the White House without winning the popular vote (that's how Cleveland lost his first bid for a second term).
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Big Steve
After reading this book I love Grover Cleveland. A most underrated President. New Jersey's only born President. Everybody should read this book.
Published 20 months ago by John P. Holovack
2.0 out of 5 stars A Study in Pretention
I also am reading the presidential biographies in order and this is one of the worst; barely readable. Read more
Published on June 15, 2011 by KCBarry
4.0 out of 5 stars An important read for any interested in American Politics
This was written in the late 90s with a print date of 2000. I give it -1 star for the large amount of bias the author starts the book with. Read more
Published on November 4, 2010 by Reader Bob
4.0 out of 5 stars A decent attempt considering there isn't much to compare
I've tried to find and read the best biographies on our US presidents and this is a decent example. It's a bit dry in some areas and the last fifty pages of the book do a great job... Read more
Published on October 16, 2010 by Robert Kirk
5.0 out of 5 stars "A Public Office is a Public TRUST."
For most of my life, Albert Einstein was my hero, my idol, practically my god. Wanting to be like him in all the best ways, I emulated him and absorbed his philosophies - even is... Read more
Published on September 26, 2010 by E. Hernandez
5.0 out of 5 stars Grover Cleveland
excellent volume about America's only non consecutive 2 term presidency. Great narrative of his meteoric rise to power, his wonderful 1st presidency, his struggles between and... Read more
Published on June 9, 2009 by pat Rick
2.0 out of 5 stars Help, I lost my Editor!
Alyn Brodsky's relentlessly upbeat review of Grover Cleveland should draw a fair amount of critique and interesting argument from historians. Read more
Published on May 2, 2007 by Kindle Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Read for Gilded Age Historians
There are few people who would find the Gilded Age a fascinating time to read about but if you are one of them this biography is perfect. Read more
Published on December 13, 2006 by Lehigh History Student
4.0 out of 5 stars The most substantive biography of Grover Cleveland in print
There have been two recent biographies of Cleveland taking the same tack: he was a man and a president who shames the recent incombents of the White House. Read more
Published on September 6, 2006 by Elizabeth A. Root
1.0 out of 5 stars A Biographer with an Agenda which Does Not Include Objectivity
The author seems to have two primary purposes for the book: 1. To justify everything that Cleveland did throughout his political career (Cleveland could do no wrong); and 2. Read more
Published on July 2, 2006 by Stuart Allen
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