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Publisher's Summary

By the author of acclaimed biographies of Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Adams, a penetrating biography of one of the most high-minded, consequential, and controversial US presidents, Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924). The Moralist is a cautionary tale about the perils of moral vanity and American overreach in foreign affairs.

In domestic affairs, Wilson was a progressive who enjoyed unprecedented success in leveling the economic playing field, but he was behind the times on racial equality and women’s suffrage. As a Southern boy during the Civil War, he knew the ravages of war, and as president he refused to lead the country into World War I until he was convinced that Germany posed a direct threat to the United States.

Once committed, he was an admirable commander in chief, yet he also presided over the harshest suppression of political dissent in American history.

After the war Wilson became the world’s most ardent champion of liberal internationalism - a democratic new world order committed to peace, collective security, and free trade. With Wilson’s leadership, the governments at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 founded the League of Nations, a federation of the world’s democracies. The creation of the League, Wilson’s last great triumph, was quickly followed by two crushing blows: a paralyzing stroke and the rejection of the treaty that would have allowed the United States to join the League.

After a backlash against internationalism in the 1920s and 1930s, Wilson’s liberal internationalism was revived by Franklin D. Roosevelt, and it has shaped American foreign relations - for better and worse - ever since. 

©2018 Patricia O'Toole (P)2018 Simon & Schuster Audio

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Reflections on a Changing Presidency

Presidential biographies require a tough balancing act between a personal narrative of the subject and the broader context of the issues and times that define their terms in office. O’Toole’s book is far more focused on context than Wilson himself, using the book as a meditation on the role of the U.S. and its presidents in global affairs since Wilson’s hesitant intervention during WWI. Although she ties everything together in the epilogue, at times the book is overwhelmed by details in Europe, losing Wilson for large stretches. There is a breakneck overview of his life prior to 1912 at the beginning and a thoughtful discussion of his physical decline in the latter chapters, but overall O’Toole provides a one-dimensional view of the man that makes him a supporting character in his own biography. She also fails to seriously consider any issues aside from the war in Europe and postwar peace efforts in any detail. There are fleeting discussions of race and Wilson’s less than honorable responses to the plight of African Americans, but by and large O’Toole removes domestic issues from her discussion of Wilson’s presidency. It is a compelling book with a number of insights on power and idealism, but O’Toole could have done more to paint a complete portrait of Wilson. Still, it is worth listening to (or reading) and even sneaks in some pointed critiques of the current president, who is the polar opposite of Wilson in many ways.

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struggled to finish.

As a historian by profession, this was unremarkable and tedious . Very redundant in content.

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Fine Addition to Large & Growing Wilson Bookshelf

This is a very good, intellectually and morally stimulating, and beautifully written book. It provides a vivid & powerful presentation of the events that rocked America and the world a century ago and the complex, very human man at the center of them. Not a comprehensive or definitive biography, the book moves quickly through Wilson's early life to focus on his presidency in general and World War I in particular. It presents familiar historical and political issues in fresh and provocative ways. The pacing is excellent, the characters and scenes are well-drawn, and the issues are fairly presented. A balanced treatment of Wilson, good & bad. It is a fine addition to the large and growing Wilson bookshelf, although the epilogue is rather thin. I enjoyed The Moralist thoroughly ... except for the whisper-voiced reader. He uses very little inflection. Some may like his flat, quiet style, however, and the writing is good enough to carry the narration regardless.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful