The bully pulpit : Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the golden age of journalism

by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Paper Book, 2013




New York : Simon & Schuster, c2013.


A dynamic history of the muckracking press and the first decade of the Progressive era as told through the intense friendship of Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft--a close relationship that strengthens both men before it ruptures in 1912 when they engage in a brutal fight for the presidential nomination that cripples the progressive wing of the Republican Party, causing Democrat Woodrow Wilson to be elected, and changing the country's history.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Bodagirl
hew! That was a long one. It was excellent, though maybe a bit TR heavy. But that is how the relationship between TR and Taft was, TR sprinting ahead and dragging everyone in his wake while Taft plods along but still makes progress. Very well written and researched with a bonus focus on the progressive journalism of the time and how much of mutual relationship they had with TR.… (more)
LibraryThing member Doondeck
Goodwin does a masterful job weaving together the lives of TR, Taft and the rise of progressive journalism. It is a long book but always readable.
LibraryThing member damcg63
Great story of two great men in a time when journalism was king. Long but a great read.
LibraryThing member maneekuhi
Who was the youngest US President? No, not JFK - rather it was Teddy Roosevelt who became President at 42 succeeding the assasinated McKinley in 1901. Roosevelt is elected in 1904 and vows on election eve not to run in 1908. Rather, William Howard Taft, another Republican, and TR's secretary of war, is elected (though he'd much rather be a Supreme Court Justice). Who will run/win in 1912? Well, there's a quick plot summary for those of you, who like myself, were not up to date on turn of the century presidential history. This is yet another terrific book from Goodwin. Loaded with so many interesting issues du jour, trust-busting, popular election of senators, income tax, vote for women, rights for workers, regulation. The story begins with a very enjoyable description of TR's June, 1910 return from his year long African safari/hunt (check youtube for video clips of his welcoming parade). Thereafter, Goodwin tells her story in straight chronological fashion and she weaves a third element into the Roosevelt-Taft story, namely the muckrakers, personified by the stellar cast of writers from McClure's magazine. So many interesting anecdotes and tales. When a Supreme Court decision is announced, all the reporters rush to.....not the telephone (not available yet) but rather the telegraph station. When these hard working officials would take a break, they would go away not for a week or two but for months, even as President ! TR is shot two weeks before the 1912 election. Taft's wife has a stroke shortly after he takes office. Prsidents were inaugurated in early March in those days. I was particularly intrigued by the very different personalities of Taft and TR and how each was received. It's long, 750 pages of text (the Amazon summary above says over 900, and the difference is largely footnote references. Consider buying the hardback, it's a gem filled with many interesting photos that you don't usually get in a Kindle edition.… (more)
LibraryThing member pierthinker
A superb analysis of early 20th century American politics, highlighting the political career of Theodore Roosevelt. Goodwin uses the growth in investigative journalism in this period to contrast the, what we would call, 'modern' approach to politics and its relationship with the press used by Roosevelt and the more traditional/conservative approach by William Howard Taft, Roosevelt's successor in the White House. Goodwin uses the breakdown of the relationship between Roosevelt and Taft (and their eventual reconciliation) to highlight the changing political landscape in America.

Goodwin writes with a strong narrative feel and this book fairly charges along and is much easier, more enjoyable and faster(!) to read than its length might suggest.
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LibraryThing member spencermamer
Essentially every Teddie Roosevelt biography suffers from the same, invisible weakness: the author cannot resist the urge to let the character's ego to eclipse the sun, leaving everyone, even his closet allies, to sulk in his shadow. Before "The Bully Pulpit", I've always viewed William Taft as an inconsequential character in Teddie's life, one who's known only for failing to carry the torch of the Progressive movement, Teddie's movement, forcing Roosevelt to forsake him and his own retirement. But it's a lie that distorts the real human relationship that was at work. This book, more than any other history of that time, depicts the humanity and fallibility of Teddie and Taft alike. I'm not a sentimental person, and I've very rarely moved emotionally by biographical works, but the relationship between Taft and Teddie, and the relationships that made up the McClure's editorial team, moved me.… (more)
LibraryThing member wagner.sarah35
Goodwin presents a compelling thesis about the presidency and press and stresses how Theodore Roosevelt was able to use the press to his advantage during his remarkable presidency, but that his successor William Howard Taft failed to utilize journalists in the same manner and ultimately damaged his administration through poor PR. This is a long book and Goodwin often times gets caught up in the details, chronicling the lives of Roosevelt, Taft, and the preeminent journalists of the age (Sam McClure, Ida Tarbell, etc.). A good read, but I do wish the author had edited the text better and cut down a bit on the length.… (more)
LibraryThing member annbury
A wonderful read and very applicable to our own times. The period Goodwin writes about -the late 19th and early 20th century- was more wedded to the ideas of laissez faire economics than our own. How these two Republicans remade the country is astonishing, especially given their know nothing descendants. The role played by McClure and his writers is also well done.
I think the author's point is if it was possible to introduce all of this progressive legislation then it is possible now. We just haven't discovered how to do it yet.
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LibraryThing member cyderry
Goodwin is superb as an historian and in this book we see Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft as individuals but also we see how working shoulder to shoulder, they created a greater good often at the cost of their own ambitions.

TR's personality comes through as adventurer and master politician. Taft comes through as a loving, generous, gentle giant who twice refused appointment to the Supreme Court (his greatest desire) because he believed his efforts elsewhere were needed. In this book we also see the development of the power of the press and how a good politician could utilize that power.

This book was extremely informative, however it could have been just as informative without being so wordy. Several passages were repetitive and could easily been omitted.
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LibraryThing member kara.shamy
Wow! What a dizzying, delicious read; for several days, Doris Kearns Goodwin's latest history of American Presidential leadership at its best kept my attention from first to last. Reading it was enjoyable like a great, thrilling novel can be; my consciousness was consumed by the narrative.

In many ways, I found The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism reminiscent of Goodwin's excellent presentation of President Lincoln's unique approach to the Presidency and the personal qualities that shaped that successful strategy. In this work, a time of exciting change, danger and opportunity is the setting for unique, fascinating characters to make their respective marks on our national history in surprising and impressive ways. The accurate and thorough grounding in time and place serves as a mere backdrop to the actions of individuals within the narrative, or rather, the political situation is presented within the narrative as material that sets great human forces in motion. Of course, the context is ultimately of singular importance since only in the effects of actions related do we find the historical significance to the country. It's impressive to me that without undermining that context or giving it short shrift, Goodwin invites the reader to feel and perceive the actions of these great leaders on a personal level.

I am aware and should let you, my fellow readers, know that I may be attributing too much intention to Goodwin's crafting of the work. I haven't close read this book on any level; I swept through it. I describe its qualities based on what ultimately engaged my heart and mind completely -- the human drama -- and there was no dearth of material to substantiate that interest. It could be I've greatly overstated the particular emphasis on this element.

I recommend this book highly to any who are interested in the people or political situation involved; I knew only general information about this book's subject matter. For me, that made it even more of a purely pleasurable read than was Team of Rivals; I was happy to learn so much! I would especially encourage readers with a particular affection for reading dynamic historical biographies to try this book (and other work by Goodwin if you have not yet). Don't be intimidated by the book's heft; Goodwin is a clear writer who tells a seamless story in the context of a sophisticated analysis of the history.

I plan to read this book again at some point; I will do so more slowly so that I may pay greater attention to Goodwin's craft. This review will be updated with whatever more specific insights I pick up at that time. Please be advised that I received a free copy of this book through the Goodreads Giveaway program on the sole condition I would publish an honest review once I read the work.

Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts; I hope they are helpful to some of you.
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LibraryThing member richard.thurman
This was a fantastic slant on the American political history of the early 20th century. Similar to, but not quite a biography, The Bully Pulpit tells of the first two Presidents of the last century. I've long been interested in Theodore Roosevelt and his surprisingly progressive Presidency. Elected by the Republican machine to maintain the status quo, TR surprised everyone with his campaign of trust busting. The Bully Pulpit is more than a retelling of this story. It tells of the important role that William Howard Taft played in the TR administration, the warm personal friendship between the two men, and TR's efforts to pass the Presidency and his legacy to a reluctant WHT. When TR returns from a post-Presidential African safari, he is displeased with his old friend's administration. He is also bored out of his skin. The cure to both conditions is an effort to retake the Presidency. The result is the temporary destruction of the Republican party.

Also a major part of the book is the story of muck-raking journalism. There was a time when good investigative journalism in this country roused public opinion against the powerful entrenched interests, and motivated politicians to make fundamental changes to benefit the masses. Of course, these were the days before Americans sat for hours mesmerized by glowing screens. The story of how the public was once mobilized behind McClure's magazine and writers such as Ida Tarbell, Ray Baker, and William Allen White was completely fascinating.

I highly recommend this book.
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LibraryThing member Randyflycaster
This book is, overall, very good, but it lacks focus. Yes, the part about the muckrakers is interesting and important historically, but way too long. (I believe the part would have made a wonderful book about progressive journalism at the turn of the 20th century.) I also feel the part about Taft's governorship in the Philippines is too long and not integral to the story. Nevertheless, the Roosevelt and Taft are brought to life. Ms. Goodwin's writing is easy to read and never gets in the way of the story. The last part of her book, which focuses on Roosevelt and Taft's parting of the ways, is a page turner. Finally, I learned a lot from this book, and I'm glad I read it.… (more)
LibraryThing member nmele
This excellent history has three threads: the relationship between Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, the rise and influence of investigative, long-form journalism, and Roosevelt's pioneering use of the press to achieve political ends. Any one of these would make a good book in itself, but their inclusion in a single volume allows Goodwin to illuminate each discussion in the context of the other two. This is a thoroughly enjoyable book and some of the parallels to the interplay of the media and politics today should be more widely known and discussed.… (more)
LibraryThing member phonelady61
I absoloutly loved this book and am wondering if anyone has a copy that they don't want . I would love to own it , if possible it is awesome . as a history major in college there are things in this book that I never heard while studying these major players in our history of our country . Not sure why professors don't teach some of this . wow a must read for all americans and most especially if you are studying history .… (more)
LibraryThing member mybucketlistofbooks
Well, how can you go wrong with a book by Doris Kearns Goodwin? She is definitely one of the top writers and populizers of American History now working. The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism is no exception. Beautifully written as all of her books are, this provides a unique take on the lives of Roosevelt, Taft, and the role of the muckraking media on their careers.

Not a full blown biography of either man, but one that tracks their rise to power initially in a parallel fashion which merges during the Presidency of Roosevelt, and then flies apart during the Presidency of Taft. The two men; Roosevelt, the scion of a rich New York family, born a sickly child who by the sheer will of his personality transformed himself into the "rough rider" we are all familiar with, and Taft, whose father was a successful businessman and public servant, who seemed less driven than Roosevelt, but who possessed a highly developed sense of what was right and wrong, and whose intelligence propelled his successful career, formed an unlikely though deep friendship that turned into deep enmity during the Presidential campaign of 1912.

Both men were part of the progressive wing of the Republican party, willing to impose regulations on businesses that used their influence in a way detrimental to the public good (trust busting), and who took up the cause of the working man proposing limits on the length of the work week, a raise in the minimum wage, and safety and health standards. Their eventual falling out came about as a result of the largely mistaken view on Roosevelt's part that President Taft was not carrying on this progressive legacy. During their careers both were the beneficiaries and targets of a new style of journalism - one that used investigative reporting to advocate for reforms in business and government to root out endemic corruption. This came to be known as muckraking.

Goodwin traces the rise of muckraking journalism - not a negative term at the time - as it rose during the careers of Roosevelt and Taft. Some of America's greatest journalists came out of this progressive tradition including most notably, Ida Tarbell. Focused largely on the journalists working at McClure's Magazine, one of the first and most successful of the muckraking publications Goodwin details the many ways in which both Roosevelt and Taft relied on the work these journalists were doing to provide the factual basis for the progressive policies they were pushing.This alliance produced some of the most progressive and far sweeping reforms of the twentieth century. And it also propelled Roosevelt into the top rank of U.S. Presidents. However, it also set an impossibly high standard for Taft to reach while he was President. So despite the fact he had some notable successes during his administration, by comparison, he looked like a failure in the eyes of Roosevelt and the Muckrakers, who turned on him with a vengeance in 1912.

I really enjoyed this book quite a bit. While many books have been written about Roosevelt and a fair number on Taft, there are few that have looked at them in tandem and that also included looked at the important role played by the media on their careers. It's an important aspect of the Progressive era that is usually overlooked.

Three things really struck me as I read this book. First, it really hits home how far the modern Republican Party has strayed from its roots. There have been, arguably, three Republican Presidents that are nearly universally acknowledged to be great - Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower - none of whom would be welcome in today's hyper-conservative party. Second, while Roosevelt deserves the acclaim he has received, he could also be petulant, hyper-sensitive to any perceived slight, and disloyal to formerly close friends, as evidenced by the way he turned on William Howard Taft. And last, I have a renewed respect for Taft who is caricatured in history as the bumbling fat man that squandered Roosevelt's accomplishments. Nothing could be further from the truth. He was highly accomplished prior to his time in the White House, was a more successful President than is usually acknowledged, and had a very distinguished career as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Highly Recommended!
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LibraryThing member Pmaurer
Another huge book by this author, exploring the interrelationship between TR, Taft and the McClure journalists. Well researched and very readable - tho long! The exposure to the journalists was new territory for me, but many of the quotes sounded as if they applied to today's political environment.
LibraryThing member ebnelson
As a story of two politicians who went from a laissez faire approach to conservative progressivism, this book excels at walking the reader through the emergence of progressive thought. Goodwin gets into the details of TR and Taft's administration without getting bogged down in boring detail by framing the discussion around the question most on the presidents' minds: How do we ensure a square deal for those left behind in the wake of the Industrial Revolution? Taft is a surprisingly sympathetic character who actually makes TR both more impressive and also more flawed than other portraits. The focus on the journalists not only helps explain the politicians' successes and failures, it also provides a lens through which to better understand the issues of the day.

Like Goodwin's Team of Rivals, the deep profiles of the leading characters around the central figure (here, of course, it has to be Roosevelt despite the book's shared billing with Taft), gives a way of understanding TR that in most ways far surpasses other biographies, including Morris's. Millard's River of Doubt may surpass Bully Puplit in terms of its powerful storytelling, but not by much--which says a lot considering Goodwin's substantial page count.
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LibraryThing member Whiskey3pa
Good reading on a period that I have a particular interest in learning. I thought that Taft came out as a pretty sympathetic figure in the author's hands. The lengths that a pol will go to 'get' their rival are impressive. Giving the presidency to Wilson was what both knew that they were doing and they just kept at it, largely out of ego and pride. The attention given to the McClure's writers was good stuff and really added to the picture of the world. I did not care for the note system used by the author - if you like following up ideas from standard foot- or end- notes, you will be annoyed at the method used.… (more)
LibraryThing member Schmerguls
This 2013 book tells of the lives of Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft up through the year 1912. The telling of the years before 1909 is pretty cloying since Goodwin has nothing but good things to say about both men, and spends much time showing how they were very admiring of each other. Apparently this was to set out in vividness the change which occurred after Taft became President. Neither man apparently ever considered not proceeding with the 1912 campaign even both had to know that the result of their actions would be to have Woodrow Wilson become President. But the enmity was so strong that neither man cared--they wanted to be sure that the other did not win. The book also spends considerable time telling of S. S. McClure and his magazine, McClure's, which account I did not think nearly as interesting as the telling of the clash in 1912. The book has, unfortunantly, no bibliography and its source notes are very unfriendly to one who would seek infomation as to the sources the author used. On page 462 Albert Beveridge is described as a Senator from Illinois whereas most know he was a Senator from Indiana. The book is long but the account of the concluding chapters tends to make a reader forget that there was a lot of not very interesting stuff in the pages covering the time before 1909.… (more)
LibraryThing member Jaylia3
Two men with very different temperaments but similar political goals are the best of friends and then bitter and public enemies in this dual biography of former presidents Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft that’s as gripping and deeply moving as a novel. Doris Kearns Goodwin, who also authored the Lincoln bio Team of Rivals, seems to have a knack for finding fascinating angles on history. The Bully Pulpit brings back to life the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century American Progressive Era, when the merits of unions, giant corporations, women’s rights, and big government were passionately debated, and the Republican and Democratic parties were very different, sometimes with roles reversed, than they are today. This was also the “Golden Age of Journalism” so the “muckrakers” who played a crucial role in the political upheavals of the time are also a large part of the book. Entertaining, instructive, and occasionally heartbreaking, The Bully Pulpit tells great story.… (more)
LibraryThing member hifiny
Fascinating book on the relationship between Roosevelt and Taft. As someone with little prior knowledge of this era, it was a perfect introduction. The book was a great balance between narrative and fact, giving myself little opportunity to lose interest on such a dense topic.
LibraryThing member stevesmits
There are a number of TR biographies on my bookshelf (including the Edmund Morris trilogy), but this may be the best. Doris Kearns Goodwin brings together the stories of Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the muckraking journalists of the early 1900's (principally S.S. McClure, Ray Stannard Baker, Lincoln Steffans, Ida Tarbell and William Allen White) to give a fascinating portrayal of the persons and the era.

Roosevelt and Taft were close friends from their early careers when Roosevelt was civil service commissioner and Taft the U.S. solicitor general. Their personalities contrasted sharply; Roosevelt the energetic, exuberant mover-shaker and Taft more cerebral and cautious, but with a warm personality that charmed everyone. Roosevelt skyrocketed to political supremacy through skill and fortune (McKinley's assassination). Taft was drawn to the judiciary until he was tapped to be governor-general of the Philippines, a role whose execution brought him much favorable attention. President Roosevelt tapped Taft to become his secretary of war and the men developed ever deeper political and personal ties. As Roosevelt was leaving office he promoted the presidential candidacy of Taft and played an active part in Taft's electoral success.

During Taft's tenure relations between the men began to sour. Roosevelt disagreed with many of Taft's priorities and edged toward seeking a third term in the 1912 election. Goodwin gives a sense that as much as the desire to return to public service Roosevelt was psychologically compelled by the lure of power and adulation that came with the presidency. The nomination process became quite acrimonious culminating in Taft's nomination and Roosevelt forming a third party -- the National Progressive Party also known as the Bull Moose Party. Roosevelt, who despite his "trust buster" image during his terms in office was fairly conservative on progressive issues, became in his quest for a third term quite a bit more radical on progressive issues. The Republican's bitter split resulted in the election of Wilson.

A parallel story in this book is a depiction of the two men's wives. Edith Roosevelt was devoted to her husband and family, but always uncomfortable with the social requirements of being First Lady. Nellie Taft was a social whirlwind, organizing the cultural scene in Washington until she suffered a stroke that limited her ability to speak. While always a strong advisor to her husband on political matters she was never able after the stroke to pursue the social aspect with as much vigor.

Goodwin's treatment brings together with the stories of the presidents the work of notable "muck raking" journalists of era. The journalists she features were the epitome of influential investigative reporters who raised public awareness and outrage about the negative impacts of the trusts -- Standard Oil, the railroad trusts and the financial barons of Wall Street -- and the pernicious corruption of machine-style politics. The mutual intertwining of interests and aims of the presidents (particularly Roosevelt) and these groundbreaking journalists is a major aspect of the book.

In telling the stories of Roosevelt, Taft and the muckrakers, Goodwin gives a vivid portrayal of the ethos of era. The growing disillusion with the trusts' excesses through concentration of wealth, their power over politicians and the oppression of the working classes by capitalist elites brought about a shift of sentiments from conservative to progressive ideology. What is amazing is how the issues that divided at the onset of the 20th century parallel the issues we hear about today: income inequality, influence purchased through money's place in the political process and contrasting philosophies on the role of government versus the market. Rather than the permanent "victory" of one particular ideological perspective on how our polity should best achieve equity and fairness for all we see a shifting of predominance of one over the other. In the progressive era chronicled in this book the predominance of unfettered market capitalism and the laissez faire attitude of government shifted toward increasing acceptance of governmental controls over the most egregious corporate abuses and a growing sense that government has a legitimate role in ensuring social welfare of the people. We have seen the same shifts throughout the 20th century and still into the 21st century. In the ever ongoing conflict between conservative and liberal ideologies, I suppose we can say that the conservatives dominate until their successes become too great while the liberals dominate until their failures become too great.

As with all of Goodwin's works, the research is deep and the writing is excellent. A highly recommended read.

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LibraryThing member jerry-book
I am almost finished. I was struck by the fact Taft tried to continue many of the programs of Roosevelt but he received very little credit for what he did. Of course, he refused to rule by executive order like Roosevelt. He fired Roosevelt's popular head of the Forestry department Pinchot causing a breach with Roosevelt. This helped cause Roosevelt to contest Taft for his second term which led to the election of Woodrow Wilson. Even though Teddy was adored by the public he could not win the presidency in 1912. He could not even win the Republican nomination. However, this is explained by the author because Teddy took a perhaps too radical approach to his campaign. He argued citizens should be allowed to vote to overrule even judicial rulings in plebiscites like California has. This was too much for the establishment. Even though Teddy won the primaries in 1912 there weren't enough of them so Taft won the Republican Nomination in 1912 by winning most of the conventions. Even Teddy's best political friend Senator Henry Cabot Lodge did not back him in 1912. The newest thing I learned is how Teddy wrested the leadership of the Progressive Party from Robert LaFollette. Even though the progressives initially thought Teddy was too establishment they deserted LaFollette and all flocked to Teddy when he decided to run in 1912. He was doomed in 1912 when he could not wrest the Republican nomination from Taft. It was wonderful that the author included in the epilogue a chance encounter between Taft and Roosevelt in May 1918 in Chicago.They apparently reconciled at this meeting. It reminded me of the reconciliation between Jefferson and John Adams. The author also notes Taft's wife Nellie outlived him by 13 years even though she was sick during their White House years. Finally, the author says Taft liked his position as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court so much he even managed to reduce his weight down to 250 pounds.… (more)
LibraryThing member nbmars
At the end of the 19th century, the United States government was much smaller than it is today. The industrial revolution was in full swing, and many very large businesses had been created, largely through mergers, acquisitions, and other combinations usually referred to in those days as “trusts.” Workers had no statutory right to unionize, and many people felt victimized by the “robber barons” who had become fabulously rich in railroads, the tobacco trust, the steel trust, the oil trust, and the sugar trust, among other large businesses. Doris Kearns Goodwin writes about this era, sometimes called “the gilded age,” and several of the men (and one woman) who made their careers battling for what they perceived to be economic justice.

Many historians and economists believed that powerful governmental regulation was needed to rationalize the structure of the economy in order to make it more just and equal. But the plutocrats who benefited from that economy would surely oppose such regulation--hence the need for a “Bully Pulpit” from which reformers were able to rouse public opinion to compel the government to adopt “progressive” policies. The bully pulpit’s principal practitioners were President Theodore Roosevelt, who coined the term, and the staff of McClure’s Magazine. Goodwin’s book focuses on them and on William Howard Taft, Roosevelt’s immediate successor as President, who continued most of Roosevelt’s policies.

It is somewhat hard for the modern reader to appreciate the influence of investigative print journalism in the days before television and radio. Great orators could reach at most a few hundred people at time, but newspaper accounts and magazine articles could reach millions. Goodwin points out that “Investigative journalism…had assumed the proportions of a movement, exerting an influence on the American consciousness hardly less important than that of Theodore Roosevelt himself.” Magazines like McClure’s had become so politically significant that William Allen White quipped it was as if we had “Government by Magazine.” The staff of McClure’s became known as the “muckrakers” for all the dirt they turned up about American business and politics. [Parenthetically, muckraker originally was meant to be a term of abuse, but it became one of approbation because of the high quality and importance of the reporting at McClure’s.]

McClure’s ran serialized featured articles on many industries, frequently uncovering bribery, conflicts of interest, and unfair business practices rife therein. But of all their features, Ida Tarbell’s series on the Standard Oil Trust of John D. Rockefeller stands out as the most influential. Tarbell argued that the oil trust was built by “predatory” price cutting, intimidation of competition, and unfair practices such negotiating discriminatory railroad rates. Tarbell’s father was a small oil producer who ultimately “sold out” to Rockefeller. Goodwin seems to have accepted Tarbell’s view of the industry. Goodwin writes that Tarbell proved that Standard Oil would never have obtained its monopoly without “special transportation privileges.” And once it obtained market domination, “Rather than use this domination and the efficiencies of scale to reduce costs, Standard Oil sought to maximize profits.” The author seems completely unaware of John S. McGee’s 1958 study, Predatory Price Cutting: The Standard Oil (N.J.) Case that appeared in the Journal of Law and Economics (1 J.L. & Econ. 137, 1958). McGee showed convincingly that Standard Oil grew not so much by driving out the competition but rather by outright purchases of the competition, leaving the former competitors quite wealthy and Rockefeller with a virtual monopoly.

Goodwin sympathizes with Roosevelt, who believed the way to curb the power of the trusts was through detailed regulation. TR focused on behavior like “unscrupulous promotion, overcapitalization, unfair completion, resulting in the crushing out of competition…” He sought to enhance the power of the Interstate Commerce Commission, even to set railroad rates directly. She gives only passing reference to the Sherman Antitrust Act, which was already on the books before TR and the muckrakers and which prohibited “contracts and conspiracies in restraint of trade.” Later developments were to show that the Interstate Commerce Commission (since dissolved) became the least effective governmental agency for promoting economic efficiency, while the Sherman Act became the government’s most powerful weapon against monopoly.

Quibbles about her version of economics aside, the author writes well about the politics of the era. In writing the book she found that Taft “was a far more sympathetic, if flawed, figure than I had realized.” He had been a highly respected federal judge, and the author of an important antitrust, antimonopoly opinion, Addyston Pipe and Steel v. U.S. (175 U.S. 211, 1899). He had also served with considerable distinction as Governor General of the Philippines and as Roosevelt’s Secretary of War. But even though Roosevelt himself designated Taft as his successor, Taft was emotionally more disposed to be a judge than an executive. His presidency was only partially successful. He attempted to follow Roosevelt’s progressive policies, but he was stymied by the conservative wing of his own (Republican) party.

The author goes well beyond the story of public edification and subsequent enactment and enforcement of progressive regulation, and in a sense, this volume is two books in one: one part political and economic history; and a second part personal biography. Goodwin includes a great deal of minutiae about the childhoods, early lives, and later familial relationships of her protagonists. I found myself more interested in the history than the personalities, but Goodwin has sold a lot of books by detailing the personal lives of historical figures. [Cf. Team of Rivals.]

In addition, most of the focus of the story is on domestic politics, and even there, you find practically nothing about Roosevelt’s conviction that whites were the superior race, and that they should try to outbreed other races lest they commit “race suicide.” Goodwin loves her subjects, and mostly endeavors to show them in the best light.

Evaluation: In terms of my personal taste, I think I would have liked this book more if it had less biographical tidbits and if it had been subject to the scrutiny of a good antitrust lawyer or economist. Nonetheless, it is worth reading, and most readers will probably appreciate and enjoy all the personal details about Roosevelt and Taft, and about the importance of their relationship with one another.

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LibraryThing member john.cooper
Well, last year it was James Garfield and Roscoe Conkling, and this year it's William Taft: my familiarity with long-dead politicians is expanding dramatically. While I wouldn't go so far as one professional reviewer, who gushed "think *The West Wing* scripted by Henry James" as if at a Hollywood pitch meeting, I agree that Goodwin takes the politics and mores of a largely forgotten time and makes them as vivid as the present-day Washington news. Before this, I knew a little about Roosevelt and next to nothing about Taft, and now I feel like I almost knew both men personally. And I soon found myself liking Taft, a true conservative by temperament and ideology, a great deal. I even found myself reluctant to push on through the end of the book, when I knew the great friendship between Roosevelt and Taft would founder and fall into bitter acrimony.

Aside from the great entertainment offered by a portrait of great personalities, I loved learning about the Progressive Age, the brief spate of correction to the excesses of the first Gilded Age, when American politicians first talked seriously about the government's obligation to provide a social safety net and to rein in the power of the greatest corporations. Today, when even the politicians of the Left lean right, it's refreshing to read about a time when the politicians of the Right leaned left. This is a book to get lost in, partly for fun, and partly for rebalancing.
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