RIGHTEOUS PILGRIM: The Life and Times of Harold L. Ickes, 1874-1952 by T.H. Watkins

RIGHTEOUS PILGRIM: The Life and Times of Harold L. Ickes, 1874-1952

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A hefty (1,024-page) biography of the man who for decades represented the progressive spirit on the American political scene. Researched with amazing thoroughness and organized with a sure hand, this will undoubtedly prove to be the definitive work on Harold L. Ickes, FDR's secretary of the interior from 1932 to 1945. Born in Altoona, Penn., to an alcoholic father and a religious zealot of a mother, Ickes was driven by a need for the acceptance he felt was denied him in his youth. His story, told here in exhaustive, and sometimes nearly exhausting, detail, is filled with humanitarianism (his efforts on behalf of the Jews in Nazi Germany and Native Americans at home), contentiousness (his ongoing rivalry with Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace), misery (a tumultuous first marriage to the hysterical Anna Wilmarth Thompson), and ambition (his unending pursuit of ever-greater influence during the years of the New Deal). Thus Ickes emerges as a man whose character displayed insecurities coupled with arrogance, crippling depressions alongside manic bouts of activity. And despite the length, there is little sense of padding here. Watkins, a former senior editor at American Heritage magazine and a vice president of the Wilderness Society, is, in fact, a master of condensation; his pages devoted to the history of the conservation movement in America, and those outlining American involvement in the development of the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, are models of concision. Equally effective is his capsule history of Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moose party. Watkins portrays the currents of political maneuvering that swirled and eddied about Ickes with admirable clarity. A complex, fascinating, and convincing portrait.

Pub Date: Sept. 5th, 1990
Publisher: Henry Holt