American history, biographies, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Henry Pringle, Lewis Gould, presidential biographies, Presidents, Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft
If you’ve read one biography of Teddy Roosevelt, you’ve already gotten to know William Howard Taft. If you’ve read several bios of TR, you’ve gotten to know Taft extremely well.
Roosevelt and Taft go together like chocolate and peanut butter – which is to say extremely well if you’re a fan of those two flavors, and quite poorly in many other cases.
But you really can’t understand (or appreciate) the drama embedded in William Taft’s life without studying his relationship with Roosevelt. TR was almost singlehandedly responsible for making, and later breaking, Taft. Their alliance-turned-sour was uniquely fascinating and has probably inspired more than one doctoral dissertation in the field of psychology.
In the end, after both men had permanently vacated the White House (hastened by a political case of Mutually Assured Destruction), Roosevelt and Taft reconciled. Within weeks TR died. Taft later became the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court – the job he had really wanted all along.
As part of my journey through Teddy Roosevelt’s best biographies I’ve already read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “The Bully Pulpit” – essentially a dual-biography of the 26th and 27th presidents. In addition, I’m reading two other biographies of Taft:
First I’m tackling Henry Pringle’s two-volume “The Life and Times of William Howard Taft.” Published in 1939, this is rumored to be the best full biography of Taft. I read Pringle’s biography of Teddy Roosevelt three months ago and found the author’s negative bias toward TR distracting. But I’m almost halfway through this 1,079 page tome and I’m finding it far more rewarding than expected.
My final biography of Taft will be Lewis Gould’s 2009 “The William Howard Taft Presidency.” Already acquainted with Taft’s full life, I’m afraid a book focused only on his presidency may be relatively unsatisfying. But Taft hasn’t attracted much attention from biographers (Goodwin’s recent book being a fortunate exception) so I’m working with what I can find.
Looking forward to your review of this one. It’s my next up after Power & Responsibility.
http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2013/02/06/fact-or-fiction-taft-got-stuck-in-a-tub/ The story always seemed too strange to be true!
Richard Brewer said:
Bully Pulpit is good book about TR and Taft. Taft finally got what he also wanted Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He settled the Philippines and wife brought
all those Cherry Trees we like each year. RLB
Why did you not read Judith Anderson’s “William Howard Taft: An Intimate History” with so few other Taft biographies available? Just curious. Thanks.
No one recommended it and I saw it received low marks everywhere it was rated, so I just passed it by (not expecting Taft to be as interesting as he turned out to be). Did you read it? If so, is it worth reading? I’m happy to add it to my follow-up list, particularly since Taft has so few biographies to begin with…
Al Colburn said:
The Bully Pulpit is listed as a TR biography. (I know, it has to go _somewhere_.) How do you think it is as a Taft biography?
Al Colburn said:
Actually, I kind of got the answer poking around more on the site …