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1920: The Year of the Six Presidents Paperback – April 8, 2008

4.3 out of 5 stars 108 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Pietrusza's (Rothstein) chronicle of the presidential election of 1920 is absorbing, despite the subtitle's rather tangential claim that the election involved six men who had served or would serve as president: Harding, Wilson, Coolidge, Hoover and both Roosevelts (though Teddy had died in 1919). This book isn't really about them, nor is it merely the story of one electoral race. Rather, Pietrusza is telling a grander tale, of a country toppling into "modernity, or what passed for it." In 1920, the automobile had overtaken the horse, jazz and the fox-trot were replacing the camp meeting as popular entertainment, people were learning to buy on installment, and more and more of those fox-trotting shoppers lived in cities. Presidential candidates, for the first time, courted women voters. (Democrat Cox was divorced, which was expected to play badly with the fairer sex.) Both parties waffled on the so-called race question, seeking black votes while either tacitly or explicitly endorsing white supremacy. Given Harding's electoral victory and death during his term, Pietrusza could have devoted more space to the abiding importance of this election. All in all, Pietrusza has produced a broad, satisfying political and social history, in the style of Doris Kearns Goodwin. 16 pages of b&w illus. (Feb. 7)
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.

From Booklist

Under the slogan "Let us return to normalcy," Republican Warren Harding crushed Democrat James Cox in the 1920 presidential election. Taking the politics-minded back to that poll, this account handicaps the field of contestants for each major party's nomination. While not neglecting the third-party standard bearers, such as the Socialist Party's jailed Eugene Debs, Pietrusza homes in on the Republican and Democratic nomination races. Remember Leonard Wood? William McAdoo? They were the leading contenders in 1920, whose dark-horse rivals played for deadlocked party conventions and stampeded toward a compromise candidate. This political formula, with its smoke-filled rooms, sets up Pietrusza's narrative structure, which he fills in with relevant biography, headline news of 1920, incidents on the campaign trail, and contemporaries' acid commentary about the caliber of Harding and Cox. In addition to dramatizing the election's yielding, in various manners, of four future presidents (Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, and FDR), Pietrusza recounts how two past executives (Wilson and TR) strangely angled for one more term in 1920. An ably popular treatment that fans of campaign histories will enjoy. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (April 8, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786721022
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786721023
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (108 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #307,007 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert N. Going Esq on January 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Once again David Pietrusza has produced an outstanding work of history and biography, this one dealing with the fascinating machinations that went into the presidential election of 1920. The author of numerous works on the history of baseball and major biographies of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis and gangster Arnold Rothstein now returns to his favorite era to bring us the wisdom, the wit, the follies and the foibles of not only the six once and future presidents, but of a supporting cast that includes the colorful and the quirky, the lovable and the loathsome, the brilliant and the batty of the political and social world of 1920.

In many ways it was a time not unlike our own, but in many others so completely different that the America of 85 years ago seems barely recognizable.

This is a story so well-told that only the duties of life kept me from reading its 544 pages straight through. This is no plodding tome. Every page is alive, every chapter a well-constructed gem. He begins with sketches of the major players, then masterfully weaves them into the events of the day: the peace negotiations ending World War I, the battle over the League of Nations, prohibition, the women's suffrage amendment, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, the peculiar hobby of lynching, the effect of the Bolshevik Revolution on domestic radicals, Sacco and Vanzetti, the Boston Police Strike.

We see a young (38) and vigorous Franklin D. Roosevelt, pre-polio, dashing across the street from his own driveway to the home of the Attorney General, on whose front steps a domestic radical has just accidentally blown himself up. We find a calm and rather dull Warren G.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a splendidly written chronicle of the contest to succeed President Wilson in 1920. For a person not steeped in the era, there are many unexpected twists and turns. Among the most surprising: the zeal with which the ailing, wildly unpopular Wilson pursued a potential third term. Another: the vigorous courtship -- equally ardent among Dems and Reps alike -- of Herbert Hoover, the Great Humanitarian hero of WWI. One scenario had Hoover at the top of the Democratic ticket, with, of all people, FDR as his runningmate. Talk about ironies of history!

Harding emerges as a sympathetic, but flawed figure, with a penchant for personal risk-taking that makes Bill Clinton or Gary Hart seem cautious by comparison. His serial affairs nearly undid his candidacy. Instead, we learn how fellow Ohioan Harry Daugherty brilliantly engineered Harding's nomination by not alienating anyone at the Republican convention. Daugherty would later meet an ignominous end as Harding's AG. Another tragic figure, Interior Secretary Albert Fall, might have avoided infamy -- and spared the country the Teapot Dome scandal -- had Harding's first choice for the cabinent post not been shot dead in a lover's quarrel. This is one of many eye-opening revelations -- too numerous to recount -- for anyone who thinks that salacious affairs are only the stuff of modern politics.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Pietrusza is a gifted wordsmith who's penned well paced, highly accessible popular history.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Election of 1920 is unique in American history. Never before had so many men who either had been, or one day would be, President vied for the office at the same time.

But for an untimely death, Theodore Roosevelt would have been the presumptive Republican nominee and, given the political conditions of the time, probably would have returned to the White House. In the White House, Woodrow Wilson remained felled by a stroke but stubbornly held onto power and the idea that he could run for a third term. From New York, a young, vigorous Franklin D. Roosevelt laid the groundwork for what would become the longest Presidency in history. Herbert Hoover, the hero of wartime procurement and post-war famine relief, struggled to with the idea of whether he was a Republican or a Democrat. Up in Massachusetts, a mild-mannered Calvin Coolidge was on the verge of shocking everyone. And, in Ohio, Warren G. Harding, a man with a past so checked that he couldn't possibly be considered a viable candidate today, was convinced by party insiders that he could in fact be President of the United States.

In 1920: The Year Of The Six Presidents, David Pietrusza tells the story of this election, but, more than that, he tells the story of what was happening in America in the years after World War One and on the cusp of the Jazz Age. Through it all, Piestruza weaves together a compelling narrative that brings to life events whose consequences reverberated through the 20th Century.

There are plenty of surprises here.
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Format: Paperback
Imagine this: a never popular President is coming to the end of his second term. The public is tired of the bad economy, tired his failed war policies and tired of him.

In November, the incumbant's party is handed a decisive defeat and loses the presidency and along with it Congress.

2008? No...1920.

Though to be sure, the two elections have many differences, what unifies them...apart from the forgoing...is the sense of drama they had and the ardent and very modern way in which they were fought.

As promised, 1920 is the story of six presidents: Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt. However, it's also the story of so much more.

But first...as to the presidents...

On Teddy Roosevelt, this book makes the important point that but for his death, Teddy Roosevelt probably would have won the election of 1920. As already indicated, Wilson was thoroughly detested by the public and the Repulican's were the seeming and sure winners. Though TR had squandered some of his party good will by bringing about a Replubican defeat in 1912 (TR bolted from the Republicans to head up an independent party ticket referred to as the Progressives...which actually outpolled the Republicans that year), TR was more than ready for a comeback. He'd mended his fences and seemed certain to be the standard bearer but for his sudden demise in 1919.
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