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WmTaftIf 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.

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