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The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism Hardcover – November 5, 2013
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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
*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
Top customer reviews
But, Goodwin's coverage of the muckraker journalists held my greatest attention. Before I read "TBP," I considered "muckraking journalism" a pejorative term. As it turns out, I had confused it with "yellow journalism." Although both forms of journalism were alive and well in the late 1800s/early 1900s, the greater good of the people was effected through the conscientious, in-depth, factual reporting of the self-named Muckrakers. (Where are they today when we so desperately need them?)
"The Bully Pulpit" is a fascinating look at turn-of-the-century politics and social conditions. I can't imagine a reader not being both enlightened and entertained by Doris Kearns Goodwin's accounting of those long ago days, even though in many ways they could be today.
The virtue of this book is the same as its defect: it's wildly detailed. That fact brings the characters to life when the details matter and slows the narrative when they don't. I don't really care about the voting tallies in the numerous elections Goodwin cites, for example.
The trajectory of Roosevelt's life is vivid. He begins as pure energy in search of a cause, rises to genuine American hero, and ends rather tragically, as a slave of his own ego. Goodwin does a wonderful job completing the circle.
For me, the biggest surprise is William Howard Taft, a sadly overlooked President, more regarded as a placeholder than a significant historical figure. The sheer goodness of his character is what I like best about Goodwin's portrait. His genuine attempts to do the right thing no matter the political consequences were so refreshing given today's political climate and in contrast with Roosevelt himself. I came out of the book admiring a character I had no sense of before this portrait.
What was really new to me was Goodwin's accounting of the press during this period. Once again, ours suffers by comparison, and it's instructive to see exactly how.
We've grown so accustomed to shoddy politics and shoddy press that we barely notice any more. I think the most important thing this book does is show how very similar problems were managed far more honorably than they currently are.
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