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Audie Award, History/Biography, 2015
After Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, Doris Kearns Goodwin wields her magic on another larger-than-life president, and another momentous and raucous American time period as she brings Theodore Roosevelt, the muckraking journalists, and the Progressive Era to life.
As she focused on the relationships between Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt in No Ordinary Time, and on Lincoln and his team in Team of Rivals, Goodwin describes the broken friendship between Teddy Roosevelt and his chosen successor, William Howard Taft. With the help of the "muckraking" press - including legendary journalists Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens, William Allen White, and editor Sam McClure - Roosevelt had wielded the Bully Pulpit to challenge and triumph over abusive monopolies, political bosses, and corrupting money brokers. Roosevelt led a revolution that he bequeathed to Taft only to see it compromised as Taft surrendered to money men and big business. The rupture between the two led Roosevelt to run against Taft for president, an ultimately futile race that resulted in the election of Democrat Woodrow Wilson and the diminishment of Theodore Roosevelt's progressive wing of the Republican Party.
Like Goodwin's chronicles of the Civil War and the Great Depression, The Bully Pulpit describes a time in our history that enlightened and changed the country, ushered in the modern age, and produced some unforgettable men and women.
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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153 of 160 people found this review helpful
This is a long book! Really, really long! In the very best way!
At first, it seemed as though Doris Kearns Goodwin might have bitten off more than she could chew in taking on the divergent lives and stories in one volume. But I came to realize that these characters, and this piece of history, do indeed belong together. These two amazing Presidents (and hooray, Doris, for reminding us of the admirable Taft!), began the struggle against the powerful business interests that has continued (with varying degrees of success) until this day.
Even less remembered or acknowledged was the work of tireless journalists who - at least at first - truly had the welfare of the country foremost in mind. We are so accustomed to viewing the Press as a cynical, self-serving bunch; thank you Ms. Goodwin for reinstating Ida Tarbell, McClure, Baker, Phillips and others to their important place in history. The Golden Age of Journalism was indeed a worthy and necessary inclusion in this effort.
This author/historian has a real gift for making historical figures come back to life. As this book progresses, the reader cares more and more for them as people. As in "A Team of Rivals" about Lincoln and his advisors, there's real feeling in the portrayals of Theodore Roosevelt and Taft and in the people who most influenced them, especially their wives.
It seems to me that Goodwin presents these people and this important time in American history with a good deal of objectivity and prospective. Often the faults of these men and women are as grand as their strengths, and what begins as idealism and vitality sinks into egotism and self-aggrandizement. As Ray Baker is quoted in the epilog, in their belief that injustice would swiftly be corrected if it was known, these early crusaders never realized fully "just how hard-boiled the world really was."
We may be appalled at how little things seem to have changed and at how often we repeat the mistakes of the past, but, reading "The Bully Pulpit" ultimately assures us that the effort has been worth it, some progress (however slowly) has been made, and we soldier on.
31 of 32 people found this review helpful
Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?
An absolute pleasure. DK Goodwin writes history like a novel. Each chapter tells a beautiful story of two greats of American history. Worth the price- get this book!
17 of 18 people found this review helpful
Meant for Audio!!! I'm not sure if I would have attempted this book in print, but I was addicted to the audiobook!
I don't have the words to describe the experience of listening to this audiobook. It is a true masterpiece of Historic Nonfiction.
Yes, it's compelling, amazingly well-researched, well-written, interesting and very important. The book has won many awards, no surprise there! It is a remarkable work.
Don't let that scare you away!
This great forgotten piece of history is accessible and tremendously interesting.
Initially, I had no particular interest in the topic. I have read/listened River of Doubt by Candice Millard. It is the brilliantly written story of Teddy Roosevelt's unbelievably dangerous and semi-suicidal trip through unknown lands of the Amazon. The trip actually takes place after the events in this book. I was more than impressed with Roosevelt after that story. That was my only real frame of reference, besides the story that goes around about Taft becoming so corpulent that he became stuck in a bathtub.
A whole world was opened for me through The Bully Pulpit. These men and their wives and friends became three dimensional. I felt the entire range of human emotion listening to this book. Why doesn't history get taught like this in school??
This topic turned out to be far more essential and important than I could have realized. I think it is a book everyone should read (listen to actually) because it tells of a pivotal time in American History. These were the last decades of America as a fledgling country. As this book ends, and through the actions of the very characters if this book, America begins a new chapter as an emerging superpower.
This is also the story of a friendship that guides the country. Ultimately that friendship will turn into something ugly and sad. It will change the career and lives of Taft and Roosevelt forever.
I was actually a little bit lost when I finished this mammoth audiobook. I had a hard time finding anything to hold my interest, much less anything up to the standard of this writing. I hope to see much more from this author in the future!!!
36 of 40 people found this review helpful
In nearly everything I've read, Roosevelt always exists somewhere between closer to fiction than reality. He's just so BIG and wildly entertaining. (And funny.) It's got to be difficult to write about him without being a bit taken in with his eccentricities. This book is more of an exception. You get a much better view of who he was, what motivated him and some things he did that are actually aggravating. His behavior doesn't always match the myth.
Then, there's Taft - the exact opposite. What a talented, bright, thoughtful man -- and so completely overlooked when people write sensational accounts of our country's history and its colorful presidents.
Both Goodwin, as author, and Herrmann as narrator deserve a lot of credit for making 30+ hours of history so engaging. It is remarkable. It's also interesting how applicable this book is to the time in which we now live. It's impossible to listen to this book and not think about contrasts and comparisons to today's political scene. Just that alone is fascinating -- and a wonderful reminder that we've seen it all before in some way or another.
23 of 26 people found this review helpful
The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin makes the reader/listener a fly on the wall at a volatile and pivotal period in American history. She uses newspaper articles, diaries, journals, letters, and memoirs to put her reader/listeners in venues where the progressive movement had its beginning and brightest moments. The book contrasts and compares two deeply interesting men: Theodore Roosevelt and Howard Taft. It also details the lives of the most prominent muckraker journalists including S. S. McClur, Ida Tarbell, Ray Baker in a way that makes you think that you are watching them actually work. She creates an extremely personal look at all the major political players in the period between the Gilded Age and the beginning of World War I.
10 of 11 people found this review helpful
As in Team of Rivals, Kearns shows her talent here for coming up with a unique angle to examine a familiar topic. The relationship between the two likeable, but different men, Roosevelt and Taft takes a couple of twists and turns. The perspective of the "Muckraker" journalists into the politics surrounding these two larger-than-life Presidents worked well. The only downside to this book is that there are a couple of times where the action dies as the writing gets a bit long-winded.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
This book is what history is to me. When I pick up a biography/history book, I like it to be like this one: heavy on the characters, but also a scholarly look at the issues of the day. I appreciate how Doris Kearns Goodwin can sift through all the material, and bring it together in one giant, forceful story.The friendship that dissolved between Roosevelt and Taft is fascinating, and is at the center of the book.I could listen to stories about those two all day. There is also a lot about McClure's magazine and the new journalism, and the pivotal battles with Rockefeller and the Trusts. Through it all, there are friendships, alliances, and falling outs.
The book is long, but in this case, it's a plus. Edward Herrmann is a good choice for narrator - he has the gravitas, and the kind of voice that you can listen to for a very long time. I thought I knew something of this part of history, but there was a lot I didn't know, or hadn't seen presented in quite this way. Really enjoyable, and definitely worth my time.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Wow! I'm not a history aficionado but I still found this book to be quite entertaining. The Taft/Roosevelt friendship and estrangement was something I knew about vaguely, but certainly not in context with other world events and not in the detail provided here. I enjoy books and writing in general, so the inclusion of Sam McClure's part in the events of that time was a real treat. The performance was well done and never got in the way of the story. It's a long book and there were a few points where it dragged a little, but overall I really enjoyed it and was sad that it came to an end. I hope Doris Kearns Goodwin goes on to write about the Wilson presidency and then just keeps writing through the rest of the presidents.
7 of 8 people found this review helpful
Team of Rivals was SO GOOD. This one is great as well. My favorite thing about it is there is no good guy/bad guy dichotomy. Each man did great things. Each man did what seem to me unfathomably bad things. The muckrakers had their great moment of influence and were fascinating people. I regret that I wasn't able to learn more about Ida Tarbell (But I'm impelled to find out more). And finally, today's political skirmishes are almost identical. The more I read of history, the more I'm convinced of the non-perfectability of governments and individuals. I can't even imagine how Doris Kearns Goodwin is able to create two such brilliantly researched and nuanced books.
7 of 8 people found this review helpful