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WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT

A legal scholar, Rosen sympathizes with Taft’s strict constitutionalism more than many readers will, but he makes a...

A perceptive biography of William Howard Taft (1857-1930).

Serving from 1909 to 1913, Taft was never the most admired president, but he was an intelligent man dogged by strict principles and a lack of political acumen. So argues Atlantic contributing editor Rosen (Law/George Washington Univ.; Louis D. Brandeis: American Prophet, 2016), the CEO of the National Constitution Center, who does not conceal his admiration, describing him as a likable figure who preferred the law to politics. An excellent solicitor general and federal judge, he became a popular figure after William McKinley appointed him governor of the Philippines in 1900 where he proved a superb administrator. Already a friend, Theodore Roosevelt appointed him Secretary of War in 1903, and he became the president’s right-hand man, troubleshooter, and chosen successor. Roosevelt was not aware that Taft, who loved the law above all, believed that a president must never exercise powers beyond those specifically granted by the Constitution. Within a year of taking office, when Taft made this clear and fired Roosevelt’s more activist officials, the former president took bitter offense. Rosen emphasizes that Taft shared Roosevelt’s progressive views on conservation and trust-busting and sometimes went far beyond (he favored a world court). Sadly, Roosevelt’s hostility and Congress’ delight at a president they could safely ignore made his administration a painful experience. When Roosevelt announced his candidacy for the 1912 Republican nomination, he remained America’s most popular figure, but party leaders, immune to his charm, engineered Taft’s renomination. Roosevelt ran anyway, and Taft finished a poor third in a three-way race, but the story had a happy ending when President Warren Harding appointed him Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1921 where he did an outstanding job.

A legal scholar, Rosen sympathizes with Taft’s strict constitutionalism more than many readers will, but he makes a convincing case that he was a conscientious president who did his best.

Pub Date: March 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8050-6954-9

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Times/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: July 5, 2018

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INTO THE WILD

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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