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WILSON by A. Scott Berg


by A. Scott Berg

Pub Date: Sept. 10th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-399-15921-3
Publisher: Putnam

Accomplished biographer Berg (Lindbergh, 1998, etc.) emphasizes the extraordinary talents of this unlikely president in an impressive, nearly hagiographic account.

Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924), writes the author, was a much more complex figure than he appeared to be; he was a man of astounding depths, conflicting desires and erudition, driven to make history by his passionate ideals. Titling his chapters rather grandiloquently with biblical catchwords usually associated with Christ’s journey (from “Advent” to “Pieta”), Berg brings out an enormously sympathetic side to the Princeton-educated lecturer who was first and foremost a brilliant writer. Wilson took his first postgraduate job teaching women at Bryn Mawr; he was an uxorious husband (twice) and devoted father to three daughters. Indeed, he was wildly in love with his soon-to-be second wife, Edith, just as the first great crisis of his presidency erupted over whether or not to go to war with Germany after the sinking of the Lusitania on May 7, 1915. A man of principles who ruled with rhetoric, Wilson took the controversial step of attending in person the Versailles Peace Conference, absenting himself from the United States (and the domestic political fray) for a now-unimaginable six months. A stable Europe could only be built on “a peace of justice,” he insisted; the pride of his life was the establishment of the League of Nations and implementation of his Fourteen Points, while his heartbreak remained the refusal of Congress to enact either. Berg passes more lightly over the Virginia-born Wilson's less-than-admirable position on African-American civil rights. The author devotes a good portion of the book to the years following Wilson’s 1919 stroke, the severity of which the public did not fathom; it was a well-kept secret that Edith largely ran the White House in the final 18 months of his presidency. Berg portrays Wilson as an utterly new kind of chief executive, in a mold that has yet to be refilled.

Readable, authoritative and, most usefully, inspiring.