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The William Howard Taft Presidency” by Lewis Gould was published in 2009 and is a member of the American Presidency Series. Gould is Professor Emeritus of American History at the University of Texas and is the author of several books including “The Presidency of William McKinley” and “The Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt.”

As one would suspect based on its title, Gould’s biography is more a detailed review of Taft’s presidency than a comprehensive survey of his life. Of the book’s 215 pages, just two pages whisk the reader from Taft’s birth to his service in the Philippines, another eight pages hand Taft the Republican nomination for the presidency and just a single page covers his entire seventeen-year post-presidency.

Gould begins with an excellent preface summarizing the book’s themes and key conclusions. Rather than scaring off the reader by foreshadowing possible tedium in the ensuing chapters, these early pages provide a welcome sense of anticipation by demonstrating the author’s extraordinarily thoughtful approach to the topic.

Unfortunately, neither Taft nor his presidency provides much in the way of exciting raw material, so while Gould’s analysis is intellectually insightful and rewarding it is not particularly captivating or entertaining. Readers hoping to wander effortlessly through Taft’s life – meeting his family and understanding his inner-self through a colorful and engaging narrative – will be disappointed.

But Gould consistently provides the reader with crisp discussions and excellent insight into topics that generally seem uninspiring. Much to my surprise, I found myself paying close attention to the review of Taft’s efforts related to tariff reform as well as his approach to foreign policy. I was disappointed, however, with Gould’s comparatively bland coverage of the fallout between Taft and Theodore Roosevelt which, in other biographies, has proven to be a far more captivating train wreck.

Unfortunately Gould does not follow Taft past his presidency in any detail. Readers unfamiliar with Taft’s life story may not fully appreciate that his appointment to the Supreme Court nearly a decade after leaving office represented the fulfillment of a dream of far greater importance to him than occupying the White House. But Gould does make good use his closing chapter by providing a fascinating analysis of the biographies of Taft published in the eight decades following his death.

Overall, Lewis Gould’s “The William Howard Taft Presidency” is an excellent (if not always exciting) review of Taft’s years in the White House. By design, however, it is not an ideal biography of this former president. Its succeeds in its primary mission but fails to convey much of Taft’s personality or mindset to the reader. Gould’s book, however, sets a very high bar for a work so narrowly focused on a presidency – and on William Taft’s presidency, in particular.

Overall rating: 3¾ stars

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