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Monday, May 5, 2014

Vanishing Act; Wait Till Next Year; The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism; and John Adams

John Feinstein.  Vanishing Act.  ©2006   The two principal characters are a boy and a girl 13 years old and the writing style seems geared for that age, but it’s still an interesting read because it takes you inside the world of pro tennis at the US Open.  I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel in which real people like Bud Collins and Mary Carillo have speaking parts and are integral parts of the story.  Then there are two kidnappings, one player and one agent, that are meant to affect the outcome of the tournament and the size of the endorsement contracts for one of the players.  May 2014
Doris Kearns Goodwin.  Wait Till Next Year.  ©1997  I thought this was going to be baseball, but after letting us know she was a fan and as a child used to record whole games so that she could recreate them for her father, she moved away into her biography.  I quit before I finished the first disk.  April 2014
Doris Kearns Goodwin.  The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism.  ©2013   This is the best work of history I have ever read.  The book is long, but while I was reading it, I wished it could go on indefinitely.  I was amazed at how closely the statements of TR and, amazingly, Taft perfectly address the situation today.  Even more interesting is the collaboration of TR and Taft with the muckraking press in launching the progressive movement and getting the vote for women.   Perhaps my main conclusion when I finished was that what this country needs today are S.S. McClure and his magazine; his editor, John Sanborn Phillips; and Ida Tarbell and her journalist colleagues:  Ray Stannard Baker, William Allen White, Lincoln Steffens and many others.  McClure and his staff had incredible influence on what happened in politics, economics and regulatory development.  Their method was to amass mountains of facts, which made believers of anyone who bothered to read them – and many did.   I don't think any progressive or liberal today, not even Harold Meyerson or Robert Reich, has anything like their clout and perhaps they shouldn't.  I had not known about the close friendship between TR and Taft that lasted until Taft’s presidency when TR turned against him, because Taft was unwilling or unable to continue TR’s progressive program to TR’s satisfaction.  Considering the herd of dinosaurs in the Senate, perhaps no one could have.  Nevertheless Taft accomplished a lot despite the opposition of his own party.  I had always thought that Taft was a rock ribbed conservative but learned in this book that he was a consistent progressive or liberal throughout his whole life.  Perhaps my earlier impressions were a result of an imperfect understanding of his loss of TR’s support during his presidency. As for Kearns, perhaps she was following the lead of the muckrakers when she amassed so much detail about family trees and legislative wrangling.  The Bully Pulpit brings the early 20th century to life and firmly establishes the crucial importance of the press to Progressive politics.  April 2014
David McCullough.  John Adams.  ©2001   I already knew a lot about John Adams, but McCullough has filled in the blanks and presented a complex portrait of this farmer, family man, patriot, politician, diplomat and aspiring intellectual.  Thank the lord for all those letters that everyone wrote and almost everyone saved.  As early as 1765 Adams was already writing and publishing a work about American rights and freedom, and it was that year that the Revolution really began, occasioned by the Stamp Act.  Jefferson called Adams “the colossus of independence,” and with good reason.  By 1774 he was already speaking and writing that America should separate itself from England.  In 1776 it was expected that he would write the Declaration of Independence, but Adams proposed Jefferson because of his eloquent style.  In 1779 Adams wrote the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the oldest written constitution in the world that is still in effect.  Adams great contribution to the war effort was the negotiation of several loans from Dutch bankers.  In 1782, after a year of struggle to get the labyrinthine Dutch government to recognize his credentials, Adams opened the first US Embassy abroad.  In 1784, he and Jefferson worked together in Paris for 7 months and deepened the friendship that had begun in Philadelphia during the war.  In 1785 he was appointed Ambassador to the Court of St James's, where he received a correct but cool reception and opened an American Embassy on Grosvenor Square where it remains to this day.  While Adams was in London, Jefferson visited for 7 weeks.  During that visit the two of them took a few days off for a trip to visit 20 English gardens and historical sites.  After his return to America, Adams became the first vice-president and then a one term president, losing to Jefferson in 1800 after a bitter campaign.  It was in those years that America developed its two party system, then the Federalists and the Republicans.  Adams was a Federalist and Jefferson a Republican.  Later in that first decade of the 1800s Adams began to move away from the Federalists as they increasingly became the party of money and privilege.  Adams was a true democrat with a small “d” despite charges over the years that he was a monarchist at heart.  April 2014

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