From Publishers Weekly
Butler (1862–1947), one newspaper commented three years before he received the Nobel Prize (1931), was "the most lavishly decorated member of the human race." Upon his death, the New York Times
described him as "one of the best known Americans of his generation the world over." However, many of Butler's projects—such as the College Entrance Examination Board—are as familiar as he is now forgotten. As president of Columbia University from 1902 to 1945, Butler nurtured the school's growth from small college to major research institution. His involvement in Republican politics brought the friendship (and later the enmity) of several presidents, and as president of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace (1925–1945), his international stature grew. Although Rosenthal, a former Columbia dean of students, attends to the personal affairs of this man absorbed by institutions, Butler's life remains one of meetings, memos and minutes. The author uses an abundance of archival and published material judiciously; his style is felicitous, and the tale is enlivened by in-fighting and occasional scandal. Manipulator? Manager? Opportunist? Idealist? Sycophant? Pioneer? Rosenthal's skill in rendering a complex life in an absorbing fashion reveals them all. 16 b&w illus., 13 political cartoons. (Jan.)
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The animating question of this biography is, How does a once-famous civic leader fall into oblivion? Nicholas Butler autocratically ruled Columbia University from 1902 to 1945. No university president today could dispose of institutional affairs in Butler's I-know-best manner. In some ways, he did know best, expanding Columbia from a college into a world-class university with professional graduate schools; sections duly recount Butler's fund-raising and stag-club networking. What extends Rosenthal's biography from institutional to general interest is Butler's life in public affairs, where he was prominent in the Republican Party, seeking its presidential nomination in 1920. He also presided over the Carnegie Endowment, gaining prestige (and the Nobel Peace Prize) for promoting idealistic schemes of peace. Fair to Butler but arch about his unapologetic, unwavering elitism, Rosenthal delivers a profile that is far livelier than its academic ambience would initially suggest. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved