Sunday, December 07, 2014

William Howard Taft: An Intimate History

by Judith Icke Anderson

I was a bit disappointed with this biography. I've been reading biographies of all the presidents as an indirect but interesting way to learn about U.S. history. That's something that Professor Anderson doesn't cover overmuch. Instead she adds some psychology, attempting to shed some light on why a well liked and competent man could let himself be pressured into accepting the presidency and then do such a lousy job of it.

Taft's great ambition was to be a justice of the Supreme Court. He eventually made it, but only after years of being swept into politics, serving as Governor of the Philippines, Secretary of War and, of course, President of the United States. Why? Professor Anderson opines that it was his desire to please first his wife, Nellie, and later, Theodore Roosevelt, that led him to set aside his own ambitions and seek political office. Once in the White House, however, he started to follow his own path and ended up irritating all sorts of people.

The book's coverage of the years outside of Taft's presidential administration are somewhat sparse. I never got a good feeling of the times like I did with other biographies. The psychological angle was different, though I tended to be skeptical of psychological theories from 1981. Another interesting angle was the relative amount of space she devoted to Nellie Taft. I haven't seen so much text devoted to the first lady since I read a biography of The Madisons, over a decade ago. But when it comes to William Howard Taft, the coverage was definitely warranted. In the end, An Intimate History wasn't a horrible read, even though it didn't fit my own agenda.

Presidential waiting room material
LibraryThing link

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