- Hardcover: 169 pages
- Publisher: Times Books; 1st edition (June 1, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0805069550
- ISBN-13: 978-0805069556
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 36 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #104,286 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Woodrow Wilson Hardcover – June 1, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
At a time when U.S. foreign policy and the country's role in the world are very much at issue, what could be more appropriate than to revisit the president who set U.S. foreign policy on its course in the 20th century? Brands, best-selling author and Pulitzer finalist for The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin, gives a sober portrait of a president dedicated to peace yet compelled to enter a brutal war. Yet more than his actions, Brands says, it is Wilson's words that remain with us: "The world must be made safe for democracy." Brands writes elegiacally of Wilson's "beautiful words, soaring words, words moved a nation and enthralled a world, words that for a wonderful moment were more powerful than armies." Though recent events cast doubt on Brands's statement that Wilson's views ("idealism is sometimes the highest form of realism") have triumphed and that the U.S. concedes the U.N.'s "role at the center of world affairs," his contribution to the American Presidents series, edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger, is a stirring reminder of the ideals that underlie American policy.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Libraries unable to afford Arthur Link's multivolume biography of Wilson should consider this digestible precis from Brands, a proven success in popular-history writing over the past decade. He shows why Wilson is one of the most significant of American presidents, albeit one with a fluctuating reputation, through an efficient recitation of his governing acts that capped the Progressive Era. Generally accepted reforms such as the income tax or the Federal Reserve, however, are not what buffet Wilson's name; it was his induction of the U.S. into World War I and the transcendental rhetoric by which he did so. Whether naive or visionary, Wilson's idealism bespoke his character, which Brands lays before his reader: Wilson possessed inflexible fiber born of his religious convictions, although Brands counts him more flexible than ordinarily thought. Wilson failed in his aspiration to set international affairs on a foundation of principle rather than power. However, Brands ably underscores Wilson's ultimate success through his eloquence and his ideas in steering thought about foreign affairs toward a liberal alternative to Realpolitik. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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This biography, another of those brief looks at presidents in "The American Presidents" series, does its job well. While I agree with other reviewers that this is such a brief volume that it glosses over much of Wilson's career, the series is what it is. And I think it somewhat unfair to criticize the book for working within the parameters imposed upon it.
That said, this is a capable biography. I think a little more information about his early career, his life as an academic, an academic administrator, and governor may be covered too briefly even for this series. But that is not atypical.
The book does give a sense of his persona--aloofness, stubbornness, rigidity, certitude, erudition, persuasive ability--and how this helped him succeed, but also could lead him to take stands that hurt his cause.
The volume lays out the accomplishments with which he is associated, advancing the progressive agenda, enunciating a political perspective ("The New Freedom"), and the like. It also addresses his foreign policy--from the not terribly successful Mexican adventure to his leadership of the country in World War I to his efforts to transform global governance after the war (note his 14 points and his effort to establish a meaningful "League of Nations").
He ran into political opposition with the League. The book does a nice job--even with its brevity on this score--explaining why he failed and how the effort here plus preexisting medical problems led to his breakdown and the strange last months of his presidency.
There were contradictions with Wilson--his Southern background was associated with racism, even as his ideals led him to assist workers throughout the country with his Progressive policies. If you want a quick introduction to Wilson that nonetheless provides some understanding of his presidency, you could do a lot worse than visiting this volume.
That being said, this book is only 139 pages (sans notes and index). It's broadly written and lacks the detail of a thicker, more traditional in-depth biography. After finishing this book I was still thirsty to learn more about this captivating president.
One feature I really liked about this book is the section near the end entitled 'Selected Bibliography.' Not only does Brands list over 30 works about Wilson, he adds brief comments about each one such as "The finest single-volume biography. Sympathetic but objective." Another simply reads: "Handle with care."
Thanks to this list of additional readings, I found another book with much more detail that I am currently reading. While it covers more depth, it's quite boring in comparison because it just doesn't have that Brands style.
To Brands' credit, I think the brevity of this book is at least partially because it is one book of the multiple-volume "The American Presidents" series edited by Arthur Schlesinger - there may have been some editing or length issues to make this book more uniform with the rest of the series.
At any rate, Brands' "Woodrow Wilson" is the best book for learning about the president overall for starters. If you still want more detail, skim through the comments in the "Selected Bibliography" to find a book that interests you.
One nice feature of the hardcover versions of titles in "The American Presidents" series is that they have included a reproduction of that president's signature embossed into the front cover.