Top honors for biography in the fall of 2013 goes to one of our most distinguished biographers, Doris Kearns Goodwin and her new book, The Bully Pulpit. Goodwin’s writing style is often an enigma for me. Her method is different from either of the two top presidential biographers of the last half century – Robert Caro and Edmund Morris. In my opinion, Goodwin’s works – the Pulitzer Prize winner No Ordinary and the fantastic Team of Rivals being the most obvious examples – succeed so admirably because of her unerring sense of what makes a good narrative. Are there any better stories than Lincoln’s life journey through the Civil War, or how Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt steered the American home front through World War II and the Great Depression? If so, there are not many.
Goodwin knows how to take a life, and the history surrounding that life, and to let the grand narrative unfold. With The Bully Pulpit she has again found such a narrative. This time Goodwin looks at Theodore Roosevelt and what happened with his friendship turned rival William Howard Taft. Few men could be so different. Roosevelt, all teeth and action, literally radiated energy. No one in his presence could fail to remark on it. Taft, rotund and far different from Roosevelt, was in many ways just as ambitious. The men were good friends, but when Taft’s presidency diverged from Roosevelt’s preferred path a rivalry developed that split the Republican party and led to one of the most bitter elections ever in 1912. Goodwin again has chosen a story so good that it wants to tell itself. T.R. is a biographer’s dream, and just in the last 30 years great books on Roosevelt have come forth by such worthies as Morris, H. W. Brands, Douglas Brinkley, and David McCullouch. I have read some of the background of Roosevelt’s and Taft’s relationship, and actually been moved to tears by David Pietrusza’s account of it in his superb book 1920. At close to a 1,000 pages, Goodwin has a quite expansive canvas to explore these two amazing lives in all the depth we could desire. Look for The Bully Pulpit in stores on November 5th.