Book Review: The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Author: Doris Kearns Goodwin
TitleThe Bully Pulpit
Narrator: Edward Hermann
Publication Info: HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books, 2014

Previously Read by the Same Author:  Team of Rivals and Wait Till Next Year: A Memoir

This book is a dual biography of Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.  The two men are opposites in many ways.  Roosevelt was sickly as a child but grew up to be a muscular outdoorsman, while Taft a talented young athlete as a young man grew sedentary with age leading to his notorious girth.  Roosevelt had a lot of charisma but his arrogance could get the best of him, while Taft was genuinely kind almost to a fault.  The two grew to be political allies and friends.  Despite both being born into wealthy and powerful families, and adherents of the pro-business ideology of the Republican party, they both became leading Progressives chipping away at the power of big business and the wealthy class.  Things seem to go well until Roosevelt retires and Taft becomes his successor as President.  Taft has to work to make an impression in his predecessor’s shadow, not at all helped when Roosevelt turns against Taft for not being Progressive enough.  The election of 1912 turns out to be an ugly one as Roosevelt runs against Taft for the Republican nomination – one of the earliest campaigns with statewide primaries and candidates campaigning on their own behalf – and leading to a raucous convention.  Taft wins the nomination, Roosevelt splits off to run on his own “Bull Moose” Progressive ticket, but the damage is done for both men.

This book also focuses on the muckraking journalists of the Progressive Era such as Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens, and S.S. McClure who both inspired and prodded Roosevelt and Taft.  This part of the book is both very interesting, but also feels both like a long tangent from the Roosevelt/Taft biography and short shrift for the muckrakers who deserve a book of their own.

Rating: ****

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