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The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism Hardcover – November 5, 2013

4.5 out of 5 stars 1,954 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, November 2013: In an era when cooperation between the national media and the US government seems laughable, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s timely 100-year look backward explores the origins of the type of muckraking journalism that helped make America a better country. Focusing on the presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt and his successor, William Howard Taft--one-time colleagues and friends who later became sworn foes--Goodwin chronicles the birth of an activist press, which occurred when five of the nation’s best-ever journalists converged at McClure’s magazine and helped usher in the Progressive era. At times slow and overly meticulous, with a lot of backstory and historical minutiae, this is nonetheless a lush, lively, and surprisingly urgent story--a series of entwined stories, actually, with headstrong and irascible characters who had me pining for journalism’s earlier days. It’s a big book that cries out for a weekend in a cabin, a book to get fully lost in, to hole up with and ignore the modern world, to experience the days when newsmen and women were our heroes. --Neal Thompson

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*Starred Review* In this hyperpartisan era, it is well to remember that a belief in an activist federal government that promoted both social and economic progress crossed party lines, as it did during the Progressive movement of the early twentieth century. Goodwin, the acclaimed historian, repeatedly emphasizes that fact in her massive and masterful study of the friendship, and then the enmity, of two presidents who played major roles in that movement. Roosevelt, unsurprisingly, is portrayed by Goodwin as egotistical, bombastic, and determined to take on powerful special interests. He saw his secretary of war, Taft, as a friend and disciple. When Taft, as president, seemed to abandon the path of reform, Roosevelt saw it as both a political and a personal betrayal. Taft, sadly remembered by many as our fattest president, receives nuanced, sympathetic, but not particularly favorable treatment here. But this is also an examination of some of the great journalists who exposed societal ills and promoted the reforms that aimed to address them. Many of these muckrakers, including Ida Tarbell and Lincoln Steffens, worked for McClure’s magazine. This is a superb re-creation of a period when many politicians, journalists, and citizens of differing political affiliations viewed government as a force for public good. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: This author’s new book has been greatly anticipated; much prepublication discussion has occurred; and reader interest will be intense. --Jay Freeman
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 928 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 141654786X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416547860
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,954 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #49,068 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "bully pulpit" means "a public office or position of authority that provides its occupant with an outstanding opportunity to speak out on any issue." It was first used by Theodore Roosevelt, when asked for his view on the presidency, in this quotation: "I suppose my critics will call that preaching, but I have got such a bully pulpit!" The word bully itself was an adjective in the lingo of the time meaning "first- rate," somewhat comparable to the recent use of the word "awesome." Hence the title of this review. The term "bully pulpit" is still used today to describe the president's power to influence the public.

"The Bully Pulpit" clocks in at a hefty 928 pages in the hardcover edition, the reason why I chose the e-book version, and is lavishly illustrated. Each chapter starts with a contemporary photograph or cartoon beneath the chapter-title, and there's a separate photograph-section at the back of the e-book that has 68 photographs. Although a massive tome, it should be noted that "only" about 56% of the book consists of the main narrative. The rest of the volume is taken up by the extensive endnotes and index.

Rather than write another biography about a famous American President, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin has chosen for a different approach. In "The Bully Pulpit", she recounts the birth of America's Progressive Era through the close friendship between two Presidents: Theodore Roosevelt and his successor William Howard Taft. But rather than focusing exclusively on these two, she enlivens her account by twisting through the narrative the story of the "muckrakers" (another term coined by TR): the group of investigative journalists from magazine McClure's.
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Format: Hardcover
A bully pulpit is a position sufficiently conspicuous to provide an opportunity to speak out and be listened to. Teddy Roosevelt coined this term and lived by it to set the direction of the 20th century with regard to role of the Presidency versus the capitalist elite. This wonderful book frames the man's character by presenting Roosevelt as a man making a stance by enforcing the Sherman Act of 1890 (an antitrust law) that was basically over looked while the big business bosses established their vast monopolies & power in the late 19th to earlier 20th century. Roosevelt a New York upper-class milieu confronts his fellow upper class rival J.P. Morgan by braking up his trans- ocean stream ship & railroad line thereby enforcing the Sherman Act. Typically monopolists caught bending this law were addressed behind closed door deals rather than on a national public stage. Roosevelt's and his people took the fight to Morgan & won a Supreme Court decision.

You will read about the friendship & common cause between two Republican comrades that wish to reform and clean up corruption in politics. William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt both emerge as Progressive Republicans and soon become friends. Taft came from a privileged back ground as well, but had a mild manner wishing to please family versus Teddy's driven ambition to confront and change America. Roosevelt brings Taft along as his Secretary of war then supports him as his successor.

Ms. Goodwin has cleverly developed the story of these two men by showing the path of Taft as President to push congress to reform big business through regulatory amendments and measures to enforce them, while Roosevelt who regretted not pursuing another term wishes to take action on child labor and women's work issues.
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The concept of this book is basically to present simultaneously (a) a biography of T.R.; (b) a biography of William Howard Taft; and (c) a general non-fiction book (like Simon Winchester might do) about McClure's magazine; and in fact (d) mini-bios of several McClure's writers. That seems both very audacious in scope, and difficult as far as tying all that together in a cohesive manner. Improbably, Goodwin makes it work brilliantly. Probably the key ingredient is her exposition of the access and relationships that the McClure's writers had to T.R., and the synergy thus created; plus contrasting how things changed under Taft.

The book is extremely long, so if you're short of attention span, consider that. I prefer richly detailed narrative (as long as it's not aimless or wandering) rather than glossing over things to shorten a book up, so the fact that this took me 6 weeks to read was no problem for me. (It is exhaustively end-noted, by the way, for those interested. When you finish the book's main pages, you will be only at 56% through on the Kindle's progress meter.) Like many readers, I have previously read a T.R. biography or two, but I did not find this book repetitive or redundant to those, given its angle on T.R.'s career and given all the Taft and McClure's content. Really a master work, and a great read that lets you lose yourself in the turn-of-the-century era for quite awhile.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Doris Kearns Goodwin is a very popular historian, whose last work Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln was widely acclaimed, and therefore I was expectant of another such achievement in this new book, but it just wasn't for me.

The research is extensive, the notes on primary sources exhaustive, the writing style is, as with all her work, excellent, but the book is too much. I can't help but think of a George Harrison song, Long Long Long.

The first one hundred fifty pages are bios of TR and Taft, and their families. There is nothing new here. There have been so many works on Roosevelt, and I felt that Edmund Morris covered his early years best in The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (Modern Library Paperbacks). While the information is good, it is too much.

The writing concerning the "golden age of journalism" is good and an important part of the story of our nation's reform from more than one hundred years ago.

The relationship between Taft and TR is the most interesting of the book, and that part moved quickly, and the differences in style and personality are nicely portrayed, but the inclusion of so many things from the journalism side just cluttered up the work. The book would have been less cumbersome and more interesting if the focus had been on the two men, with the journalism portion given only a supporting role.

In the end, the split between the two great men ushered Woodrow Wilson into the White House. We are all left to speculate what changes in the outcome of the Great War would have occurred had TR been in the White House when the Germans went through Belgium in August, 1914.

The book is a good read, but not in the magnitude of her last work.
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