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The Bully Pulpit

This dual biography of Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft offers fresh proof of Doris Kearns Goodwin's ability to 'bring dead presidents back to life.'

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The Bully Pulpit,
by Doris Kearns Goodwin,
Simon & Schuster
928 pages

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Archie Butt served Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft and died on the Titanic in 1912. Now his story, and many others from the fascinating Progressive Era (which echoes our own times, in many ways), surface anew in The Bully Pulpit, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s well-crafted look at the presidents and journalists who ushered in a brief but significant era of reform.

Before his death, Butt watched with sadness and anxiety as Roosevelt and Taft lost faith and trust in each other. The rift between the longtime political allies weakened the progressive wing of the Republican Party and ushered Woodrow Wilson into the White House in 1912.

“They are now apart and how they will keep from wrecking the country between them I scarcely see,” Butt said as the two men drifted from allies to enemies – and, soon enough, presidential rivalry. Roosevelt’s decision to run as a third-party candidate against Taft, his self-appointed successor, handed the presidency to Wilson.

Their parting and former partnership, along with the role played by muckraking journalists at McClure’s magazine, occupy center stage in Goodwin’s latest presidential biography. As fellow historian Sean Wilentz told the Associated Press in a recent interview, Goodwin has a knack for finding fresh angles to bring her beloved dead presidents back to life.

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