Day 661: The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism

Cover for The Bully PulpitNoted 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.

Related Posts

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey

The Gods of Gotham



Day 64: The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey

Cover for River of DoubtIn 1913, ex-President Theodore Roosevelt departed on a trip up an unknown river in the Amazon with a party that included his son Kermit, Brazil’s most famous explorer Candido Mariano da Silva Rondon, and the naturalist George Cherrie. Because the trip was originally planned to be less challenging and also because it was provisioned (by the leader of a failed arctic expedition) with more of an eye to comfort than practicality, the party soon found itself in dire straits, and by the end of the trip Roosevelt was near death.

In The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey, Candice Millard writes a compelling tale of this dangerous journey to a completely unexplored region, which ended by putting a 1000-mile river on the map of Brazil. In a hostile environment that the explorers found strangely lacking in food, they were at times very close to attack from the Cinta Larga Indians, who had only had a small amount of exposure to Brazilian rubber hunters–and that had been violent. The group also had to deal with boats that were unsuited to the rapids they encountered, disease, dangerous animals, and theft and murder by one of their party.

Whether Millard is explaining the scientific reasons behind the jungle’s apparent lack of food, the geology of the region, or the dramatic events of the trip, she writes with absolute clarity and interest. Although this book reminded me a great deal of The Lost City of Z, which I reviewed earlier and also enjoyed, I thought it was much more interesting and better written.