“Wilson” by A Scott Berg

For all the attention paid to Teddy Roosevelt these days, he is not the top of the list for me.  For quite some time I have been enamored and impressed with the presidency of his chief rival, Woodrow Wilson.  I have now read three books on the life and Presidency of Woodrow Wilson.  A fascinating president and perhaps the most influential President of the last one hundred years  In reading much about Woodrow Wilson there are a lot of things he did during his presidency that are still with us today – the Federal Trade Commission, Federal Reserve, giving woman the right to vote, father of the United Nations.  These are all covered in great detail by Mr. Berg.  There are a few areas where I think the author sheds new light on Woodrow Wilson that man and his presidency.

Mr. Berg spends a lot of time providing us the background of Wilson’s rise to prominence.  His upbringing in the south.  His father’s influence.  His faith.  His education, eventually becoming the only President in history to have a PhD.  His time at Princeton, both as student, teacher and eventually President.  He gives us thorough details of the battle’s faced at Princeton and the personal relationships forged and broken.  It is also interesting to read Woodrow Wilson’s rapid rise to Presidential candidate, and finally the great election (Wilson, Roosevelt, and Taft) that lead to his election victory.

I think as earlier mentioned, Mr. Berg does not try to gloss over Woodrow Wilson’s flaws. Woodrow Wilson was a southerner, he grew up during reconstruction.  As such he was not above the stereo types of the south. Despite all is achievements as President of Princeton and US President, is record on race relations is abysmal.  The biographies by Kendrick Clements and John Milton Cooper address this, but A Scott Berg tackles it much more directly.  Though some of Wilson’s comments alluded to the fact that he saw in the future that the present situation could not hold he did nothing to advance civil rights, deeming the country not ready.  Other books mention this but do not delve too much into the subject.

Berg’s treatment of his Presidency is really three parts:  1) First Term 2) War President 3) Decline and cover up of his medical condition.  The first two are covered in detail and add a little to an already well covered topic.  The one thing in the second piece that he has added a lot was the deep relationship he had with his Doctor, Greyson and his physical condition during the peace conference.  He was starting to get tired and suffer from minor strokes (speculated).  This adds a lot to the portrait of the man who fought so hard for the League of Nations.

The last piece that Mr. Berg added was when he had a stroke that essentially ended is Presidency, the cover up that took place to keep him office for the last year and  a half of his term.  This  is significant as Mr. Berg does a detailed job of guiding us through an area that has been know to be true, but his been etched more in rumor than in fact.  What is illuminating is that the signs of an impending stroke goes probably as far back as when he was in Paris.  It was not until he was rendered unfit on his western campaign for the League of Nations, that the tale of his downfall beings.

This is a great biography of an influential presidency on modern times.  The case is laid out that America’s role of international influence began with Woodrow Wilson.  Many of the institutions that govern us today have been with us no for nearly hundred years, thanks to President Wilson.  This is an engaging, detailed and well written biography and one I highly recommend to those interested in Presidential history.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann November 25, 2013

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