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.
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 TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved