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William McKinley: The American Presidents Series: The 25th President, 1897-1901 Hardcover – October 1, 2003

3.2 out of 5 stars 56 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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Wasn't William McKinley the lackluster chief executive whose assassination left the dynamic Teddy Roosevelt president? In this latest volume in the publisher's American Presidents series, historian Phillips, author of the well-received Cousins' Wars (1999), shows us there is much more to McKinley. In fact, the author goes so far as to insist, "By any serious measurement, William McKinley was a major American president." Of course, Phillips is not asking that the twenty-fifth president (whose tenure ran from 1897 to 1901) be considered a first-rank chief executive, alongside Washington and Lincoln. But in this original reevaluation, he makes a strong case for placing McKinley on the "six- or eight-president second tier." Although Phillips sounds strained on occasion, he nevertheless convinces readers that McKinley was a healing, renewing, and reuniting leader--a near-great president, that is. A bold, new look that, itself, deserves a serious look. (Also see following review.) Brad Hooper
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“An instructive, graceful look at a neglected presidency.” ―Kirkus Reviews, starred review
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Product Details

  • Series: The American Presidents
  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books; 1st edition (October 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805069534
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805069532
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #634,389 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Phillips is a political commentator, not a historian or biographer. His goal with this book isn't to sketch in McKinley's life but to argue a thesis. His thesis is that McKinley was a important president, and the thing that makes him important is that he illustrates Phillips' career-making mega-theory about realignment politics. It's a campaign strategist's view of history.
Phillips doesn't seem to have consulted any primary sources at all. We get a lot of "he must have reflected" stuff, and assertions that McKinley deliberately wore a mask of conventionality, and that his blandness was a conscious strategy, etc., with no attempt to demonstrate the historical validity of any of it.
Still, there is some good stuff about Ohio's political centrality in the post-Civil War era, and a very good summary of the gold-silver debate, which was a matter of passionate interest in the 1880s and 1890s but is so baffling to modern Americans.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have tremendously enjoyed the volumes that have appeared so far in Arthur Schlesinger Jr.'s The American Presidents, but this is the first volume to have appeared so far that managed to transcend the limitations inherent in a series such as this. Most of the other volumes consist of a chronological recounting of the relevant president's life and career, with some assessment of his significance and achievements. Kevin Phillips, in a comparable number of pages, manages to present a case for a complete revision of the popular understanding of William McKinley, our 25th President. Although many of McKinley's biographers have argued some of the same things that Phillips does here, he does so in a much more vigorous fashion.
The stereotype of McKinley is that he was a somewhat dimwitted puppet under the control of Big Business, a man of little imagination, no culture, and a nonprogressive who was eclipsed by the ascendance of Teddy Roosevelt following his assassination. Phillips, on the other hand, wants to argue that he was a self-confident reformer who masked his goals under a congenial exterior, possessed a highly cultivated knack for maneuvering others to his own position, was vastly more concerned with protecting laborers and wages than the desires of business, and laid the foundations for progressive reforms that he himself would have begun had his life not ended so suddenly. Phillips shows that McKinley's obsession with tariffs had little to do with a desire to reward the rich, but with a desire to increase the wages of American workers.
Though but lightly stated, much of Phillips's book is intended as a polemic against contemporary misuses of McKinley, such as Karl Rove, George W. Bush's chief aide.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was very disappointed by this book. As someone who didn't know much about McKinley, I read it with the aim of finding out all the basics about him - who he was, what he did, how he died. Yet after reading it I feel like I know little more than before.

The entire book seems to be written as a rebuttal of other biographers' lackluster opinions of McKinley. Liberally interspersed throughout the narrative are refutations of supposedly popular beliefs about McKinley, from his education to his influence on his successor, Teddy Roosevelt. This would probably appeal to someone who has read several books on the topic, but it is a strange pick for the American Presidents series, which should be a basic primer for the uninitiated. The book says little about what specifics McKinley accomplished in his presidency, says little about the Spanish American War, and says nothing about his assassination, except for where it happened. I feel like I now have to go and look him up on Wikipedia to find the information that was not included in this book. If you are not already quite familiar with the topic, I'd recommend reading something else on the subject first.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is a rare failure in an otherwise excellent book series. I've read ~25 of the Schlesinger American Presidents series thus far, and this is clearly the worst. It should be re-written, perhaps by Charles W. Calhoun who wrote the quite excellent Benjamin Harrison biography which preceded this one in this series. A good biography "puts you there"...makes you feel as if you knew the (wo)man and his/her time, not just what they did, but why they did it. This McKinley bio fails to achieve that goal by a longshot

Let me count off this book's weaknesses:
1) This McKinley biography is frustratingly disjoint and confusing. It is told in an only vaguely chronological style. For example, the first twenty pages jump from McKinley's childhood to his presidency, back to his time in Congress, his military service, then forward to his governorship, then back to his legal career and then back to his childhood again. Sometimes in the same paragraph this happens. It continues like this for the rest of the book, randomly jumping around in time so that you're not quite sure the sequence of events or the cause-and-effect flow of McKinley's life and times. Another example, on page thirty (only one-fifth into the book), there is suddenly a discussion of how President McKinley arranged his White House, some forty pages *before* McKinley's 1896 election is discussed. Even when he focuses on a particular topic, the author leaps around in time: tariffs, silver, the Spanish-American War, the 1896 election. It's really confusing. The whole biography comes across as a confused muddle of events.
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