WOODROW WILSON by August Heckscher


Email this review


 A long, appreciative biography of Wilson that details the warm private man as well as the towering public figure; from former journalist and N.Y.C. Parks Commissioner Heckscher (St. Paul's: The Life of a New England School, 1980; coauthor, When LaGuardia Was Mayor, 1978). Making full use of the Wilson papers, the author offers a solid if standard account of the president's life: the years as a popular political-science professor, president of Princeton Univ., New Jersey governor, and, of course, Chief Executive, when he championed innovative labor, tariff, and fiscal reforms and steered the nation through WW I. As might be expected of an erstwhile president of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, Heckscher sometimes defends his hero a little too much (e.g., he ascribes Wilson's dismal civil-rights record to the need to maintain a congressional consensus behind his legislation rather than to ingrained southern prejudices). Although he constantly emphasizes Wilson's passionate nature (including his devotion to his two wives and an apparent short-lived extramarital affair), other historians have already punched holes in the stereotype of the president as an arid intellectual. Instead, this biography is at its best in communicating the nature of Wilson's unusual charisma--a ``coming together of worldly good fortune with a feeling of inner blessedness'' in this son and grandson of Presbyterian ministers. In Heckscher's view, Wilson's fighting faith (he once said that, as President, ``a man must put on his war paint'') made him at his zenith an irresistibly persuasive and eloquent reformer--but, when his political instincts and health failed him (for instance, during the ill-starred fight to save the League of Nations), it led to disaster. A familiar, but convincing and sympathetic, argument for Wilson's greatness as presidential innovator and world statesman. (B&w photographs--not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 18th, 1991
ISBN: 0-684-19312-4
Page count: 752pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1991