Ardent Audible listener with a long commute!
Until I listened to Doris Kearns Goodwin's "The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism" (2013) it didn't occur to me that anyone - other than George Washington - had been 'drafted' into the presidency. I'd assumed that people who become president have a burning desire for the office, and plan and maneuver over many years to get there.
Theodore Roosevelt, the brilliant, adventurous and beloved scion of a wealthy New York family, positioned himself his whole life to be president. Throughout his life, he was also a prolific and influential conservation and naturalist author. Roosevelt was such a maverick that the Republican Party tried to derail "that cowboy" by making him William McKinley's Vice Presidential running mate for the 1900 election. McKinley was assassinated in 1901, and secretly gleeful, Roosevelt became president.
William Taft, Roosevelt's long time friend and politically progressive ally, had one life long ambition: the Supreme Court. Taft's judicial decisions in the lower courts and later, the Supreme Court, were well reasoned and supported and are still used today. On the way to becoming Chief Justice in 1921, he was inveigled into the presidency by Roosevelt, and elected in 1908.
Four years later, Roosevelt wanted the presidency back. His long friendship with Taft had fractured, and Roosevelt's ego split the Republican Party in two. In the 1912 election, Taft, Roosevelt and Democrat Woodrow Wilson ran. With Republican votes split, Wilson won.
Roosevelt's close relationship with journalists, including Ray Stannard Baker, who wrote "What the United States Steel Corporation Is" (1901) for McClure's Magazine (1893-1929). That lengthy piece, along with Ida Tarbell's groundbreaking "The Standard Oil Company" (1902), described trusts that ruthlessly snuffed out competition and endangered the country's resources. Roosevelt instituted such strong trust-busting reforms, he'd more aptly be a Democrat today. Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" (1906) lead to the "Pure Food and Drug Act" (1906) and what eventually became the FDA. Taft, while much more reserved with the press than Roosevelt, relied on journalists to investigate and publicize one of his main goals as president: tariff reform. Taft didn't get everything he wanted, but he got a lot.
Taft was a genuinely nice man who hard to make people comfortable, build consensus, and as appointed Governor General of the Philippines, showed an unparalleled empathy and understanding of that culture that enabled him to ensure that country's transition to peace. Roosevelt, however - well, he was dominating, extremely aggressive, pro-war, and hurt people that got in his way. The "Speak softly" part of his motto was aspirational. "The Bully Pulpit" disillusioned me about Roosevelt, whose lionization is even stronger than it was a century ago.
I listened to Goodwin's "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" (2005) and had trouble with that as an Audible. There were so many people that it was hard to remember who was who, and there's no Audio index. I had a much easier time with the Audible of "The Bully Pulpit". Goodwin 'reintroduced' people that had been mentioned much earlier in her book, and that was enough to remember who they were. I got a little mired in the chapter on Taft and tariffs, and had to listen to it twice to understand the problem and what Taft wanted, but I didn't mind.
"The Bully Pulpit" is fascinating and accidentally-drive-by-your-freeway exit absorbing. I got so into the book and the vivid descriptions of the people and places, I actually misdated a check "1914" instead of "2014". And Edward Herrmann as a narrator - let's just say that I heard a bushy mustache, waistcoat with a watch fob, and a Panama Straw Boater.
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Sheri Fink, MD, PhD, published "The Deadly Choices at Memorial" in the New York Times on August 30, 2009. I read it on line, and, when I found an abandoned copy at a Starbucks, I read it again. It was a great article, and I wished for more details - why did the hospitals generators fail? - why didn't the hospital's emergency plan have procedures in place for a catastrophic failure? - why didn't the doctors who administered fatal injections wait for rescue that, in hindsight, was just hours away? That article won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting; and this lengthy book (576 pages on paper) answers those questions, and more.
Fink has the rare gift of understanding how complex systems work and fail, and the ability to explain them in a lively, intriguing narrative that weaves history, culture, engineering, medicine, medical ethics and people and companies together into a compelling story. She doesn't draw conclusions: she gives the conclusions reached by the government; the American Medical Association; the people that survived Memorial and the family members of those who didn't; law enforcement; expert witnesses; criminal attorneys and civil attorneys; and ethicists.
As a reader/listener, I reached my own conclusions about why Memorial failed as a physical building, and how and why Dr. Anna Pou, did what she did - she apparently euthanized patients, and was arrested for second degree murder. A grand jury declined to indict Dr. Pou or the two nurses that helped her, years after Katrina.
Would I have made the same kind of decision in an analogous situation? It's easy to pass moral judgment sitting in my comfortable backyard, well rested, enjoying a Sunday croissant and strong, black coffee. I don't think I would have, especially as to patient Emmett Everett, Sr., but I really don't know.
Fink's epilogue makes a strong recommendation: guidelines need to be in place for medical priorities when medical resources are short, and those decisions need to be made well before natural or man made mass casualty events happen, not in the middle of a catastrophe.
The book was so well narrated, I realized I was up at 1 a.m., after repeatedly setting the Audible sleep timer, listening. I had to switch to a book I'd already heard so I could sleep.
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On November 4, 2008, Barack Obama was elected to his first term as President. Three days later, I read a nice piece in the Washington Post by Wil Haygood. "A Butler Well Served by this Election" was the too brief story of Eugene Allen, a Black butler who served eight presidents, retiring during the Reagan administration. Later, watching the inaugural on television, the camera panned to Allen, and a commentator mentioned he was there as a special guest of the President's. Allen must have had interesting stories, but he was discrete and I thought they had died with him in 2010.
I was thrilled to find "The Butler: A Witness to History" (2013) at the top of the Audible crawl. "Wow," I thought. "A story I always wanted to hear more of, and one of the narrators is Forest Whitaker!" I like his voice so much I'd listen to him reading a refrigerator repair manual. It was the fastest Audible purchase I've made, and I don't regret it.
I thought I would be listening to a lengthier biography of Allen, or perhaps a novelization of the movie, but "The Butler" book is really a companion to the movie. According to this book, the movie "The Butler" is partially fictionalized, and a dramatic conflict was created between Allen and a radicalized son. This book first discusses how Haygood came up with the original story idea, and his lovely interviews with Allen and his wife, Helene. The book discusses Allen's relationships with the presidents he served, but briefly -it's a short book. It also discusses the tragedy Allen honored to vote for Obama, and then his physical struggle to attend the inauguration.
There's also a section on the difficulty bringing "The Butler" to the screen. Oprah Winfrey discusses the history of Blacks in film, as actors, directors and producers. I am familiar with all of the actors she mentioned, but the directors in the 1920's and 30's were new to me.
I'm giving the book a story rating of "3" because, as an Audible, it wandered. I wasn't always sure what point was being raised.
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I'm a pop culture writer and editor living in San Francisco who commutes about half an hour with audio books five days a week. I go through a lot of audio books.
"Team of Rivals" surprised me in so many ways. I was surprised by how much I didn't know about Abraham Lincoln. I was surprised by how beautifully told this story is. And I was surprised by how moved I was by a story that I, essentially, already knew.
Strange to say, but by the time Abraham Lincoln is shot by John Wilkes Booth in Ford's Theater, I had almost willed myself into thinking Lincoln was a character who could figure out the trap, and avoid it somehow. I really didn't want him to die.
Narrator Suzanne Toren breathes life into the story, and even into the nearly all-male cast of characters. I could listen to her talk all day, and she made some of the dull spots easier to get through.
Readers/Listeners will be surprised at how well they'll come to know Lincoln's cabinet and family, and how heartbreaking it is to consider the untimely deaths of three of his four children, not to mention the tragic histories that haunted both Salmon P. Chase and Edwin M. Stanton.
I listened to this shortly after listening to "1861: The Civil War Awakening" (Adam Goodheart) which makes a fascinating companion piece to "Rivals" for its more colorful descriptions of the times, and its different perspective on figures such as Gustavus Fox.
"Rivals" is destined to go down as one of the definitive accounts of Lincoln's life, and any reader with even the most fleeting interesting in the 16th president would do well to delve into it.