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130 of 155 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I have to admit this was a hard book to review. On one hand you have a historical book that is written in a manner to be not only informative but actually enjoyed. The book has a wonderful fiction-like flow that grabs your attention right from the beginning and keeps you turning the pages. The author has obviously spent his time being diligent in his research and the result is the most detailed account of the events leading to the Spanish-American war that I personally have read. Along with that we have a great character study of the men who played a pivotal role in the country's decision to declare war on Spain, including Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge, William Randolph Hearst, William James, and House Speaker Thomas "Czar" Reed. I truly feel I came to know each individual in great detail. The author also gives a riveting account of the battle of San Juan Heights, the battle that made Roosevelt a hero and ultimately led to his being in place to assume the presidency upon McKinley's assassination.

On the other hand, I almost put the book down before ever starting the first page. When I first opened the cover I was treated to a forward by the publisher making points on the book being about how great men will falsify truth in order to go to war, and how in this war American soldiers would engage in savage brutalities. True statements, by the way. He then follows these statements up by saying, No, this is not Dick Cheney's memoir. A rather idiotic comment if I ever read one. Whether you think Cheney is a great American fighting terrorism or the Antichrist whose sole purpose was to lead America into war for oil and profit, the Iraq war has absolutely no resemblance or comparison to the Spanish-American War. Different era, different type of events, different motivations, and actually a completely different result. Then, after reading 413 pages, the final sentence in the book tries to tie Cheney and Scooter Libby to the "old war lover" Roosevelt. If this was the author's purpose in writing the book, he failed miserably.

Again, overall I enjoyed reading The War Lovers. I came away knowing more about the events and the people than I ever knew. But as much as I enjoyed it I will also hesitate before picking up another book by Evan Thomas. Seriously, I can not stand dumb comparison's just to push an agenda. The amazing thing is, I'm not a fan of Dick Cheney in the least.
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59 of 69 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
. . . but fails in its attempt to "connect the dots".

Evan Thomas' new book "The War Lovers" is an interesting and provocative read about the events leading up to the Spanish-American war. This is a part of American history that is little-known to most Americans and understudied. The events leading up to the war propelled Theodore Roosevelt to the forefront of national politics -- and eventually to the Presidency. The portrayal of Roosevelt prior to his presidential years paints a very different picture than the more cautious, less blustering gradual Progressive of his presidency.

Thomas fails, though, in a couple of points. 1) Much of the book seems to be as much amateur psychological analysis as history, and unless Thomas actually does have a background in psychology, his attempts at analysis fall into the realm of speculation. 2) Both the blurb on the back of the book, and the blurb on the inside cover seem bent on forcing a comparison between American policies of the late 1890's and American policies during the Bush administration, even to the point of ending with a portrait of Roosevelt peering down at Scooter Libby. Now I'm a political independent and am not going to use this review to argue for or against the merits of either the Spanish-American war or the Gulf war. But as an historian, the attempt at somehow linking to two foreign policies is extremely tenuous at best. Indeed, when discussing this book with a friend of mine -- also a political independent (but from a very different perspective from my own) also felt that the connection was forced.

To me, the book would have been far better if the author had merely told the story of the events leading up to the war and its aftermath, than trying to moralize. As it is, the premise is unproved.

Three stars.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Like most reviewers, I found THE WAR LOVERS highly enjoyable, both entertaining and educational, with its interesting insights into the personalities and political machinations of late 19th century America. Evan Thomas's writing is excellent, being engaging and imaginative, as he concisely details the history and influence of his star characters. This book, despite being quite long and full of interesting history, is a rather easy read. Even those with very little foreknowledge of the time and characters will feel comfortable reading this, as Evans does an excellent job of giving all pertinent back-story and keeping the focus on the basics. I have new found respect for the remarkable writing skills of Evan Thomas. This book also contains many nice black-and-white photos throughout, further connecting the reader to the time and maintaining the accessibility of the subjects.

THE WAR LOVERS is really a history told through limited biographies of some of the most powerful American Movers of the late 19th century. Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge, William Randolph Hearst, William James, and Thomas Reed provide a broad spectrum upper-crust America's thoughts and attitudes during this time. Evan Thomas presents Teddy Roosevelt (the real star of the book) in a strikingly negative light, casting him as arrogant, bullying, not-always-truthful, and sometimes downright crazy. The other characters are given a more kind treatment here, but nothing is sugar-coated. As these powerful figures debate the future of America and its role in the world, the reader gets interesting insights into politics, human nature, the rich and powerful, and America of ~1900. The development of Manifest Destiny and the White Man's Burden are fascinating subjects of world history, and this book provides a wonderfully unique (but limited) glimpse into this period.

As others have observed, the blatant and almost snide political daggers contained within this book are unnecessary, distracting, and off-putting. I suspect that selling books provided the primary motivation for putting the silly comments about Iraq and Dick Cheney on the back cover and in the editor's comments. Really disappointing to see such senseless (and baseless) political jabbing into what is really a wonderfully-done and insightful book on history. And while I don't want to justify the attempts to link the invasions of Cuba and Iraq with a response, I do want to point out one glaring difference (among many). In 1898, American leaders didn't think that Cubans were fit for self rule (because of racism), while in 2003 American leaders were maybe over-confident in Iraqi's ability of self rule. This meant we planned on staying in Cuba as hegemon, while in Iraq, we had hoped to not stay.

One other comment. Thomas here claims that part of the reasons behind pushing for war (by Teddy and Cabot) was to unify the country. He fails to discuss the fact that in many ways that aspect of their plan succeeded, at least temporarily.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable book. Especially for history-lovers. This one will keep your attention and further develop your knowledge of this interesting part of American history. Just ignore the irrelevant political jabs. Recommended!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on September 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Evan Thomas is a fine journalist and historian, and I am as big a TR fan as you could hope to find. So I was hoping The War Lovers would be a great read. My reaction, however, is decidedly mixed.

Thomas analyzes the Spanish-American War, and the apparent need of certain leading Americans - Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge, William Randolph Hearst - to engender a war with Spain to prove the nation's manhood. It's good if unspectacular as a primer on the Spanish-American War, and is worth reading on that score. Thomas's writing style is a bit clipped but he makes these hoary (if widely-forgotten) events interesting and compelling - even if he spends a bit too much time on the build-up to the conflict.

The most compelling sections, though, are his accounts of the war itself. Many other books have covered the same ground, but Thomas takes through the haphazard organization of the Army, its chaotic trip to Cuba, and the bumbling battles of Las Guasimas and San Juan Hill with admirable verve and detail. The only drawback is his glossing over the Filipino-American War, a topic where his connections to current events are more pertinent (as Stanley Karnow's In Our Image demonstrates).

However, I have serious reservations with Thomas's two biggest premises: his psychological explanations of TR and company's motivations for provoking conflict, and to compare it to the War in Iraq.

For the first, Thomas tries to peruse Roosevelt, Lodge and Hearst's correspondence and private letters to answer his main question. He engages in half-assed psychological profiling, ultimately coming up short in his inexpert analysis and musings. His depiction of TR as needing to prove his manhood by fighting a conflict is half-convincing, but extending this personal obsession to the nation at large is dubious. His argument that humanity intrinsically *needs* war is wholly unconvincing, sub-Robert Ardery pontification, and Thomas doesn't do much to support this claim. More interesting avenues - say, American trying to heal its Civil War wounds once and for all - are skimmed over or dropped. His answer to the question of why isn't wholly fleshed-out or convincing, especially in his portrayal of his individual subjects.

Thomas's portrayal of his protagonists is equally flawed. He's very harsh on Roosevelt in particular, focusing on his jingoism and racial views, which is harsh but not unfair. I would say, however, it's an incomplete portrait of a complex man. He does a better job with Hearst, but Lodge and the anti-war counterparts - Harvard Professor William James, Speaker of the House John Reed - seem lightweight ciphers. Thomas wants a dramatic balance between them but Roosevelt, and to a lesser extent Hearst, completely dominate the proceedings.

On the second score - the Iraq comparison - Thomas provides hardly anything to support this premise, stressed in the introduction but immediately dropped. There are some loose parallels - an arguably-unprovoked conflict, liberating a tyrannized people only to become their de facto colonizers, use of torture - but Thomas is really grasping at straws and does little to support his argument. In a bit that reminded me uncomfortably of Pat Buchanan's idiotic opus on WWII, the book ends with Scooter Libby staring at a portrait of TR in his office. Give me a break. I remember a History Channel special several years ago in which Thomas gave an interview stressing the same comparison. This may be a personal hobby-horse of his, but if so it's not a very productive one.

Don't misunderstand: We can (and should) learn a lot from our past. But making parallels with contemporary events has its own pitfalls, and often comes off as posturing to seem relevant. In books and articles I've read in just the last year, Iraq has been compared to the American Revolution (Patriot Battles by Michael Stephenson), World War II (Pat Buchanan's Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War) and the Algerian War for Independence (a Thomas E. Ricks review of A Savage War of Peace). And now the Spanish-American War. There are too many variables for these direct comparisons to succeed, and all of these gentlemen, whatever the other merits of their work, can't make a convincing case why Iraq and x-conflict should be conflated.

So, as an account of the Spanish-American War, The War Lovers is reasonably successful, and Thomas does a good job depicting America's delirious and alarming desire for conflict. But his key question - the *why* - isn't sufficiently answered, making for a disappointing read.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Talk about disappointing. I was excited to begin reading this book as I have enjoyed the writing of Evan Thomas in the past in other books and his articles in Newsweek.

The topic on this book is the lead-up to the Spanish-American War and the role a number of important and powerful Americans played in involving the United States in that war by tilting events in favor of 'war fever.'

Firstly, the book is very slow to develop as it describes the the personalities of people like Teddy Roosevelt, William Hearst, Henry Cabot Lodge. The message of the author seemed to be (whether you agree or not) is the characters were odious figures willing the nation to war for empire. I couldn't help but feel that the writer was taking every quote and statement from correspondence, memoirs and speeches to make the people involved look like blood-thirsty monsters, while those who opposed the war (like William James) emerge as more saintly figures.

Just as the author discusses how some people in the country felt manipulated by the efforts of the people discussed above in exorting the nation to go to war against Spain, I felt manipulated by the author into believing the entire Spanish-American War was one giant con-job. And I am not sure the historical record completely supports this conclusion. Thomas basically makes you believe that turn-of-the-century Americans were just too stupid to believe anyone who didn't support the march to war with enthusiasm (and where have I heard this exact argument before?). I didn't like this feeling and it really distracted from some very provocative information which emerges about the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana harbor, for instance. It seemed like Thomas was tilting the information to support his theses, not to give the reader the full story in a more objective fashion.

Once the book is gripped by 'war fever' in the actual run-up to the War, the book is much, much better, and far more interesting. Unfortunately, this doesn't occur until more than 1/2 way through the book's 400 page length and I fear many readers will give up in frustration on the book. In fact, the last 1/2 of the book probably makes up for the mediocre aspect of the first 1/2 - though this is a close one, and I, too, almost gave up reading, and I am a patient reader.

Overall, though I give this book 3 stars, I still believe it is a good read and a worthwhile book. Certainly Thomas has done a service in letting us know that this nation has dealt with issues of torture; the meaning of empire and American colonialism, and the responsibility of American leaders to the concept of restraint in exercising American power in 'foreign entanglements.'

However, I did not like the author's ham-handed attempts to link the Spanish-American War to the Bush Administration and the Iraq War. Though history is a great guide, events are unique and have their own impetus. By so clearly inserting the author's views on the Bush Administration and the Iraq War into a work of history of a period 100 years prior, it really destroys the reliability of the book. Let the reader draw his own conclusions!

Worthwhile, but not great given its promise.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon May 22, 2010
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
It seems as though people expect historians to be objective, neutral parties that depict long settled facts in a manner that makes them relevant to the reader. But, the myth of the impartial historian is as true as the myth of the impartial journalist. Thus, the real test of a historian's effectiveness is to see if they adequately support the thesis they develop. Applying that standard to Evan Thomas' The War Lovers produces mixed results.

Thomas' primary argument is that the Spanish-American War was a conflict manufactured by key members of American society (Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge, and William Randolph Hearst are the primary culprits in Thomas' eyes) to satisfy personal desires and their views of what the American "spirit" needed. By using Roosevelt's, Lodge's, and Hearst's own words culled from their diaries and letters, Thomas more than adequately proves this argument. He accomplishes this feat by using a writing style that is both accessible and concise. The result is a history that illuminates an almost forgotten corner of United States' past in an entertaining manner.

While The War Lovers works on several levels, there are two flaws within its pages that prevent it from being a truly essential study of the Spanish-American War. The first flaw is Thomas' depiction of Thomas Reed's and William James' actions. It almost seems like Thomas' journalist side overtook his historian side and asserted, "Hey, I need to look impartial and have balance in this story. I'll talk about people who were against the war for a while." Unfortunately, Thomas spends much less time discussing Reed and James' objections than he spends looking at Roosevelt and Lodge's war-mongering. As a result, Reed and James' protestations come off as trivia instead of the counterpoints that they are intended to be.

The most egregious flaw is Thomas' intent on proving true George Santayana's famous aphorism, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Thomas' vehicle for expressing his intent is a "shadow" thesis (arguably, his main thesis) that the Spanish-American War was a spiritual predecessor of the Iraq War. But, Thomas' evidence to support this shadow thesis is never really developed beyond sensational accusations (Both wars had waterboarding!! Both wars were started based on suspicious information!!). Consequently, the presence of this unsubstantiated shadow thesis undermines and distracts from the better supported primary argument.

As I mentioned before, The War Lovers does a valuable service by retelling a barely known portion of American history. But, by feigning impartiality and not-so-subtly weaving a political commentary into the text, Thomas weakens an otherwise strong historical analysis. It's still a book worth reading (I'd give it 3.5 stars if Amazon would let me give .5 stars). However, in attempting to be relevant, Thomas ended up sacrificing the book's effectiveness.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 28, 2010
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I found THE WAR LOVERS to be a well-researched, well-written and enjoyable look at the leading personalities on both factions (pro and con for War with Spain) of the American political scene in the era surrounding the Spanish American War.

Relying heavily on letters, period publications and memoirs of those involved, author Evan Thomas provides insight into what was going on in the minds of Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, James and Reed. I still don't quite know what to make of Theodore Roosevelt, but I DO have a better understanding of the man. The same for the others. Clearly, if this book shows anything, it's that knowing the personalities and ideologies of those involved in historic events is necessary to gaining an insight into those events. History is more than dates, places and simple events.

A very enjoyable writing style, interesting character studies and multiple illustrations make the book much less ponderous than one would suppose such a book would be. I give FIVE STARS to THE WAR LOVERS. Good coverage of the EVENTS of the war as well.

It did have some meandering parts towards the end regarding William James, but in generally was good reading. While I was expecting (and looking for) the ubiquitous bias (one way or the other) that seem to taint history books today, I never noticed any and felt free to draw my own conclusions. At the risk of taking flak, I'll venture to say that what I concluded was that the Spanish-American War is a much more significant event than it is generally given credit for. Far from being a "splendid little war" that isn't worth a second look, I've concluded that it was THE singular, pivotal point in the altering of American foreign policy (and by extension domestic policy) from the traditional Washingtonian "avoid foreign entanglements" to the modern tangled-up-in-everything policy.

Whether you think, as a nation, the United States is on the right road or the wrong road, THE WAR LOVERS will give the reader new insight to understanding HOW the United States got to where it is TODAY and the place Theodore Roosevelt holds in our history. Love him or hate him, give him the credit or assign him the blame, TR was the first of the Progressive presidents and started us down the path we are on. THE WAR LOVERS brings new glimpses into the workings of his mind. I highly recommend this book regardless of your political leanings.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover
A fast and engrossing read, this book is excellently researched and written, and captures the brash optimism and cultural arrogance of the dawn of the progressive era in America. The author expertly combines several vantage points leading up to the Spanish-American war, from the statesman, the media mogul, the philosopher and the brash young fire-brand, Teddy Roosevelt. This work illustrates how the competing views of America in the world have not changed substantially in 100 years. The Speaker of the House Reed, during the McKinley administration, is the most sympathetic figure in this book. With wisdom, judgment and iron fist, he was still unsuccessful in preventing America's entry into "a wonderful little war." William Randolph Hearst, one of the world's first yellow journalists, is a conflicted figure, shy, reserved, but bombastic when it came to telling his version of the truth. Henry Cabot Lodge comes across as a somewhat pitiful creature, caught between the desire for masculine expression and safety.The book explains how the war's proponents recognized that such a war would heal the wounds still festering in the country from the Civil War. The strength of this book is the factual information conveyed, the "big picture" explained and the anecdotes. I have two major criticisms of this book: First, the main characters are for the most part painted as mere caricatures of the real people. Each person in this book is portrayed so one-dimensional, as to read like fiction (thus, this book reads like fiction, "fun" and fast-moving fiction.) TR is presented as a swashbuckling and reckless self-promoter, which indeed at times aptly described him. But he was also brilliant, shrewd and often showed fantastic judgment, as judged even by his critics. The author doesn't spare the other main actors from being portrayed as predictable. Second, we are now in the era of books bashing America. Bradley's "The Imperial Cruise" is a good example of an author cherry-picking history to make an ideological point. This book does the same, but without the invective and the sarcasm. In fact, this book gives a much more objective and fair exposition of the imperialistic impulses that captured the majority around the turn of the 20th century. Like many readers, I am learning to partially tune out the ideological rant, and enjoy the scholarship and the good writing. This book is loaded with excellent scholarship, exciting writing and wit--one of the more entertaining pieces of history I've read in years. I heartily endorse this book. The only reason why I did not give it five stars was because of its subtle condescending message.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 23, 2010
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Author Evan Thomas has the knack for conveying immediacy to century-old events. Backed by effective and mostly unobtrusive supporting documentation, he also strongly conveys personality. Put together, The War Lovers makes for compelling reading.

Still, I sense a pervasive cant throughout Thomas' writing. One can only accept so much attribution of feeling, motive, mood, thought and so on - however apparently supported in documents - before suspecting the author's own motives. The reader needn't suspect for long. The publisher, by way of an editor's note right up front draws a disparaging parallel between the Iraq war and turn of the century American expansionism, right down to smugly mentioning Dick Cheney.

In spite of the above, I did enjoy the book. While Thomas perhaps overplays the roles played by Roosevelt (in particular) and Henry Cabot Lodge in the runup to war, he gives an insider's view of the politics of the time. Selectively focusing on some of the day's strongest personalities - Speaker of the House Thomas Reed, William Randolph Hearst, and William James - in addition to Roosevelt and Lodge, the tumult of letters, speeches, meetings, events, legislation, and news makes the book something of page-turner. Had I a wish, it would be that Thomas could provide even more context while maintaining the pace and mood he sets. But it's not to be. This is history through a lens.

In short, read The War Lovers with a grip on your credibility meter when it comes to overarching conclusions. Expect to have a few balloons legitimately punctured, though, as the mini-bio approach of the book fairly exposes the humanity of the principal figures. For my own part, I'm more satisfied with their reality than the oft cartoonish portrayals one gets elsewhere.

4 stars for bringing history alive.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on May 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This could have been a much better book. The mini-biographies of Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge, William Randolph Hearst, William James, and Thomas Reed - and how they intersected either from university, class or business ties was fascinating. It was an example how the elite ruled. The author tries to make a connection at some points about how the current elite rules - notably the Bush administration, but this detracts from the book. I am not sure where the author obtains his psychological analysis of the various players - I don't know if he was using other sources, or his own conclusions.

I recall my high school history teacher telling us that this was "Hearst's war" but the book makes it clear that it was not. Hearst does create some sensational headlines, such as the campaign to free the Cuban maiden being sent to a penal colony (including having Mrs. Jefferson David write a letter of support) - but this may have been more to sell papers than the prelude to war.

Overall it was an interesting read, but I am happy I got it from the bargain table.

Denver Mullican
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