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The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism Audio CD – Audiobook, CD, Unabridged
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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 --This text refers to the MP3 CD edition.
*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 --This text refers to the MP3 CD edition.
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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.
Once the two men are in their prime, the book repeatedly follows the same lifeless, mechanical pattern to convey events. Goodwin will briefly summarize something of note that Roosevelt or Taft did, and then recite what everyone else in the world said about it. For example: (a) Roosevelt made a campaign speech; (b) here's what Roosevelt wrote about the speech in his diary; (b) and here's what Edith wrote about the speech in a letter to her sister; (c) and here's what Taft wrote about the speech in a note to Roosevelt; (d) and here's what Ida Tarbell wrote about the speech in a letter to McClure; (d) and here's what newspaper 1 wrote about the speech; (e) and here's what newspaper 2 wrote about the speech..... (z) here's what newspaper 12 wrote about the speech.
This goes on and on and on for nearly every public achievement of Roosevelt, Taft and a half dozen muckrakers. It gets old and very boring.
Also, it's odd that Goodwin gives almost no commentary herself on what made certain achievements or events special. She doesn't bring a historian's perspective to the material, she just recites what happened and quotes the remarks of all the players ad nauseum. The only exception is in those early chapters about young Roosevelt and Taft, in which she does read between the lines here and there when dissecting letters and diary entries.
I finished the book on principle, I made it all the way to page 750. But I resented it and nearly quit several times because, hey, there are other books to read and at some point you have to get on with your life. I've never read Team of Rivals, but I'll be taking that off my "Books to Read" list as a result of this experience.
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