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Wilson Hardcover – September 10, 2013
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“A brilliant biography that still resonates in Washington today.”—Doris Kearns Goodwin
“Telling the story of [Wilson’s] life, his visionary ideas and his legacy has occupied four generations of American historians. But until now, no one has gotten him quite right. Not until A. Scott Berg, with his landmark biography “Wilson.” In a meticulously researched and generously written new biography, we have an appraisal of the 28th president that is neither diminishing nor hagiographic. Rather, Berg, one of the pre-eminent biographers of our time, has placed Wilson in his correct place in our nation’s history. In many ways, he accomplishes for Wilson what David McCullough’s biographies of Harry Truman and John Adams did for their subjects: It secures Wilson’s place among the top tier of American presidents.”—Louisville Courier-Journal
“A. Scott Berg’s new 800-page biography, Wilson (**** out of four), spares no detail. It takes a certain quixotic passion to give us Wilson…with such thorough fact-sifting that we emerge, stunned…Wilson is [Berg’s] most ambitious if least sexy undertaking, scripturally dense, a codex that richly explains Wilson’s policy revolution while establishing the man’s full humanity, his flaws and failings…Berg mines the record in all its complexity and tragedy.” –USA Today, 4 star review
“Magesterial . . . at once intimate, sweeping and authoritative.”--Los Angeles Times
“Breathtaking…Berg gives Wilson a fresh look, restoring him to the place he occupied – the idealist in politics – before recent biographers wrote him off…Now, thanks to Berg, we know a more fully rounded Wilson.” –Boston Globe
“Mr. Berg is a terrific researcher, and ‘Wilson’ exhumes hundreds of fresh quotes and details...A very good work of history.” –Wall Street Journal
“Berg tells the story of Wilson, the man, very well indeed…he has a novelist’s eye for the striking detail, and a vivid prose style.” –New York Times Book Review
“A splendid look at [Wilson’s] life and legacy…In this majestic biography, [Berg] succeeds in capturing Wilson the man as well as Wilson the politician…With the sweep of his narrative, the wealth of his detail, the clarity of his prose and the breadth of his vision, Berg has produced an insightful and intimate work that is likely to stand as the definitive biography of one of the nation’s most consequential leaders.” –Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Wilson remains unique among American presidents and A. Scott Berg has written a superb biography of him. It provides an account of Wilson's life and presidency rich in detail and moving in its finer moments of narrative.”—The Australian
“For readers coming to Wilson for the first time, Mr. Berg’s biography tells the story of this singular man thoroughly.” –Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Berg is a masterful biographer…[Wilson is] absorbing.” –Miami Herald
“Marvelously detailed.” –Washingtonian
“A work of spectacular artistry and objective workmanship…should be required reading for any course of study that examines American history after 1865…Berg’s illumination of the president’s humanity is riveting…[A] treasure” –Ft. Worth Star-Telegram
“By far the best single study of Wilson’s life and times…Berg’s study should remain the standard biography of this tragic figure for a long time.” –Philadelphia Inquirer
“Succeeds magnificently in elucidating Woodrow Wilson the man. Quietly, methodically, intuitively, the author examines almost every aspect of his subject’s life, from the religious to the sexual and almost everything in between. His account…is nuanced and revealing.” – The Washington News
“The same penetrating illumination, meaningful insight and readable prose that Berg brought to his biography of Charles Lindbergh is on display throughout Wilson, and readers can walk away with a profound and unique perspective on the man, offered by one of our most gifted biographers.” – Deseret News
“No previous biographer has told [Wilson’s] story so well…Unlike his scholarly predecessors, [Berg] actually convinces you to like the man…[An] always graceful portrait.”– The Daily Beast
“With the prescience that all truly great biographers possess, Berg discovered in Woodrow Wilson a figure who would understand Washington’s current state of affairs.” – Vanity Fair
“[Berg] renders Wilson with an astute, sensitive understanding of the man and his presidency. Berg’s research is deep and thorough.”—Booklist (starred review)
“Accomplished biographer Berg emphasizes the extraordinary talents of this unlikely president in an impressive, nearly hagiographic account . . . Readable, authoritative and, most usefully, inspiring.”—Kirkus Reviews
“A thorough, entertaining account of our 28th president . . . [an] excellent biography.”—Library Journal (starred review)
Rraise for A. Scott Berg’s Lindbergh
“Berg’s book is an extraordinary achievement. In his authoritative chronicle, Berg has allowed the inconsistencies, nuances, and tribulations of Lindbergh’s life to speak for themselves without judgment or speculation. In doing so, he has given us the definitive account of a dramatic and disturbing American story.”--Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Charles Lindbergh is the ultimate American life, and Berg’s new biography is the ultimate exploration of that life. In an astonishing biography of a man who personified the future tense, no sentence is overwritten, no passage overwrought.”--Boston Sunday Globe
“Berg’s monumental new biography is a richly detailed and deeply nuanced examination of a historic life in all its complexity. This is fall’s must-read biography.”--Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“Berg turns that historic flight into a cogent and thoroughly gripping account that conveys all the magic, danger and courage of the young pilot’s achievement. A similar narrative prowess informs Berg’s account of the 1932 kidnapping of Lindbergh’s infant son and the subsequent trial of Hauptmann – an account that reads, at once, as a harrowing thriller and a sobering study in the unreckoned consequences of fame.”--Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“A superb biography.”--Time Magazine
“The most outstanding piece of nonfiction that I have read this year. Berg does a spectacular job of establishing why Lindbergh proves such a powerful icon for the 20th century. A substantial piece of history that illuminates an important figure in world history. It’s the kind of book that took almost a decade to create. And it’s worth it.”--USA Today
“Berg brings us about as close as I suspect we will ever get to the man himself.”--The New York Times Book Review
- Publisher : G.P. Putnam's Sons; 1st Edition (September 10, 2013)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 832 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0399159215
- ISBN-13 : 978-0399159213
- Reading age : 18 years and up
- Item Weight : 2.78 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.5 x 1.7 x 9.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #377,200 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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The contradiction between Wilson’s open-minded and brilliant idealism and his prejudices is hard to fathom for many people today. He was a life-long supporter of equality and reform except for black people whom he never counted in his vision. Several times as the country’s president he would say one thing to black leaders and then do something (or nothing) else. He segregated federal departments and relied on cabinet members who were clear white supremacists. Berg spends a good deal of space relating and analyzing Wilson’s prejudices. But for other people in this country at the time, Wilson was the man who represented more than anyone else a future with fair pay and equal rights. He was a superb speaker who was able consistently to engage audiences. Wilson was a living contradiction and Berg’s book does a better job than anything else I have read of explaining this man in a readable and engaging way.
Berg also shows how small strokes, beginning well before the presidency, slowly changed Wilson’s life and how the large stroke that occurred in Colorado while Wilson was proselytizing for the League of Nations, may have changed history. The Treaty of Versailles, which we now know was disastrous (and was predicted as such by some of Wilson’s advisers), and Wilson’s single-minded dedication to the League of Nations are explained in ways that the reader can easily follow. Berg shows how the weakness of Wilson’s blood vessels affected his behavior and correlates with a hardening of Wilson’s mindset later in the war and after it. Berg never claims a definite causal relationship but I was completely unaware of how frequent and how early Wilson’s neurological problems were. Wilson’s idealism, which worked so well in a college environment, ran into a brass knuckle world that made him both a hero for millions and an easy mark for some international leaders who promised to accept the League while gouging Germany and fattening themselves off Germany’s possessions. Berg’s book is the best explanation I have read not of the war itself but of Wilson’s response during and after it.
Wilson was a complicated man who did enormous good and allowed enormous harm. I highly recommend Berg’s well-written biography as one of the best ways available to understand both Woodrow Wilson and the times in which he lived.
Just as importantly, despite his clear admiration for his fellow Princeton alum, Berg maintains his objectivity. For example, despite suffering a debilitating stroke that left him barely able to function, Wilson considered running for a third term. Berg observes, "So began the most surreal few weeks in the Wilson presidency, a moment when nobody could bring himself to tell the emperor that he was not wearing any clothes."
And his character? Wilson, who remains America's most educated president, never wavered from his deep Christian faith or idealism. Wilson used all his political capital and energies to try to create a League of Nations" because he knew it was the best hope for preventing another cataclysmic world war. Unfortunately, he was also a racist, perhaps in large part due to his Southern upbringing. Wilson has the dubious distinction of being the only president to re-segregate the federal government. As president of Princeton, he helped ensure it was the last Ivy League school to accept black students. Despite his shortcomings, Berg makes a strong case for Wilson being one of America's greatest presidents.
I do have three minor issues with the book. First, Wilson was arguably America's most Christian president, but as someone not well versed in the Bible, I found Berg's Biblical chapter headings to be puzzling. Second, prohibition came into being on Wilson's watch, but Berg only devotes a few sentences to the amendment. Finally, the chapters are overly long, but one chapter even went more than 30 pages without even a paragraph break, which I find helpful every few pages. Fortunately, Berg has written such a great book that I still think it deserves five stars.
In biographies of famous people there is a balance that needs to be struck between hero worship and a hatchet piece that comes across as though he/she did nothing right. I think when looking at historical figures, we have to view them in context of their time, rather than putting our own modern values on them. I thought Berg did a pretty good job of striking the right balance on this front, but individual mileage may vary.
A superb look at Woodrow Wilson.
Top reviews from other countries
It was an interesting read, because it showed me why America was late into World War I, what happened to America as the war progressed, what the Treaty of Versailles negotiations were like, and how the various notables in the US responded to that treaty.
It was depressing, because Wilson was a man of the South, despite being the Governor of New Jersey before his election as president. That left me with the feeling that deep down he was somewhat racist. He was by no means a racist of the Klan variety, but if you look at the treatment of African Americans in his presidency, and minorities he dealt with in the treaty negotiations, it's not hard to find evidence for this view (African Americans in Washington DC actually took steps backward in many areas while he was president for example).
The other thing that I found depressing was his lack of political nous. Even before he got elected to anything, he came unstuck as the President of Princeton, which suggested to me he couldn't finesse an idea through, if he had to. Don't get me wrong, he had a clear vision that he could enunciate clearly, and was good at driving policies through when the wind was at his back, but if you've read Caro's Master of the Senate, you'll grasp that he took just about the most perfectly wrong approach when it came getting the Treaty of Versailles ratified.
The problem with this extreme adulation is that, while there is much to admire about Wilson, there is also much to question and criticize. For example, a southerner by birth, born just prior to the civil war, Wilson was a not-so-subtle racist who set back the progress of African-Americans by increasing segregation in the federal civil service. Berg acknowledges as much, but offers lukewarm justification for Wilson's actions, while glossing over the significance of this issue. Wilson's refusal to compromise even slightly on the conditions of his nation's acceptance of the Treaty of Versailles and on the terms of US entry into the League of Nations, clearly appears to be the result of Wilson's arrogance and egotistical pride, and while the facts are acknowledged, nothing is made of this. Finally, after Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke late in his second term, a conspiracy to hide the extent of his incapacity was entered into by the President, the first Lady, the President's physician and others. This was clearly an affront to the constitution and morally wrong, and yet the author appears to think no less of Wilson in spite of this. A more even-handed assessment of Woodrow Wilson, good and bad, would have made this a better book.
Notwithstanding this major shortfall, this is still a very enjoyable history. The author has done his homework and tells us much about Wilson's early years, his time in academia, the mechanics of his rise to power, the day to day operation of his presidency and his most intimate thoughts and conversations. Wilson is an odd duck, and Berg lets the reader get to know this very private man, writing in an enjoyable style that makes us feel as if we are in the room with Wilson, as if we know the man. We learn of his great intellect as well as his personal idiosyncrasies and peccadilloes. To a lesser extent we learn much about first ladies Ellen Wilson and Edith Wilson. The second Mrs. Wilson is especially interesting in her devotion to her husband during the period of his infirmity, though the reader is left with more questions than answers about her. For example, she is presented as someone with intense loyalty, but she must also have been someone very intelligent and capable in her own right, since she acted as "co-president" during her husband's period of disability.
Berg provides a marvelous chronicle of the history of the United States, and indeed the world, during the early part of the 20th century, of the events leading up to the first world war, of life during the war, and of the efforts to repair the world in its aftermath. It is not simply a book about the life of Woodrow Wilson, it is also an excellent account of his times. Berg is an able author and historian, and this accounting of a fascinating personality living and leading in a very interesting period of history makes for some very good reading. But in the final analysis, Berg is to Wilson what Smithers is to Mr. Burns.