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Wilson

A. Scott Berg's biography of Woodrow Wilson pales next to a recent work by John Milton Cooper, Jr.

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Wilson,
by A. Scott Berg,
Penguin,
832 pp.

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Woodrow Wilson’s presidential years, 1913-1921, were no less politically rancorous than ours and, with the country debating its intervention in the World War then raging in Europe, probably even tougher on the chief executive. Wilson was credited with keeping America out of the war from 1914 to 1916 and then charged with getting us into it in 1917. He spearheaded the Versailles Treaty that set the Allies’ terms with the conquered Germans, and he promoted the League of Nations. Unfortunately, he suffered a stroke while trying to win American citizens’ support of the treaty, and he was too debilitated to use his customary savvy and persistence in that political battle. To his grief and anger (an anger that had almost never flared up before the stroke), he lost.

Even sadder is the fact that Wilson never recovered full command of intellect before dying in 1924.

Only four years ago, the definitive "Woodrow Wilson: A Biography" by John Milton Cooper, Jr. was published. Before Cooper wrote a line he seems to have known Wilson’s character and actions as well as anybody could; in telling Wilson’s life, he moved effortlessly across time, across Wilson’s life and American history, though steadily relating the events chronologically. He dealt with Wilson’s weaknesses and errors straight on and discussed them with all his intelligence and knowledge of the man and his time; he also argued for Wilson’s talents and ethics and weighed the man’s politics and morals.

He suggested that Wilson was on the whole a good man and for the most part, in many areas, an impressive president, but Cooper didn’t shy away from contemporary and later criticisms of Wilson. All the while Cooper used his access to and familiarity with countless records and documents. Cooper expertly quoted from and cited Wilson’s letters and manuscripts and other biographies. Cooper was admiring but critical: curious about the man’s character, appreciative of his qualities, sorry for his faults.

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