Noted historian Doris Kearns Goodwin approaches her subject of the relationship between Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft from several insightful angles. Although her book examines their careers separately, it is focused on the differences in their personalities and approaches that finally led to the serious rift in their friendship of many years. This rift also led to Roosevelt’s third run for president, which split the Republican ticket.
One of the major differences that Goodwin identifies is their relationships to and use of the press. The journalists particularly close to Roosevelt and involved in the fortunes of both presidents all worked for McClure’s magazine and make up an impressive list of names in journalism: Ida Tarbell, Ray Stannard Baker, William Allen White, and Lincoln Steffens.
I wanted to read more by Goodwin after I read Team of Rivals, the great history of Lincoln’s career that inspired the movie Lincoln. Although I also have her book about FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt in my queue, I was interested in this one because I know only a little bit about Teddy Roosevelt and almost nothing about Taft, just the broad outlines of their careers.
Without going into detail about the careers and personalities of either man, although I developed respect for both, after reading this book, I confess to having a lot of sympathy for Taft over their split. The fact is that Roosevelt regretted his decision not to run for a third term and so looked for excuses to find fault with Taft’s presidency. After Roosevelt’s return from Africa, he criticized Taft’s record of progressive legislation even though it was actually better than Roosevelt’s own. Taft later acknowledged that he wasn’t as good as Roosevelt in publicizing his accomplishments or explaining his policies to the press.
This book is thoroughly interesting and revealing of the characters of both men. It is carefully researched, and it is also very well written. Although quite hefty at 750 pages, it moves along at a good pace and does not get bogged down with extraneous details.