Sunday, March 7, 2010

Rescuing Woodrow Wilson's Reputation

Former president of the Historical Society Eric Arnesen reviews John Milton Cooper's book on Woodrow Wilson in the Chicago Tribune. "Cooper’s strengths," Arnesen observes, "lie in his bringing his subject to life and portraying the world through his eyes. As a study of Wilson’s personal and political life, the meticulously researched 'Woodrow Wilson: A Biography' is unlikely to be surpassed any time soon."

Eric Arnesen's review of Woodrow Wilson: A Biography by John Milton Cooper Jr., Chicago Tribune, March 6, 2010.

Wilson President Woodrow Wilson, a confidant confided in his diary shortly after World War I, “will probably go down in history as the greatest figure of his time, and I hope, of all time.” As it turned out, such a prediction could hardly be farther off the mark. Even before the Armistice, Wilson’s political fortunes faltered. The 1918 elections delivered a severe blow, resulting in a Republican sweep. And American participation in his cherished League of Nations – his hope to prevent future wars through collaboration among nations – perished at the hands of Senatorial opponents. Wilsonian internationalism quickly gave way to an intense isolationism that viewed U.S. involvement in World War I as a grave mistake and sought to keep the nation out of the next European war. Wilson’s final years – in office and in retirement – were bitter ones for a man whose grandiose dreams had been utterly dashed.

John Milton Cooper, Jr., a presidential scholar and author of a monumental new biography of the 28th president, seeks to rescue Wilson’s reputation and restore him to his place as one of America’s finest leaders. Wilson was a bold, sophisticated idealist who could be “hardheaded” and pragmatic, he argues; his domestic record in office makes him “one of the greatest legislative leaders ever to occupy the White House.” A man who had given little thought to world affairs became a resolute wartime president whose shortening of the Great War meant that “hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people owed their lives to him.” >>>

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