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Woodrow Wilson Hardcover – June 1, 2003

4 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

At a time when U.S. foreign policy and the country's role in the world are very much at issue, what could be more appropriate than to revisit the president who set U.S. foreign policy on its course in the 20th century? Brands, best-selling author and Pulitzer finalist for The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin, gives a sober portrait of a president dedicated to peace yet compelled to enter a brutal war. Yet more than his actions, Brands says, it is Wilson's words that remain with us: "The world must be made safe for democracy." Brands writes elegiacally of Wilson's "beautiful words, soaring words, words moved a nation and enthralled a world, words that for a wonderful moment were more powerful than armies." Though recent events cast doubt on Brands's statement that Wilson's views ("idealism is sometimes the highest form of realism") have triumphed and that the U.S. concedes the U.N.'s "role at the center of world affairs," his contribution to the American Presidents series, edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger, is a stirring reminder of the ideals that underlie American policy.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Libraries unable to afford Arthur Link's multivolume biography of Wilson should consider this digestible precis from Brands, a proven success in popular-history writing over the past decade. He shows why Wilson is one of the most significant of American presidents, albeit one with a fluctuating reputation, through an efficient recitation of his governing acts that capped the Progressive Era. Generally accepted reforms such as the income tax or the Federal Reserve, however, are not what buffet Wilson's name; it was his induction of the U.S. into World War I and the transcendental rhetoric by which he did so. Whether naive or visionary, Wilson's idealism bespoke his character, which Brands lays before his reader: Wilson possessed inflexible fiber born of his religious convictions, although Brands counts him more flexible than ordinarily thought. Wilson failed in his aspiration to set international affairs on a foundation of principle rather than power. However, Brands ably underscores Wilson's ultimate success through his eloquence and his ideas in steering thought about foreign affairs toward a liberal alternative to Realpolitik. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 169 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books; 1st edition (June 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805069550
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805069556
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #286,968 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
H.W. Brands' output over the last five years has been enormous. From huge biographies on Theodore Roosevelt and Benjamin Franklin to fair-sized books on the California Gold Rush and several major U.S. business figures to a slim volume on Americans' relationship with their federal government, the Texas A&M historian has published at least six books over the last five years that I'm aware of. The four which I've read have had the same qualities: solid scholarship and writing, but nothing flashy or standout about them.
Brands' biography of Woodrow Wilson fits in this pattern. The book is an easy and enjoyable read. The scholarship is solid (I enjoyed reading the short but striking comments for each of the books mentioned in the "selected bibliography"). Occasionally, Brands is even eloquent as when he describes the effect on Wilson of the death of his first wife.
Nevertheless, as with every other book of Brands I've read, "Woodrow Wilson" never soars to become a great work. The reason eludes me. Brands seems to have all the gifts to write a memorable history or biography, but his work remains a little too flat and it fades too quickly from the reader's mind. He does not break out of this mold with "Woodrow Wilson".
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
You must guard your expectations on a biography (especially of a two term president) that only reads 138 pages. However, I thought that H.W. Brands could add his typical free flowing style and story-telling ability to make a completely satisfying short-read. Unfortuantely, Brands delivers his least inspired performance in telling the story of Wilson. Obviously, the context of the project (a short "taste" on the life of Wilson) curtailed Brands style, which I found to be my biggest disappointment.

As a whole - the life of Wilson is fascinating - a great turning point in the life of "liberals" (While Wilson would certainly not be considered a "liberal" by today's standards). Wilson implemented the 8 hour work day, the FTC, and stiffened anti-trust laws.... not to mention a monstrous epidemnic of the flu... and oh yeah.... World War I. Unfortunately - most of these issues are just briefly touched on (The flu epidemic was not even mentioned).

As a whole - I found this to be a fair brief glimpse into the life of Wilson. However, I would have love to read one of Brand's standard 400 pagers on the life of Wilson.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Many people ask when they found out that I'm a political scientist: "When has a political scientist ever affected politics?" Frankly, there are quite a few who have done so (think Henry Kissinger, for instance). But, above all, there is Woodrow Wilson. He served as President of the American Political Science Association and wrote a series of works that are still viewed as classics in the study of politics and public administration.

This biography, another of those brief looks at presidents in "The American Presidents" series, does its job well. While I agree with other reviewers that this is such a brief volume that it glosses over much of Wilson's career, the series is what it is. And I think it somewhat unfair to criticize the book for working within the parameters imposed upon it.

That said, this is a capable biography. I think a little more information about his early career, his life as an academic, an academic administrator, and governor may be covered too briefly even for this series. But that is not atypical.

The book does give a sense of his persona--aloofness, stubbornness, rigidity, certitude, erudition, persuasive ability--and how this helped him succeed, but also could lead him to take stands that hurt his cause.

The volume lays out the accomplishments with which he is associated, advancing the progressive agenda, enunciating a political perspective ("The New Freedom"), and the like. It also addresses his foreign policy--from the not terribly successful Mexican adventure to his leadership of the country in World War I to his efforts to transform global governance after the war (note his 14 points and his effort to establish a meaningful "League of Nations").

He ran into political opposition with the League.
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Format: Hardcover
H.W. Brands has written ambitious biographies of American historical figures, including a major work on the life of Andrew Jackson. Here, in keeping within the format of the American Presidents Series, Brands has writtten a shorter, but nontheless, insightful work. Wilson might have been a great president but, he was flawed. He was stubborn and uncompromising. Although he suffered a major stroke in his second term, he evidentally had suffered other, less serious strokes over the years. It is difficult to say whether his physical condition led to his unwillingness to yield but, much that could have been accomplished through compromise never came to fruition.

An early sign of Wilson's concreteness appeared during his presidency of Princeton University. There was a dispute as to whether the graduate school should be located on the main campus or at another site. Wilson, a proponent of locating it on campus refused to negotiate a compromise and the project was stalled.

Wilson was a Virginian and his racial attitudes were that of the Jim Crow South. However, being president of Princeton established his credentials as a New Jersey resident and Democratic party leaders put him up for governor of that state. He was elected and he showed remarkable independence as he proposed reforms that disappointed the party leaders and led them to consider him to be an ingrate. Later, when he was elected President of the United States, he continued his reform path in domestic matters.

What defined his presidency was World War I and its aftermath. After the war, Wilson traveled to Europe to negotiate the peace treaty. On a tour of Europe, he was cheered wildly whereever he went. He was a genuine hero.
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