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Woodrow Wilson: A Biography Paperback – April 5, 2011


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (April 5, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307277909
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307277909
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #102,517 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

If we must have another presidential biography, best to have one of a figure who hasn't had his life written about at length for two decades. While the Wilson we find here differs little from the man we've known before, Cooper's new book is an authoritative, up-to-date study of the great president. Cooper (Breaking the Heart of the World), a noted Wilson expert at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, offers balanced and judicious assessments of the life and career of one of the nation's most controversial leaders. From his youth in Virginia, through his years at Princeton, then as New Jersey governor and president, Wilson faced thickets of challenges, not all of which he managed effectively. At the end, sick and weakened, characteristically stubborn and moralistic, he notoriously failed to gain American membership in the League of Nations. Yet Cooper, while sympathetic to his subject—a visionary and Progressive reformer in domestic politics—fairly records Wilson's Southern racism along with his keen intellect and political acuity. Wilson would come to be, Cooper concludes, one of the best remembered and argued over of all presidents. While not stemming any disputes, this book will please and inform all readers. 16 pages of photos. (Nov. 2)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“Cooper’s much-anticipated biography finally gives Wilson his due. The preeminent living historian of Wilson and his era, Cooper has studied the man an his times for decades . . . he now presents us with his magnum opus. The book is deeply, indeed exhaustively researched, and beautifully, often movingly narrated. It is far and away the best biography of the 28th president we have, and as such it is unlikely to be surpassed.”  —Boston Globe
 
“Cooper’s monumental new biography seeks to revive Wilson for the 21st century—not simply to narrate a presidential life, but to explain why he deserves our national esteem….An admiring and engaging work of presidential revisionism. . . . A powerful, deeply researched and highly readable case for keeping Wilson in the top ranks of American presidents.” —The New York Times Book Review
 
“Wilson comes alive in Cooper’s insightful and important biography. . . . It’s easy to see why Wilson captures many imaginations. We still want to believe what Wilson believed: that there is a common right, that we can find it, and that it matters most of all.” —Newsweek
 
“Cooper clearly admires his subject but is not blind to his faults. His is a nuanced portrait of the 28th president. . . . It also offers lessons for another intellectual professor-turned-president, who combines principle with pragmatism. He, Wilson, and Teddy Roosevelt are the only presidents to receive a Nobel Peace Prize while still in office.” —Cleveland Plain Dealer
 
“A noted Woodrow Wilson expert comprehensively examines the life and career of America’s 28th president. . . . Cooper exhibits complete command of his materials, a sure knowledge of the man and a nuanced understanding of a presidency almost Shakespearean in its dimensions.”  —Kirkus (Starred review)
 
“[O]ur leading Wilson authority . . . offers a comprehensive, felicitously written biography aimed at scholars but accessible to general readers, too. . . . He admires Wilson for his faith, learning, eloquence, and executive skill while conceding that he had to learn foreign policy on the job—yet established America as an international player.” —Library Journal (Starred review)
 
“In this spellbinding new biography, sure to take its place as the definitive one volume life, John Milton Cooper rescues Woodrow Wilson from historical caricature. He gives us the Progressive champion whose New Freedom transformed the role of government and offered later presidents—FDR and LBJ come to mind—a textbook example of presidential persuasion and legislative mastery. Behind Wilsonian idealism is Wilson the idealist—a man of soaring vision and tragic blind spots, furtive charm and unbridled passions, global ambitions and unyielding enmities. Crafted with a scholarship and eloquence worthy of its subject, Cooper’s Wilson is intensely moving, sometimes infuriating, and surprisingly contemporary. Above all, it lives.” —Richard Norton Smith, author of Patriarch: George Washington and the New American Nation
  
“None of our most consequential presidents have been as elusive as Woodrow Wilson. But in this wise and often moving work, John Milton Cooper, Jr. takes his full measure—as scholar and orator, personality and politician, visionary and statesman. It is a triumph of American biography, both deeply learned and gracefully crafted.” —Michael Kazin, author of A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan
 
“John Cooper’s Wilson is the triumphant product of a dedicated life’s work. Cooper has earlier written, with insight and authority, The Warrior and the Priest, a comparison of T.R. and Wilson, and Breaking the Heart of the World, a study of the making and rejection of the Treaty of Versailles. In the process of preparing those absorbing works and going on to write this incomparable biography, Cooper has read everything significant that Wilson ever wrote, from love letters to political theory, and also read everything significant that has been written about Wilson. He has now utilized his unequalled learning in his interpretations and evaluations of Wilson’s life, the subject of this sprightly, authoritative, and eminently readable book.” —John Blum, author of V Was for Victory: Politics and American Culture During World War II
 
“A landmark work, the best one-volume biography ever written about the 28th president, and political history as its finest.  With great deftness, Cooper describes and evaluates Wilson’s personality and intellect, in ways that will surprise many readers. He thereby illuminates the idealism and tragedy, the insight and the blindness, of one of the monumental figures in the nation’s history.” —Sean Wilentz, author of The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln
 
“John Milton Cooper has given us a rich and thoughtful portrait of a transformative, controversial and resonant president.  Americans who remember Woodrow Wilson as a dour scholar-president will find a vastly more complicated and fascinating man in the pages of Cooper's sweeping new book.” —Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of American Lion
 
 “There is no more accomplished Woodrow Wilson scholar than John Milton Cooper, and this magisterial, judicious, deeply researched book—the culmination of decades of study—shows the author at the zenith of his powers. Cooper’s book demonstrates Wilson’s importance to our own generation, and his powerful judgments will shape the way we view the 28th President for a very long time.” —Michael Beschloss, author of Presidential Courage
 
“Woodrow Wilson continues to intrigue—and divide—us. At once an idealist expressing the noblest of liberal sentiments and a racist, an intellectual and a skilled politician, a man capable of great kindness and great vindictiveness—John Milton Cooper's masterly biography describes him warts and all. A full and fascinating study of the man and his turbulent times.” —Margaret MacMillan, author of Paris 1919
 
 “A riveting account of one of America’s most intellectually magnetic, yet also enigmatic, presidents. John Milton Cooper Jr. does a superb job of  portraying the aspirations of Wilson’s idealistic internationalism while at the same time detailing the realistic pitfalls that helped undermine it. Cooper has provided a fascinating read for those who want to understand a presidency that helped set the tone for U.S. foreign policy in the 20th Century.” —James A. Baker, III, 61st U.S. Secretary of State

“John Milton Cooper has written an important biography about a man who made—and continues to make—a large difference.  An enjoyable and enlightening read.” —George P. Shultz, former Secretary of State
 
“A rich and readable study by a leading historian who has made Wilson and his times his life work.  A fine combination of sound scholarship and compelling narrative.” —James MacGregor Burns, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Roosevelt: Soldier of Freedom 1940–1945
 
“Of all the important presidents of the 20th century, Woodrow Wilson has always been the least-known and seemed the least-knowable. Now, John Milton Cooper, Jr., has written a crisp clear eyed account of the life of this extraordinary but deeply flawed leader who began his career as a dynamic far-seeing reformer and  ended it short-sighted and delusional. It is a Shakespearean story, beautifully and sensitively told by one of our finest historians.” —Geoffrey C. Ward, author of A First Class Temperament: The Emergence of Franklin Delano Roosevelt

More About the Author

John Milton Cooper, Jr., is professor of history at the University of Wisconsin. He is the author of Breaking the Heart of the World: Wilson and the Fight for the League of Nations and The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt, among other books. He was recently a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

Customer Reviews

A very nice biography of Woodrow Wilson.
Steven A. Peterson
Anyone looking for an excellent introduction to a president that few Americans know beyond the caricatures created of him, will be rewarded by reading this book.
James L. Thane
I learned a great deal about President Wilson's intelligence and integrity.
A. M. Ladd

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

91 of 99 people found the following review helpful By slb on January 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover
While in many ways this is a good, solid biography of Woodrow Wilson, the author's idolization of his subject colors the portrait. For example, there are multiple instances where Cooper writes that another person suggested an idea to Wilson. Cooper follows this fact with the assertion that Wilson would have thought up the idea on his own. As this happens multiple times it seems odd. There are a myriad of additional ways the author is defensive of long standing criticisms and interpretations of Wilson. Also, there is too much dependence on the diaries of Edward House, which seem untrustworthy. Cooper recognizes this, but leans heavily on them anyway. The narrative could be stronger and more concise. However, I suspect that this is the most thorough and detailed biography available. I recommend it, but I also recommend reading it with an awareness of the author's bias.
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54 of 62 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Watson on November 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Professor Cooper has written a most outstanding biography of the academic Woodrow Wilson turned politician. It is an honest and complete appraisal of the man who was our only President with a Ph.D. degree. It is well-written; with each chapter flowing smoothly from start to finish. It is well-researched; every major primary source has been consulted, with an expertise that shows in this finished product. I highly recommend this book for even the casual reader of presidential history; every graduate History and Political Science student should include this on their reading list.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By A. Bell on November 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
J.M. Cooper wrote previously the best book on the period following the Armistice, "Breaking the Heart of the World". This biography of Wilson brings together virtually all aspects of the chararcter of this complex leader--in a comprehensive, clear and impartial fashion. Cooper shows where Wilson was wrong and Wilson was right. In all instances, Wilson was human--either arrogant or humble. His ideas and policies, wrong and right, still permeate American political thought. The book should be read by all our historians and by individuals aspiring to be president.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Paul Gelman on May 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
During the last days of his presidency,one famous journalist,Ray Stannard Baker, has visited Woodrow Wilson,who was recovering from a strong stroke.Baker was shocked and wrote:"A broken,ruined old man,shuffling along his left arm inert,the fingers drawn up like a claw,the left side of his face sagging frightfully.His voice is not human;it gurgles in his throat,sounds like that of an automaton.And yet his mind seems as alert as ever."
Sic transit gloria Wilson.He was indeed a very controversial president and his actions are still felt today.Suffice it to mention the Versailles Treaty which in itself caused a lot of post-war problems and is regarded as a conclave which has brought only further divisions and hardships among the many nations that were scrutinized and debated then.
Wilson was a Democrat who ascended to the White House after many years of Republican administrations,and he wanted to be remembered as a president who had worked in order to change not only his country but also the world order.It was Wilson who guided his nation through WW1 and Professor Cooper is extremely adroit in demonstrating how many efforts Wilson has made in order to avoid America's entrance into this horrible war.Volens nolens,in the end he had no choice and the barbaric submarine war conducted by the Germans pin addition to the Zimmermann telegram were the last straws which were used by the president to convene the Congress in order to declare war against Germany and its Allies.The isolationist days of America were over and now Wilson went out on a crusade to make the world safe for democracy.
Another controversial aspect discussed at length in this fascinating study is the way the subject of the League of Nations was advocated by Wilson but proved to be unsuccessful.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By iHappy on June 14, 2011
Format: Paperback
The traditional view of Wilson is that he was greatly influenced by his minister father and the family's religious dogma. Consequently, his politics, both national and academic, were as hard and unyielding as the faith that guided it. Cooper rejects that framework early on and suggests the picture of Wilson is more complicated than the stereotype. But his narrative ended up supporting the standard interpretation, even if Cooper fails to say so directly. Where Wilson was seen as stubborn, Cooper calls him determined, uncompromising, tenacious. Cooper rarely comments directly on Wilson's religiosity, but mentions it in passing time and time again: He violated his rule of not working on the Sabbath, or he found solace in his faith, or quoted a Bible passage. The stereotype makes Wilson a racist even by the standards of his time; Cooper all but ignores this important facet, calling it only puzzling that such a man so progressive in other areas would be so backward in his treatment of race.

In fact, Cooper finds a lot of things "puzzling" about Wilson. That word appears frequently, along with other admissions by the author of things he doesn't understand about Wilson's motivations and behavior. The religious framework explains a lot; the best Cooper can do by rejecting it is to say he doesn't know why Wilson behaved as he did.

And nowhere is that lack of clarity more glaring than in the subject of race. Cooper ignores it almost entirely. He gives cursory mention to the fact that Wilson dismissed -- or allowed to be dismissed -- all the African Americans in the federal government. This Cooper finds strange, and (perhaps for that reason) ignores the matter altogether. If anything is puzzling, it is Cooper's decision to downplay that important issue.
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