A Student of History

July 19, 2006

1912

Filed under: New books — John Maass @ 3:14 pm

I just finished James Chace’s 1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft and Debs, which of course is about these 4 men and the presidential election of that year. 

Overall, I enjoyed it. The prose is quite good, and we get detailed biographies of all four men, although that of Taft I found to be the weakest. Chace tells us that Taft really just wanted to be a Supreme Court Justice, but due to an overbearing and unusually ambitious wife, he allowed himself to be nominated (and elected in 1908) for the Presidency by the GOP. This seems to me to be overly simplistic and one-dimensional, and I would like to have encountered a better handling of Taft.

Chase’s depiction of Debs is much better, quite sympathetic really.  This is in stark contrast to a rather unsympathetic portrait of Woodrow Wilson, who comes off as a self-righteous political opportunist who could never leave his southern bigotry behind.

What put me off however is the book’s subtitle: “The Election that Changed the Country.”  This is sloppy historical work–ALL elections change the country, one way or another.  I suspect this device was the idea of the publisher, eager to convince browswers in Barnes & Noble that 1912 was unique. 

Click here to reduce the cover image

By the way, one may purchase the book for only $5.99 here.

 

The author died in 2004. He Chace, an influential historian and foreign policy analyst whose work was shaped by his youthful experiences in France and was known for its literary grace, died Oct. 8 of a heart attack at 72. He was in Paris, where he was conducting research on what would have been his 10th book, a biography of the Marquis de Lafayette. He lived in New York. His full obituary is here.

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