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Woodrow Wilson: A Biography (Vintage) [Paperback]

John Milton Cooper
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
Price: 15.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

1 Jun 2011 Vintage
The first major biography of America’s twenty-eighth president in nearly two decades, from one of America’s foremost Woodrow Wilson scholars.

A Democrat who reclaimed the White House after sixteen years of Republican administrations, Wilson was a transformative president—he helped create the regulatory bodies and legislation that prefigured FDR’s New Deal and would prove central to governance through the early twenty-first century, including the Federal Reserve system and the Clayton Antitrust Act; he guided the nation through World War I; and, although his advocacy in favor of joining the League of Nations proved unsuccessful, he nonetheless established a new way of thinking about international relations that would carry America into the United Nations era. Yet Wilson also steadfastly resisted progress for civil rights, while his attorney general launched an aggressive attack on civil liberties.

Even as he reminds us of the foundational scope of Wilson’s domestic policy achievements, John Milton Cooper, Jr., reshapes our understanding of the man himself: his Wilson is warm and gracious—not at all the dour puritan of popular imagination. As the president of Princeton, his encounters with the often rancorous battles of academe prepared him for state and national politics. Just two years after he was elected governor of New Jersey, Wilson, now a leader in the progressive movement, won the Democratic presidential nomination and went on to defeat Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft in one of the twentieth century’s most memorable presidential elections. Ever the professor, Wilson relied on the strength of his intellectual convictions and the power of reason to win over the American people.

John Milton Cooper, Jr., gives us a vigorous, lasting record of Wilson’s life and achievements. This is a long overdue, revelatory portrait of one of our most important presidents—particularly resonant now, as another president seeks to change the way government relates to the people and regulates the economy.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books (1 Jun 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307277909
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307277909
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 1.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 64,424 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding Wilson Biography 27 Nov 2009
Format:Hardcover
Professor Cooper has written a most outstanding biography of the academic Woodrow Wilson turned politician. It is an honest and complete appraisal of the man who was our first President with a Ph.D. degree. It is well-written; with each chapter flowing smoothly from start to finish. It is well-researched; every major primary source has been consulted, with an expertise that shows in this finished product. I highly recommend this book for even the casual reader of presidential history; every graduate History and Political Science student should include this on their reading list.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read 24 Mar 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Covering an important time in the history not just of the U.S. but of the world, this is abook not to be missed.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Woodrow Wilson ranks among the most controversial presidents in American history. Elected at the peak of the Progressive movement in the United States, he secured passage of a number of new measures that fundamentally transformed the government's relationship with the economy, yet presided over the introduction of segregation at the federal level. While promising a new approach to foreign policy governed by morality rather than crass personal interest, he initiated Latin American military interventions little different than those pursued by his predecessors. And while he led his nation into a war to make the world safe for democracy, the resulting peace only laid the groundwork for another, even more devastating conflict just two decades later.

For these reasons, Wilson has not wanted for historical study, yet a good biography has long proved elusive. John Morton Blum's Woodrow Wilson and the Politics of Morality and Kendrick Clements's Woodrow Wilson: World Statesman are both valuable short introductions to Wilson's life, but a more detailed examination has been lacking until now. John Milton Cooper has meet the need for such a work with this book. A scholar who has spent his career studying Wilson and the Progressive era, he brings the benefits of his extensive knowledge to bear in this study. While not uncritical, he is generally sympathetic towards Wilson, and works to dispel the image of the stern moralist that persists in the popular imagination. His Wilson is at his core an educator, a president who was most successful when he explained his proposals and intentions to the public.
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  63 reviews
86 of 92 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An Uneven View 6 Jan 2010
By slb - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
While in many ways this is a good, solid biography of Woodrow Wilson, the author's idolization of his subject colors the portrait. For example, there are multiple instances where Cooper writes that another person suggested an idea to Wilson. Cooper follows this fact with the assertion that Wilson would have thought up the idea on his own. As this happens multiple times it seems odd. There are a myriad of additional ways the author is defensive of long standing criticisms and interpretations of Wilson. Also, there is too much dependence on the diaries of Edward House, which seem untrustworthy. Cooper recognizes this, but leans heavily on them anyway. The narrative could be stronger and more concise. However, I suspect that this is the most thorough and detailed biography available. I recommend it, but I also recommend reading it with an awareness of the author's bias.
52 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding Wilson Biography 27 Nov 2009
By Dr. Watson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Professor Cooper has written a most outstanding biography of the academic Woodrow Wilson turned politician. It is an honest and complete appraisal of the man who was our only President with a Ph.D. degree. It is well-written; with each chapter flowing smoothly from start to finish. It is well-researched; every major primary source has been consulted, with an expertise that shows in this finished product. I highly recommend this book for even the casual reader of presidential history; every graduate History and Political Science student should include this on their reading list.
28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best biography of Wilson 30 Nov 2009
By A. Bell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
J.M. Cooper wrote previously the best book on the period following the Armistice, "Breaking the Heart of the World". This biography of Wilson brings together virtually all aspects of the chararcter of this complex leader--in a comprehensive, clear and impartial fashion. Cooper shows where Wilson was wrong and Wilson was right. In all instances, Wilson was human--either arrogant or humble. His ideas and policies, wrong and right, still permeate American political thought. The book should be read by all our historians and by individuals aspiring to be president.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A seminal one-volume biography about a controversial president 20 May 2010
By Paul Gelman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
During the last days of his presidency,one famous journalist,Ray Stannard Baker, has visited Woodrow Wilson,who was recovering from a strong stroke.Baker was shocked and wrote:"A broken,ruined old man,shuffling along his left arm inert,the fingers drawn up like a claw,the left side of his face sagging frightfully.His voice is not human;it gurgles in his throat,sounds like that of an automaton.And yet his mind seems as alert as ever."
Sic transit gloria Wilson.He was indeed a very controversial president and his actions are still felt today.Suffice it to mention the Versailles Treaty which in itself caused a lot of post-war problems and is regarded as a conclave which has brought only further divisions and hardships among the many nations that were scrutinized and debated then.
Wilson was a Democrat who ascended to the White House after many years of Republican administrations,and he wanted to be remembered as a president who had worked in order to change not only his country but also the world order.It was Wilson who guided his nation through WW1 and Professor Cooper is extremely adroit in demonstrating how many efforts Wilson has made in order to avoid America's entrance into this horrible war.Volens nolens,in the end he had no choice and the barbaric submarine war conducted by the Germans pin addition to the Zimmermann telegram were the last straws which were used by the president to convene the Congress in order to declare war against Germany and its Allies.The isolationist days of America were over and now Wilson went out on a crusade to make the world safe for democracy.
Another controversial aspect discussed at length in this fascinating study is the way the subject of the League of Nations was advocated by Wilson but proved to be unsuccessful.In spite of this, Wilson managed to change the way people and policy makers would think about international relations that would carry America into the United Nations era.
On the one hand Wilson appears to be detached and cool, while on the other hand he is deeply a passionate man in his private life and Professor Cooper is superb when describing the president's private affairs, his two wives(Ellen and Edith),his lover(Peck), his children and in-laws.Quotes from the president's letters are supplied throughout the study.
Yet Wilson also vehemntly resisted progress for civil rights,while his attorney general launched an aggressive attack on civil liberties.Race relations were totally ignored.Wilson was prepared to fight his enemies and adversaries with all the means he got from his days as president at Princeton.He was the msot intellectual president the USA has had and one of his books is still regarded a milestone for those who study politics and constitutional law.It was Wilson who took care to nominate the first Jewish judge ,Louis D. brandeis,to the Supreme Court,in the era when anti-semitism played a significant role in the USA.Despite coming from a religious home,Wilson did not go to war in 1917 because he thought God was telling him to do so.As the president put it:"War is not declared in the name of God:it is a human affair entirely".Unlike Theodore Roosevelt,his greatest rival,he never compared politics to religion and preaching and had never supported the greatest moral reform crusade of their time-Prohibition.He despised Fundamentalist manifestations.
The best part of the book is the second one where Wilson is busy in his efforts to establish peace in Europe.The negotiations had worn him out physically and emotionally and the decisions he made in the process of peace-making have stirred almost as much argument as his decision to enter the war.His famous Fourteen Points have caused a lot of controversies not only in Europe but also at home and this further drew fire from his opponents.His stroke which made him an invalide also led America to undergo the worst presidential crisis in American history.
As Professor Cooper points out, many saw or regarded Wilson as an Amerian Icarus,who perished because he flew too close to the sun.Boldness and thinking big marked the president all his life,and this charaterized him during his days at Princeton and as the governor of New Jersey.
This volume is very rich in details and is a very comprehensive combination of scholarship and narrative and shows an extraordinary but also deeply flawed president and leader who started hsi career as a dynamic reformer and ended it shortsighted and delusional.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A highly selective portrait 14 Jun 2011
By iHappy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The traditional view of Wilson is that he was greatly influenced by his minister father and the family's religious dogma. Consequently, his politics, both national and academic, were as hard and unyielding as the faith that guided it. Cooper rejects that framework early on and suggests the picture of Wilson is more complicated than the stereotype. But his narrative ended up supporting the standard interpretation, even if Cooper fails to say so directly. Where Wilson was seen as stubborn, Cooper calls him determined, uncompromising, tenacious. Cooper rarely comments directly on Wilson's religiosity, but mentions it in passing time and time again: He violated his rule of not working on the Sabbath, or he found solace in his faith, or quoted a Bible passage. The stereotype makes Wilson a racist even by the standards of his time; Cooper all but ignores this important facet, calling it only puzzling that such a man so progressive in other areas would be so backward in his treatment of race.

In fact, Cooper finds a lot of things "puzzling" about Wilson. That word appears frequently, along with other admissions by the author of things he doesn't understand about Wilson's motivations and behavior. The religious framework explains a lot; the best Cooper can do by rejecting it is to say he doesn't know why Wilson behaved as he did.

And nowhere is that lack of clarity more glaring than in the subject of race. Cooper ignores it almost entirely. He gives cursory mention to the fact that Wilson dismissed -- or allowed to be dismissed -- all the African Americans in the federal government. This Cooper finds strange, and (perhaps for that reason) ignores the matter altogether. If anything is puzzling, it is Cooper's decision to downplay that important issue. The only other time he even brings up race is to remark on how Wilson lost his celebrated cool while talking to a black leader. For Cooper, the issue was Wilson's cool demeanor, not his cold heart. Much could be explained by reference to the traditional view of Wilson, but this Cooper rejected several hundred pages before.

He does a little better on the subject of women's suffrage, but does not really go into too much detail here either. Another subject Cooper downplays is the American participation in the Russian Civil War after the 1917 Bolshevik takeover. He correctly frames it within the context of World War I, but American troops continued fighting there after the war was over. "The decision to intervene," as Kennan called it, had significant long-term consequences for US-Soviet relations--or, at the very least, gave Moscow a significant propaganda tool. Cooper mentions it, and then drops it after a page or so.

Besides the religious framework, Cooper also rejects two other stereotypes about Wilson: that Col. House was the power behind the throne in the early years, and that Edith took over presidential duties during Wilson's stroke. In both of these, the author is, I think, more successful at painting the varied picture he attempts.

The author gives Wilson credit for progressive legislation passed at the beginning of his first term, but does not go into nearly enough detail on the background of the issues, or Wilson's commitment to them, in order to justify that credit. The omission is especially conspicuous when contrasted with the minute detail presented on Wilson's struggle for Article X and the League of Nations. This may be simply be a case of the author filtering the material through his own interests; his earlier book on the League goes into even more detail, and is also a good read.

The idea that Cooper's own interests drove this book is also apparent elsewhere. His analysis of the 1912 election, about which he has also written, is extraordinary and at times original. I don't always agree with his views of Roosevelt, but the section on the election, especially the comparison of the New Nationalism and the New Freedom, is worth the price of the book.

Cooper likes Wilson, and is inclined to read the best of intentions where he can, and ignore those areas where he cannot. Where Wilson makes mistakes, Cooper understands why, and suggests to us that, after all, Woodrow was only human, and anyone would have reacted that way. I find the those rationalizations a bit off putting.

Finally, judging from Cooper's treatment, Wilson was not close to his children and had little to say to them. His major relationships are with his wives, Ellen and Edith, and these provide the bulk of our connection to Wilson as a human being. Woodrow the father practically doesn't exist. So it's a stretch to call this a true "life of Wilson." It's more of a political biography. In that, Cooper knows his subject. The research--his knowledge and use of sources both primary and secondary--is superb. The writing is accessible, although I dislike the literary device of presenting a quotation in one context and then citing it again in another a few pages later.

In all, Cooper's book is an integral part of the resurgence of interest in Wilson almost 100 years after his election.
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