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Showing 1-10 of 1,757 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 2,028 reviews
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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on 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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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 14, 2014
First, one has to keep in mind that TR was brought up in NYC as one of the "elite" and attended Harvard University. He was a brilliant man who not only led a politician's life, but wrote hundreds of books and spent years on a dude ranch raising cattle. He was police commissioner of NYC; governor of the State & a secretary of the navy He learned to deal with people of all stripes and persuasions and truly liked the human race.

However, when TR became president he not so much as spoke to the people himself as he spoke to the media directly, many times in the Oval Office, and they got the word out. He made friends with the reporters and they, in turn, did his bidding. He was what is termed a "man's man" - forceful and entertaining.

Today, TR would be considered a through & through liberal, as he was by most of the Republican party over 100 years ago but many of his ideas hold common-sense currency: conservation; a burgeoning FDA to protect consumers from bad drugs; labor laws to protect both children & adults; the inception of the meat inspection bureaucracy, etc. etc. It took him years to achieve these ends and he expected that his successor, his long-time best friend, Wm. Howard Taft would follow in his footsteps. That didn't exactly happen and that caused a long rift to develop between them. Taft was a brilliant jurist as well as an honest and fair man but he never really wanted to be president - that was TR's dream - and he accommodated Roosevelt.

Roosevelt told the people when he was directly elected to his 2nd term that he would not run for a third. That was one of the biggest mistakes he ever made for many reasons which are elucidated in the book. As things turned out, he missed politics and the presidency so much that because of his arrogance and high-self esteem that he would run again, as a third party candidate. By doing so he split the Republican party and Wilson, the Democrat won the seat.

This book is well-written but overly detailed and descriptive. It could have been 200 pages shorter. By the time I finished about 80% of it, I could go no further. Bored out of my mind. But, I learned a lot and that was one of the reasons I purchased it.
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on December 24, 2014
4 stars by comparison means compared to her fantastic Team of Rivals. While I disagree almost completely with those who claim it was unreadable of lacked focus there is a small kernel of truth to the claim. The editor could have used a little more trimming and possibly helped it run a bit smoother. That being said I really enjoyed reading it and with only a few exceptions moved along quite enjoyably. I disagree with one of the editorial reviews that said she didn't show Taft in the best of light. While I knew a bit of his history her portrayal of his racial views really impressed me. And the idea of coupling Roosevelt, Taft and the journalists in one book interacting was inspired if as already said a touch disjointed. Probably doesn't hurt that the book coincides with my already held view that TR wasn't as wonderful personally as generally portrayed and Taft was ill treated by history. To me the best point on this is instead of getting a free trader, anti monopoly, racially way ahead of his times Taft for a second term, we got an anti semite , racist, eugenicist, liar (he kept our boys out of war) pigheaded ( no Republicans at peace treaty oh no League of Nations) Woodrow Wilson. This book probably isn't for everyone but if you're interested in an evenhanded treatment of this period and are willing to push yourself in a couple of places I'd suggest it you'll be better informed for it
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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 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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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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