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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 13 December 2013
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "bully pulpit" means "a public office or position of authority that provides its occupant with an outstanding opportunity to speak out on any issue." It was first used by Theodore Roosevelt, when asked for his view on the presidency, in this quotation: "I suppose my critics will call that preaching, but I have got such a bully pulpit!" The word bully itself was an adjective in the lingo of the time meaning "first- rate," somewhat comparable to the recent use of the word "awesome." Hence the title of this review. The term "bully pulpit" is still used today to describe the president's power to influence the public.

"The Bully Pulpit" clocks in at a hefty 928 pages in the hardcover edition, the reason why I chose the e-book version, and is lavishly illustrated. Each chapter starts with a contemporary photograph or cartoon beneath the chapter-title, and there's a separate photograph-section at the back of the e-book that has 68 photographs. Although a massive tome, it should be noted that "only" about 56% of the book consists of the main narrative. The rest of the volume is taken up by the extensive endnotes and index.

Rather than write another biography about a famous American President, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin has chosen for a different approach. In "The Bully Pulpit", she recounts the birth of America's Progressive Era through the close friendship between two Presidents: Theodore Roosevelt and his successor William Howard Taft. But rather than focusing exclusively on these two, she enlivens her account by twisting through the narrative the story of the "muckrakers" (another term coined by TR): the group of investigative journalists from magazine McClure's. In this magazine, they published popular exposes of fraudulent railroads and millionaire senators, aiding Roosevelt in his quest for change and fairness.

Author Goodwin starts her narrative with ex-president TR's return from a hunting trip to Africa in 1910. Then, switching between the two in alternating chapters, she charts the lives of Roosevelt and Taft from boyhood to maturity, and presents their wives Nellie Taft and Edith Roosevelt, before introducing McClure's Magazine and it's reporters.

Through this lengthy preamble, she brilliantly contrasts their very different childhoods and careers, as well as their differences in style and personality, a foreshadowing of the causes that would lead to one of the major political feuds of the age. Polar opposites, they still became firm friends, almost from the moment they first met in Washington at the beginning of their political careers.

The meat of the book concerns the period when Roosevelt became President, after President McKinley was assassinated in 1901. As President, T.R.'s goals were: "to distribute the nation's wealth more equitably, regulate the giant corporations and railroads, strengthen the rights of labor, and protect the country's natural resources from private exploitation." Roosevelt coined the phrase "Square Deal" to describe his domestic agenda, and developed a mutually beneficial relationship with the national press so they worked together to bring on the progressive era.

His close friend Taft became an indispensable member of President Roosevelt's cabinet and later his handpicked successor, after Roosevelt decided not to run for a third term. On TR's return in 1910 he broke bitterly with President Taft on issues of progressivism and when in the 1912 election Roosevelt failed to block Taft's re-nomination, he launched the Bull Moose Party, which ultimately led to them both losing to Democrat Woodrow Wilson, who became President.

In the epilogue, author Goodwin touchingly describes how the old friends reconciled during a chance meeting not long before Roosevelt's death in 1919, how Taft in 1921 finally got the position he had always longed for, that of Chief Justice of the United States, and how the members of the original McClure's magazine staff stayed in touch with each other into old age.

Goodwin's narrative is founded upon an abundance of primary materials, like the extensive correspondence between Roosevelt and Taft; the diaries of Edith Roosevelt and Nellie Taft and the journals, memoirs and hundreds of letters the "muckrakers" wrote to one another, to name but a few of the sources she used in writing "The Bully Pulpit".

While the narrative sometimes seems to get bogged down in minutiae, you won't be sorry to read about "Will and Teedie" and the muckrakers, as this account is far more than just a biography of "that damned cowboy president" Roosevelt and of the man nicknamed "Big Bill" in his younger years, William Howard Taft. It is also a detailed portrait of an era as well as a history of the press, all of this combined into one eminently readable book.

For those wishing to read more about Theodore Roosevelt, I recommend the biographical trilogy by Edmund Morris: "The Rise Of Theodore Roosevelt," "Theodore Rex" and "Colonel Roosevelt". Or if made curious for the full story on the digging of the Panama Canal, I recommend: "The Path Between the Seas" by David McCullough.
Strangely, there is not much available on William Howard Taft, the only American ever to have been both President and Chief Justice of the United States. Maybe time for an author of the caliber of a Chernow, Isaacson or Morris to write a biography that does justice to the man.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 12 January 2014
As with Team of Rivals (the Lincoln story) and No Ordinary Time (FDR and Eleanor) DKG once again sheds light on great human beings having a profound impact on their world. It confirms many of the worst things you suspected about the conduct of affairs but fills you with optimism and hope in witnessing what these people achieved, and what surely can be achieved in their wake. A remarkable insight too into the period in the first half of the 20th Century when US 'imperialism' had such a benign and positive effect on the formation of the Philippine nation.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 22 January 2015
"The Bully Pulpit" by Doris Kearns Goodwin is a comprehensive book about the events that marked the American and world history, events which due to 100 years gap seem far away, but in many ways they're similar to those of today because history repeats itself...

Doris Kearns Goodwin who won Pulitzer Prize for "No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt" is renowned biographer and historian, while most attention attracted her biographies of several US Presidents.
This time she's telling the story about great friendship of William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt that was in grand style terminated in 1912 and resulted in ferocious battle for the Republican Presidential nomination.
As is well known, Taft had been nominated for Republican candidate, but Democrat Woodrow Wilson took the victory overwhelmingly defeating Republican candidate.

Wilson's election had a huge impact on world history due to American entry into World War I, but also major impact on US due to the adoption of a number of laws that in many ways changed the American society and economy.

Therefore it can only be guessed which direction would national and world politics, as well as the history go, if the conflict of these two close friends didn't happen.

One of the important aspects of the book which the author gives a lot of space is press of those days and the origins of term "muckraking".
She's giving extensive explanation of situation that caused this type of journalism to appear, that since then, in some variations, accompanies not only the US but world politics as well.
The term muckraker that was first used by Roosevelt in his speech originally was related to investigative journalists that were writing for known magazines exposing politicians and businessman who steeped in corruption.
These reporters were very popular, continuing the tradition of investigative journalism, and who using different, usually not too nice, methods were denouncing corrupt individuals at all levels.

For those readers accustomed to Goodwin's style can only be said that this is another one of her biographical/historical books that definitely should be read due to her extensive research of various sources, including diaries and letters of their wives and journalists, which all brought more light on what was happening these days.

It's also convenient how much the events of 100 years ago have quite a few similarities with what happened and is still happening in the same party, which now as then is more concerned with the internal conflicts and different views than thinking how to defeat the Democratic candidate.

"The Bully Pulpit" is great work of history and politics literature, must read for all political and historical analysts in order to learn and help that at least some historical mistakes don't repeat, but also book for all "ordinary" readers who are in search for good non-fiction piece.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 9 August 2014
At one point in The Bully Pulpit, Doris Kearns Goodwin quotes one journalist telling another that the article she'd written lacked vitality because it required a central figure that would hold the reader. By writing her history of the Progressive Era in the US around the career of Theodore Roosevelt, it's not a mistake Goodwin makes.

In fact, there are two other strands to her story beside that of Roosevelt: those of his friend, colleague, successor and eventual rival, William Howard Taft; and of the team of campaigning journalists based initially at McClure's Magazine. These strands intertwine as their subjects tackle the social ills, economic exploitation and political corruption that arose with America's rapid industrialization at the end of the nineteenth century. It's a good way to tell the story and the human drama certainly holds the reader's interest. As such, it's certainly not a conventional history but then it doesn't claim to be. What it is is a fascinating and engaging story of larger-than-life personalities, their challenges, their inter-relationships, their triumphs and their failures.

First among them is of course Roosevelt but you can't help but feel that Goodwin's true sympathies lie the journalists and in particular Ida Tarbell. There may be some merit to that - Roosevelt was a man of passionate beliefs but had a vicious side too, and the simple fact of practical politics meant he had to compromise when other campaigners remained pure to their ideals. On the other hand, greatness is not an attribute to be granted to critics.

Whatever her sympathies, the story is driven by the parallel careers of Taft and Roosevelt, two ambitious and extremely capable men of similar background and outlook, but of very different character: Roosevelt is a born politician; Taft a natural administrator and judge. They met in Washington in 1890 while in their early thirties and would work closely for much of the next twenty years - particularly during Roosevelt's presidency - before their disastrous falling out during Taft's term.

Why four stars rather than five? Because for all its merits, it aims at too many targets which rather get in the way of each other (the McClure's strand sits a little intrusively alongside the story of the politicians battling for and actually delivering reform, for example). Still, it's a narrative that has a great natural arc, is very well told and researched, has extremely impressive and enjoyable detail, and makes for an engaging read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The American title for this book was 'The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism'. Presumably the publishers pulled Taft from the title and the cover since they assumed UK readers wouldn't know who he was? Theodore Roosevelt has long been one of my favourite political figures - such a vivid, vibrant larger-than-life personality, he's hard not feel a great deal of fondness for. Taft, on the other hand, was a character I knew very little about, so this book was a real revelation for me.

The exploration of their political partnership is fascinating, with Taft serving as governor of the Philippines, Secretary of State and Secretary of War under Roosevelt, indeed almost serving as Deputy President at times. Roosevelt relied very heavily on Taft, often commenting that he wished there were two of them. But once Roosevelt had more or less engineered Taft's election as his presidential successors, there came a great rift between the two of them - largely, it seems, through Roosevelt's indignation at Taft choosing to follow his own path as President rather than blindly serving as a Mini Roosevelt (although no-one could ever call the 300lb Taft 'mini') and continuing Roosevelt's policies to the letter.

Doris Kearns Goodwin is a wonderful writer and historian - I've never failed to enjoy one of her books, and her 'Team of Rivals' is one I've read several times, which is rare for a history book. That said, I found the connections in this book somewhat strained. As a book about Roosevelt and Taft and their political and personal relationship, it was excellent. However I found the connection with the 'golden age of journalism' forced and somewhat tenuous. Whilst the 'muck-rakers' did contribute to raising public awareness and indignation about corruption and social welfare, I'm not sure the role was as great as the title implies. If I was leaving out anything from the title, it would have been that, not Taft.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The Bully Pulpit is another great book by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Doris Kearns Goodwin has written some exceptional books in the past (No Ordinary Time, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, The Home Front in World War II “which won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1995”, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln) but I think this book is better than all of them. In The Bully Pulpit the author profiles Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive Era and what she believes is the golden age of journalism. The book explores what made Theodore Roosevelt what many experts consider one of our greatest presidents in American history. The book also goes into Roosevelt's great relationship with the media of the day. How that mutually beneficial relationship with investigative reporters like Ida Tarbell, Ray Baker, Lincoln Steffens, and William Allen White helped him craft the messages realized to the American people. The book looks at Roosevelt's relationship with William Howard Taft and how he played a significant role in the Roosevelt administration as a friend, confidant, and as Roosevelt’s secretary of war. This book is expertly written as all of Doris Kearns Goodwin's books are. I found myself in traced within the world she sculpts within her narrative.

Thank you for reading my review.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 23 January 2014
I first read of the existence of this book in a weekly magazine I subscribe to. (Money Week). The review looked pretty appealing so I purchased it via Amazon. The content is pretty revolutionary and deep, but the author has done a very good job at making it readable. My lasting impression of the read is that it gives a totally contrary view of how we live to how it could be without the meddling politicians'.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 12 September 2014
A sweeping, thoughtful,moving tale of what could seem to be a lost world but that on reflection is but a mirror of our own.

The much heralded group of journalists at McClure`s seemed for one brief shining moment to have found their Camelot that I am sure will resonate with many readers who have known such all consuming yet so fleeting times in their working lives.

The main protagonists Roosevelt and Taft are at once total opposites and yet hewn from the same tree of genuine desire to serve their country and its people.

One of those books that saddened me when I finished it as it had become a attached to my side.
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on 21 April 2014
Without doubt one of the most absorbing political biographies of recent years. This is perhaps due to the fact that it is a dual biography, on the one hand the driven charismatic Theodore Roosevelt and his genial well balanced successor William Taft.
Taft would have preferred to have remained a judge but his wife's ambition for him to become President overruled his own inclination. Being sniped at by Roosevelt who wanted his old job back and who stood as a third party candidate, having failed to get the Republican nomination, ensured that Taft lost and was a one term President.
However his good grace and the high regard he was held in by others meant that he got the job he really wanted as chief justice of the Supreme Court.
Roosevelt demonstrated the supreme political skill of getting a reluctant congress to pass his anti trust laws and thereby prevented powerful corporations from throttling competition.
The tangled weave of early 20th Century American politics, with all its chicanery, corruption and double dealing is thrillingly told. The personalities are larger than life and vividly portrayed. There are some fascinating side issues such as the USA taking on the role of colonial masters in the Philippines. Taft proved to be an assured and enlightened Governor. It was an episode of American history of which I knew nothing.
The book also contains so many personal details, which meant an enjoyable and gossipy read in a serious and well researched book.
I was amused that Roosevelt objected to Taft's enthusiasm for golf as he perceived it as a rich man's game and that politician's who played it were sending out the wrong message. Meantime Roosevelt himself went big game hunting which only seriously rich men can do.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 17 December 2013
This is a magnificent book. I'm only half way through it but I'm so thoroughly enjoying it that I feel compelled to take the rare act of writing a review recommending it and the even rarer act of awarding it five stars. This is really four stories in one. Firstly, a superb biography of Theodore Roosevelt; a most admirable and remarkable man. Secondly, a parallel biography of Roosevelt's friend, collaborator and (it seems) eventual bitter opponent whose character and career the author brilliantly counterpoises to that of his predecessor in office. Thirdly it tells the story of a pioneering group of investigative journalists working for McClure's Magazine who did more than anybody to expose the nature of the fourth strand, the deplorable state of corruption and greed that had by the end of the nineteenth century mired American big business, politics and public service in the gutter.

Some biographies can be bloody awful. Leaving you knowing just about everything the subject had for breakfast every day of their lives but nothing about their times and the part they played in them. Not so for this book. It is brilliant history and brilliant writing and I have already ordered 'Team of Rivals' next.
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