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on January 11, 2014
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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Top Contributor: Mangaon November 27, 2016
Bottom Line: In the Bully Pulpit, Professor Doris Goodwin has written a bloated but worthy read. Using the lives and presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt and Howard Taft as the center; she combines shorter biographies and a partial history of the Progressive movement in Republican politics. A second major theme is a biography of Samuel McClure, his magazine, the people he lead and how together they created the golden age of journalism. There is a lot of book, a lot to discuss and Prof. Goodwin needed a better editor in getting it into one volume. The Bully Pulpit is recommended, but are cautioned that this is a longer book than needed.

New to me was that President Teddy Roosevelt had invented the term ‘Bully Pulpit”. His use of the slang word ‘Bully’ indicated that something was good, grander than a more modern person might say “Nifty”. To Roosevelt the Bully Pulpit was a very good place to be heard and thereby command public attention. He also coined the word ‘Muckraker’. From the beginning a harsh term to suggest that a journalist so employed was shoveling farm yard waste, to create scandal and distrust where it was not justifiable.

Prof. Goodwin’s purpose is to compare how effectively President Roosevelt combined his use of the bully pulpit with his openness to certain of the muckrakers, specifically the McClure’s stable of investigative reporters. She contrasts this with President Taft’s more limited use of the bully pulpit and more traditional use of political discourse to forward their common cause: the Republican Progressive movement. The difference would be one of degree rather than absolute. Each would have to take some causes directly to the people and each would have to make some compromises. Indeed there is an unanswered question suggested by Roosevelt, that Taft had compromised too much.

Had this book been focused more on this topic, it would have been a better book. Instead Professor Good win gives us a detailed biography of the two men, much of it available in purpose built biographies. The extensive backgrounds on the team behind McClure, particularly Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens and William Allen White was interesting if over much. Roosevelt promoted close relationships with his favored journalists. Another example of how TR was a man of the future and is germane to the author’s larger questions.

Goodwin’s certainly dares greatly. She does achieve her goals. She asks us to strive through too many pages.
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on May 7, 2014
It's too long, repetitive and redundant. It's a shame because there is a lot of great material but you have to wade through an overwhelming amount of minutiae along the way. The book is definitely at its best in the first 200 pages of so when it deals with the early lives of Taft and Roosevelt. It falls into repetitive, drawn-out mode once Taft and Roosevelt begin their political ascents.

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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on July 14, 2016
This is a long book with the collection of photographs at the end and a slew of footnotes. I listened to it in the audible format. It is a book in which I discovered that the Republicans were the progressives in that era and the Teddy Roosevelt was a leader of the progressives. That was an eye-opener for a guy who has mostly seen the Republicans as the bad guys in the later 20th century. I especially enjoyed the stories of the muckraking Journal is at the beginning of the 20th century. I had never heard of McClure's magazine and added several books from the muckraking era that I must read. And there was the assassination of President McKinley that I often forget about as well as the attempted assassination of Teddy Roosevelt who went on to the speech venue to deliver his speech with a bullet in his chest. Teddy came back to run for a third term as the candidate for the progressive Bullmoose party. Taft Ultimately served as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court after his time as president. Taft and Roosevelt were very close colleagues in politics then split up and actually ran against each other for president in the election that Woodrow Wilson won. Tariffs and monopolies were big issues in their time but I must admit that I found the many pages about the issue of tariffs to be pretty boring. But the fact that this was a time of much progressive change made pretty interesting reading material.
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on March 3, 2014
Goodwin is a distinguished historian and biographer of presidents, and this book is definitely worth reading for its detail concerning Teddy Roosevelt and, even more, for the insightful analysis of the career of William Howard Taft. I think there are better biographies of TR available, but I have not encountered as good a book on Taft, and Goodwin skilfully weaves together the story of these two very different personalities whose political careers and personal friendship helped define their era. The book also adds a great deal of information concerning the role of key journalists during the period, the so-called "muckrakers" and their extraordinary symbiotic relationship with Roosevelt. If anything, there is rather too much detail about trivia relating to the management of the print media in which they published. At the same time, the book is surprisingly weak in its treatment of foreign policy, other than in the excellent chapters on Taft's service as governor general of the recently acquired Philippines. Two examples: Goodwin gives less than a page to Roosevelt's mediation of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904, which marked the emergence of the US as a great power in the Pacific and earned TR a Nobel Prize. Even less space is devoted to Roosevelt's engineering of the separation of Panama from Colombia, in order to ensure US control of the Canal Zone and the completion of the Canal itself. Surely TR would have regarded both of these as high points of his presidency, but if you read only this book, you would hardly know they occurred. Nothing is said about the dispatch of the "Great White Fleet" around the world either. In short, Goodwin's strength as a biographer is evident in the book, but her weakness as a historian of US foreign policy is equally if not more striking.
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VINE VOICEon June 2, 2015
Our library non-fiction book group read and discussed this book over two months. It produced a great discussion on so many topics: Roosevelt & Taft, their wives, McClure's magazine, trust-busting, elections, political parties, Ida Tarbell, reformists etc. Some comments from the group:

* although it wasn't an easy read, it was a worthwhile read and we were all glad to have read it

* most liked Taft more than Roosevelt - we were dismayed by Roosevelt's actions over Taft's presidency

* both had strong wives

* loved the role of the press

* author is great at conveying scenes - you feel you are there

* we were blessed as a nation to have both men serve in office

* Teddy was more visionary, Taft better at executing perhaps

* Taft should be more well-known and respected - why isn't he? Because he just served one term? Wasn't as dynamic as Teddy? No wars or memorable events occurred during his Presidency?

* Loved descriptions of Teddy by others - very colorful

* Juxtaposition of two men with narrative on press created an original and interesting structure for the book

* We are dealing with many of the same issues today

There were lots more comments as we discussed the book for four hours, but this gives you the gist of it. We had also read Goodwin's book on Lincoln and her childhood in Brooklyn. Enjoyed both of those, too.
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on March 19, 2014
"The Bully Pulpit" promised to be an exciting read, but fell far short of the mark. The writing struck me as flabby, unlike the crisp style of "Team of Rivals." To my mind, Doris Kearns Goodwin spends far too much time on the domestic lives of William Howard Taft and Theodore (not "Teddy"--he hated that name) Roosevelt and not enough on the turbulent political background of their times. Kearns is obviously much fonder of Taft than of TR, and it shows.
The ever-present use of quotation marks throughout the text may possibly add scholarly authenticity--and avert accusations of plagiarism--but it is a major impediment to smooth reading.
Another source of disappointment was that so much of the book--it seemed like about half-- was devoted to citations of sources and notes. I felt that the story was only half finished.
All in all, the reader can pick up some interesting facts from this book, but it does not live up to the standard set by this author's previous work. A pity, considering the monumental amount of her research.
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on December 23, 2014
Before reading "The Bully Pulpit," I knew a little about TR from recent reads but virtually nothing about Taft. I chose to read "TBP" to broaden my understanding of TR, and in that sense the book was a huge success. What I didn't expect--and what has elevated the book even higher in my esteem--was that I would discover so much to admire about Taft, the man. While I wish he had continued TR's political agenda, Doris Kearns Goodwin did a bang up job of presenting Taft and his judicial temperament in a fair light. Knowing only that TR and Taft's once-cherished friendship and mutual respect had been torn asunder after Taft's first term in the White House, I did not expect to care for WHT. That I did, I attribute to the author's balanced portrayal--of both men.

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.
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on October 21, 2014
Very disappointed. I've read No Ordinary Times and Team of Rivals by Ms. Goodwin and came to this with high expectations. Team of Rivals was the best Lincoln book I've ever read.

In Team of Rivals Ms. Goodwin managed to weave the bioographies or four or five men into a single riveting narrative. I'm assuming that was her goal here, but this time she falls way short. The narrative is a jumble of disconnected stories, each only partially told. Stories appear and then disappear with no apparent reason, and then the book ends abruptly and inexplicably with the presidential election of 1912 even though every character had years to live and much to accomplish.

In her treatment of that election, Ms. Goodwin switches narrative voices, suddenly telling the story from Taft's perspective, as if lifting that section of the book from a biography of Taft and leaving Roosevelt in a minor, supporting role even though Roosevelt was the other candidate. Meanwhile the journalists, whom seemed central to the story, disappear altogether.

I found the mini-biographies of the journalists wholly unsatisfying. Each is presented, in his or her own way, as a saint, a cardboard figure with no human depth.

Is this the story of the relationship between Taft and Roosevelt? Is it the story of Taft's talents, forgotten by history? Is it the story of progressive legislation at the turn of the century? It's all of the above and none of the above. Knowing the skills of Ms. Goodwin, this seems like an unfinished, unedited manuscript.
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on November 14, 2014
The story told in this book is an extremely compelling one for anyone interested in American presidential history. I read it around the same time that Ken Burns' Roosevelts series aired on PBS so that really helped me to visualize a lot of what Goodwin writes about here, and I highly recommend that as an adjunct to this book. This book is not perfect, however, hence the 3 stars. First of all, "The Bully Pulpit" would have benefitted from more effective editing because it was repetitive and slow moving in many places. By slow moving I mean the excessive description of all kinds of things such as clothing, interiors, objects--all kinds of things--that was a lot of the time simply not useful or helpful. SO many adjectives and adverbs! Enough already with the description! The book was overly long, and with careful editing, could have been at least 200 pages shorter.

It also seems that the author is trying to sympathize with her subjects a bit too much, and minimizes the things they do that are unflattering (or at least doesn't linger on them too long). If a topic is too controversial, let's say, it doesn't get much time in the book. I would have liked to hear more for instance about the firing of an entire African American military unit in the south that Roosevelt carried out; when I read a bit about it online, it seemed fraught with controversy and was not seen as one of Roosevelt's better moments particularly in the area of race relations, but it's not given much attention in the book. It seemed too the way that the book presents Taft and his wife as being beloved and accepted by the people in the Philippines seems unrealistic. There are other moments like these when it seems that Goodwin is trying not to stray into any thorny territory and this makes the book sometimes rather bland.

In essence, this seems like pop history to me and I doubt I'll read another of Goodwin's books again.
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