Reviews for Woodrow Wilson : A Biography

Booklist Reviews 2009 October #2
A meticulously researched life of the Progressive Era president, Cooper's portrait of Woodrow Wilson provides realistic depictions of the person and historical assessments of the politician. Wilson's salient traits included adherence to Presbyterianism, an active libido, and an intellectualized passion for politics. Cooper taps these anecdotal sources over the course of his chronology from Wilson's upbringing in the post-Civil War South to the demise of his presidency as an ineffectual invalid. Wilson's abundant writing, including stacks of love letters, books on government (some still in print), speeches, and state papers, must have posed a formidable challenge; the fluency of Cooper's narrative demonstrates he mastered it. His Wilson is one general-interest readers can understand both sui generis and as a man of his times. Espousing morality in politics, Wilson was indifferent to blacks and sanctioned infringements of civil rights, and although dedicated to peace, he led America into World War I. Capturing Wilson's complexities, Cooper presents the personality behind one of the most consequential presidencies in American history. Copyright 2009 Booklist Reviews.

Choice Reviews 2010 September
The stereotype is shattered--a prim, precise Woodrow Wilson singing "Oh, You Beautiful Doll," or the libidinous widower engaging (perhaps) in premarital sex with Edith, who becomes his second wife. Cooper (Univ. of Wisconsin; ^IThe Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt^R, CH, Apr'84) presents Wilson "off the pedestal," human in every respect. Nevertheless, to some, Wilson may remain unlikeable, even too human, held captive by his vindictiveness and inflexibility. Such traits haunted him in academia at Princeton and as New Jersey's governor, and followed him into the White House, where he fought Congress over ratification of the Versailles Treaty and the League of Nations. A latecomer to Progressivism (and women's suffrage), Wilson nevertheless takes his place with Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft as a reformer. He appears to have sought order in all matters, but political dissent and civil liberties were on his back burner during and after WW I. He is plagued by his racist perceptions and aloof from the misery of African Americans who suffered on his watch. This book could be read in conjunction with W. Barksdale Maynard's ^IWoodrow Wilson: Princeton to the Presidency^R (CH, Aug'09, 46-7000), but Cooper's biography will remain definitive for years to come. ^BSumming Up:^R Essential. All levels/libraries. Copyright 2010 American Library Association.

Kirkus Reviews 2009 October #1
A noted Woodrow Wilson expert comprehensively examines the life and career of America's 28th president.Generally acknowledged among the country's great presidents, Wilson's proper placement within the pantheon nevertheless creates more argument among scholars than perhaps any other. While acknowledging Wilson's dismal record on race and civil liberties, Cooper (History/Univ. of Wisconsin; Reconsidering Woodrow Wilson, 2008, etc.) comes down firmly on the president's side, rejecting the caricature of the high-minded intellectual out of his depth in the messy political arena. The author believes, as Wilson himself did, that his academic background--first as an exceedingly popular professor, then as Princeton's reform-minded president--prepared him perfectly for the political battles he later faced as New Jersey's governor and, of course, as president. Above all, Cooper stresses, Wilson was a teacher, his goal not so much to inspire the American people in the fashion of his greatest rival, Teddy Roosevelt, but rather to educate them, appealing to public opinion through his writing and oratory. Domestically, he enacted progressive legislation that prefigured some of the New Deal. After maneuvering to keep the country neutral during World War I--he was narrowly reelected on the slogan, "He kept us out of war"--Wilson proved a surprisingly energetic commander in chief. By the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, he was arguably the world's most acclaimed leader, but from there his presidency turned tragic. In part because of his disinclination to compromise, but largely because of a debilitating stroke that literally paralyzed his last year and a half in office, Wilson failed to persuade Congress to ratify the Treaty of Versailles or to join the League of Nations. Cooper is especially good on this "worst crisis of presidential disability in American history"; Wilson's uncommonly close attachment to the women in his life; his Civil War-era boyhood in Virginia; the battle for educational reform at Princeton; and the role played by important presidential advisors like Joe Tumulty and Colonel House.Cooper exhibits complete command of his materials, a sure knowledge of the man and a nuanced understanding of a presidency almost Shakespearean in its dimensions.Author tour to Chicago, Madison, Wis., New York, Washington, D.C. Agent: Alexander Hoyt/Alexander Hoyt AssociatesCopyright Kirkus 2009 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2009 July #1
While Wilson entries have appeared recently in the "Penguin Lives" and Times Books "Presidents" series, this appears to be (as billed) the first major Wilson biography for adults in 20 years. With a four-city tour. Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

Library Journal Reviews 2009 September #1

Cooper (history, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison; Breaking the Heart of the World), arguably our leading Wilson authority, offers a comprehensive, felicitously written biography aimed at scholars but accessible to general readers, too. As Cooper notes, this "schoolmaster in politics" transmitted his thoughts on paper--a habit helpful to historians. Cooper mines Wilson's letters as well as the archival materials of Wilson colleagues. He admires Wilson for his faith, learning, eloquence, and executive skill while conceding that he had to learn foreign policy on the job--yet established America as an international player. Cooper considers Wilson hard-headed, with limited goals (World War I concluded not with total victory but with an armistice to save as many lives as possible). Unlike other scholars, Cooper claims that the Virginia-born Wilson was not an "obsessed white supremacist" but that his collegial governing style allowed cabinet members to introduce segregation throughout the federal government. And while his attorneys general violated civil liberties both during and after wartime, Cooper claims that FDR's abuses were even worse. VERDICT Highly recommended; readers are invited to wrestle with Cooper's favorable interpretation of Wilson's legacy and arrive at their own conclusions.--Frederick J. Augustyn Jr., Library of Congress

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2009 September #2

If we must have another presidential biography, best to have one of a figure who hasn't had his life written about at length for two decades. While the Wilson we find here differs little from the man we've known before, Cooper's new book is an authoritative, up-to-date study of the great president. Cooper (Breaking the Heart of the World), a noted Wilson expert at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, offers balanced and judicious assessments of the life and career of one of the nation's most controversial leaders. From his youth in Virginia, through his years at Princeton, then as New Jersey governor and president, Wilson faced thickets of challenges, not all of which he managed effectively. At the end, sick and weakened, characteristically stubborn and moralistic, he notoriously failed to gain American membership in the League of Nations. Yet Cooper, while sympathetic to his subject--a visionary and Progressive reformer in domestic politics--fairly records Wilson's Southern racism along with his keen intellect and political acuity. Wilson would come to be, Cooper concludes, "one of the best remembered and argued over of all presidents." While not stemming any disputes, this book will please and inform all readers. 16 pages of photos. (Nov. 2)

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