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Doris Kearns Goodwin offers more page-turning political greatness

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The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism


In The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism (Simon & Schuster; $40), Doris Kearns Goodwin—the bestselling, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of No Ordinary Time and Team of Rivals—brings her trademark blend of scholarship, intellectual rigor and riveting storytelling to the turbulent and fateful relationship between two presidents, the rise of muckraking journalism, and the far-reaching ferment of the Progressive Era—a time in many respects uncannily like our own.
The vast technological and economic changes wrought by the Industrial Revolution had widened a massive gulf between rich and poor. Daily life had become harder and more stressful for ordinary people, increasingly squeezing out the middle class. Spectacular mergers had produced giant companies; the influence of money in politics had deepened, and a dizzying array of inventions had sped the pace of daily life. By the end of Roosevelt’s presidential term, however, an unprecedented spirit of reform had swept the country, creating a new kind of presidency and a new vision of the relationship between the government and the people.
“There are but a handful of times in the history of our country,” Goodwin writes, “when there occurs a transformation so remarkable that a molt seems to take place, and an altered country begins to emerge. The turn of the twentieth century was such a time, and Theodore Roosevelt is counted among our greatest presidents, one of the few to attain that eminence without having surmounted some pronounced national crisis—revolution, war, widespread national depression.”Yet as Goodwin shows, Roosevelt confronted an insidious underlying crisis that proved as disruptive as any military engagement or economic collapse, threatening to tear the nation asunder.
A series of sensational anti-trust suits instigated by Roosevelt went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, breaking up massive predatory monopolies in industries. New legislation was passed to regulate railroads, strengthen labor rights, clean up slums, end corporate campaign contributions, defend the welfare of children, protect consumers from unsafe food and drugs, and conserve immense tracts of land and natural resources for the American people. Above all, the object of reform was to curb the endemic political corruption that had debased the democratic process itself, sapping its economic strength, and shredding its social fabric.
But how, Goodwin asks, did Roosevelt manage to prod a conservative Congress profoundly committed to the prevailing laissez-faire philosophy—the idea that the government should intervene as little as possible in the economic and social life of the people—to pass such groundbreaking measures? The essence of Roosevelt’s leadership, Goodwin maintains, lay in his innovative use of the “bully pulpit,” a phrase he himself coined to describe the national platform offered by the presidency to shape public opinion and catalyze action.
As she has done for Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt in previous books, Doris Kearns Goodwin brings Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, the muckrakers, and the extraordinary Progressive Era to vibrant life in a unique, engrossing, and eerily timely way with The Bully Pulpit.We can share so much more.
Instead, we suggest better news: Read the book. Goodwin is beyond good.


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