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If Henry James or Edith Wharton had written a novel describing the accomplished and glamorous life and times of John Hay, it would have been thought implausible - a novelist’s fancy. Nevertheless, John Taliaferro’s brilliant biography captures the extraordinary life of Hay, one of the most amazing figures in American history, and restores him to his rightful place.
John Hay was both witness and author of many of the most significant chapters in American history - from the birth of the Republican Party, the Civil War, and the Spanish-American War, to the prelude to the First World War. Much of what we know about Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt comes to us through the observations Hay made while private secretary to one and secretary of state to the other. With All the Great Prizes, the first authoritative biography of Hay in 80 years, Taliaferro has turned the lens around, rendering a rich and fascinating portrait of this brilliant American and his many worlds.
Hay’s friends are a who’s who of the era: Mark Twain, Horace Greeley, Henry Adams, Henry James, and virtually every president, sovereign, author, artist, power broker, and robber baron of the Gilded Age. As an ambassador and statesman, he guided many of the country’s major diplomatic initiatives at the turn of the 20th century: the Open Door with China, the creation of the Panama Canal, the establishment of America as a world leader.
Hay’s peers esteemed him as “a perfectly cut stone” and “the greatest prime minister this republic has ever known”. But for all his poise and polish, he had his secrets. His marriage to one of the wealthiest women in the country did not prevent him from pursuing the Madame X of Washington society, whose other secret suitor was Hay’s best friend, Henry Adams.
With this superb work, Taliaferro brings us an epic tale.
As a student of history I found this biography to be an excellent book about a man whose career spanned two different period in US History- the period leading up to and including the Civil War and the Guilded Age that covered the development of America up to the Progressive Era prior to World War One. The author does an excellent job of covering the details of not just John Hay's life but the historical events (including the assasination of three presidents, the Spanish American War, The Boxer Rebellion, the Panama Canal land acquisition, and the Russo Japanese War) that were an integral part in US development into an imperial power. Great nuggets were also included (such as the fact that Hay's granddaughter was actually the first owner of the NY Mets baseball franchise).The narration was also excellent and I learned a great deal about a period of history of which I thought I had a good knowledge. I would recommend the book to anyone who wants to learn more about the history of America from the American Civil War through 1905.
9 of 9 people found this review helpful
This book is not only a very good review of some of the most turbulent eras in United States history, it is told from the view of someone both intelligent and honorable. This is not just the personal view of his biographer, but a view found in the written words of those he worked for and with. From the Civil War to the Spanish American War and beyond this man worked for the best interest of the United States as he saw it. He was not perfect, he held the views of his education and his friends including Henry Adams, (yes he of the acerbic Adams clan). This man lost a personal friend at the Battle of Gettysburg, and still was horrified decades later at the thousands dead in a battle which occurred outside of the borders of the United States. Following Hays life gives a personal view of some of the most formative times in American history.
This book actually gave me an understanding of some actions the American government took in the early nineteen hundreds that are still have reverberations all these decades later. It begins slowly like most biographies, but give it time, it is well worth it.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
A little too much emphasis on Hay's personal life and too little on his accomplishments to make this the five star I expected it to be. The parts during Lincoln and Roosevelt presidencies were great.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
This is one of the best biographies I have ever read. Mr. Taliaferro has done justice to a man who was an eyewitness to and major player in some of the most important chapters of American history, as well as a figure of great character, wit, warmth, and ability. Hay himself was one of the most graceful and enjoyable writers in American public life, and Mr. Taliaferro's writing comes impressively close to matching that of his subject. I felt as though I was able to share part of John Hay's rich and full life and recommend this book about him with enthusiasm.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
This was an engaging book about a fascinating man who at one time was one of the most powerful and important figures in American History. John Hay served the government in various roles from private secretary to Abraham Lincoln, to Secretary of State for Wm. McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. He also served in the administration of James Garfield, so he worked for the first 3 presidents assassinated in office. While Secretary of State to Roosevelt, there was no Vice President, so he essentially filled that capacity as well. He was next in line. Along the way he also found time to write poetry, fiction, serve as a newspaper editor and writer, served in several foreign consulates throughout Europe, including a stint as Ambassador to Great Britain. The scope of his life would be considered wide-spread even now. During the time he lived, it was almost unheard of.
But, more than the politics, I found the narrative describing the time that Hay lived in fascinating. He came of age during a period of great upheaval and chaos, yet he spent most of his adulthood among the upper class, moving in circles that remained constant to tradition and resistive to change. He followed the norm for his class and married for money and position yet he and his wife seemed to genuinely care for each other. He very much cared for his position in society, yet his closest friends were either snidely critical of society or secretly flaunted its tenets. And he lived through several scandals that might have brought others down. The writer does a good job of moving between the distinctions in his life, allowing us to see Hay change and grow gradually through the years.
Hay knew essentially everyone worth knowing during the last half of the 19th century and seemed to maintain good relationships with them all. The author spends quite a bit of time addressing his relationship with Henry Adams, and after this book, I am now willing to try and retackle The Education of Henry Adams.
His experiences and adventures through the Civil War were told in an engaging and easily readable fashion. The details of the crisis he dealt with during his years as Secretary of State were a little harder to get through. The writing seemed to slow down and become heavier, as Hay aged.
My only complaint had to do with the discussion of her personal life. I understand that this is a serious biography and the focus is not on his personal life. And it is difficult to prove the accuracy of personal stories relayed 100 years later. But the author skimmed over his adult relationships so fleetingly, that what was said didn't jive with the public persona the author spent most of his time portraying. Hay was hyper critical, and made derogatory statements about his oldest son, yet was devastated by his death. The loss of a child would be devastating regardless of your relationship with that child, but he has Hay doing such a 360 degree change in his feelings and emotions, it doesn't make sense.
The author makes it sound as though Hay was fascinated by the woman he eventually married. He at least a crush on her. But there is no explanation why a 30+ year old man who had avoided commitment, fell at least temporarily in love with a woman that no one describes as attractive. I have to assume it was money. Then once they are married, even though they have four children, she is seldom mentioned.
I also found it odd that a 60+ year old man who essentially serves as the Premier of the United States, conducting multiple complex treaties at one time, still maintained a decades-long school-boy crush on a woman considerably younger than him, a woman that his best friend also loved, who, based on what I read, had no interest in him.
A little more backfill on his personal life might have made these discrepancies in his behavior and actions a little more understandable.
However, my overall impression of the book was very favorable. The narrator did a good job. I highly recommend.
9 of 10 people found this review helpful
John Hay (1838-1905) spent his early life in Warsaw, Illinois a son of a doctor. He attended Brown University and study law in an uncle’s law office (with A. Lincoln) in Springfield Ill. He was adapt with languages and learned German, French, Latin and Greek. He helped on the 1860 campaign of Abraham Lincoln where he met John Nicolay. He and Nicolay became Lincoln private secretaries when he was elected President. He married Clara Stone daughter of the wealthy Ohio Industrialist. Hay’s served as undersecretary of state to Rutherford B. Hayes, he also served James A. Garfield. He became Ambassador to England for William McKinley and after a year his Secretary of State. He also served Theodore Roosevelt as Secretary of State. I found it interesting that 3 of the president Hay served were assassinated. During Hay’s career he was a journalist, writer, poet, businessman and politician. Between the highlights I have listed John Taliaferro packed a lot of information about Hay’s life and his career. I noted from the information provided by Taliaferro Hay played key roles in several area’s when he was Secretary of State, the open door policy about China, the role he played with the creation of Panama. When he was Ambassador to England he played a key role in developing positive relationship with England. Taliaferro provided great insight into John Hay the man but I feel he relied too much on Hay’s own papers and a few other manuscripts when writing about Hay’s the diplomat. It would have been great if he had obtained insight about Hay’s from foreign archival material to better portray his diplomatic role. Taliaferro attempted to provide an unbiased view of Hay revealing his faults as well as his virtues. The last biography of Hay was Tyler Dennett’s “John Hay: From Poetry to Politics” written eighty years ago. It was about time we had another look at this interesting man and the role he play during a critical time in our history. Joe Barrett did a good job narrating the book. If you are interested in history this is a must read book.
10 of 12 people found this review helpful
Last 6hrs you're subjected to periodic moments of awful, and unnecessary, Spanish (and other) accents. Worth a listen nonetheless, John Hay deserved a better remembered place in US history.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
What did you like best about All the Great Prizes? What did you like least?
Well the most enjoyable thing was the investigation of an interesting man with a long and quite historic life. John Hay was a part of some of the most important events in US History and his place in those events makes for an interesting read. There is a little too much speculation in this book for my biographical tastes, but given how many of Hay's letters didn't survive I guess that's understandable<br/><br/>What I liked least is that by the time Mr. Hay became Secretary of State to Roosevelt, I'd just had enough of hearing about his unrequited love, his friendship with Adams, his treatment of his family. It makes John Hay VERY human, which I appreciate. But he was Human for a LONG time.
If you’ve listened to books by John Taliaferro before, how does this one compare?
This is my first one. As a biographer, I'll say this much....he's thorough
Which scene was your favorite?
If this book were a movie would you go see it?
If this was a movie it'd likely be on HBO or PBS like the Adams documentary so I'd likely see it when it came to Nexiq
8 of 10 people found this review helpful
What did you love best about All the Great Prizes?
The detail of the story
What was one of the most memorable moments of All the Great Prizes?
The longevity of Hay's career.
Have you listened to any of Joe Barrett’s other performances before? How does this one compare?
I haven't listened to Joe Barrett before, but found his narrative very pleasing.
If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?
I think All the Great Prizes is perfect.
Any additional comments?
This book gave some fascinating insight into world politics in the late 1800's.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
If you could sum up All the Great Prizes in three words, what would they be?
This is a good description of a pretty remarkable man. But it is the person inter-twinings that make it fascinating.
Any additional comments?
However, the third download is damaged. I will never finish it because every time I pause my iPhone5 (iOS7.0.2), doing something else for any length of time and go back to listen, I watch that little marker always (and I do mean always) slowly slide back to about 4 minutes from the beginning. Very disappointing. If iPhones supported Whisper Sync, I would have said this Whisper had Sunk. Shame because the 3rd volume was the most interesting.
4 of 6 people found this review helpful