Kenneth (kensmind) wrote in bookish,

1920: The Year of Six Presidents

I recently finished reading 1920: The Year of Six President by David Pietrusza. I loved his earlier book 1960: LBJ vs. JFK vs. Nixon, The Campaign that Forged Three Presidencies, so I was looking forward to this book, and the author didn't disappoint me.

The title refers to the six men, each of whom either had been or would be President, and who had their eyes on the big prize, the Presidential election of 1920. There were the has-beens: the disillusioned incumbent President Woodrow Wilson, who believed that he could be re-elected to a third term despite his being waylaid by a debilitating stoke; and Theodore Roosevelt (the title is slightly misleading in that, although TR was the odds on favourite to win the 1920 election, he wouldn't live that long, passing away early in 1919.) There was Warren Harding, a likeable man who lacked the ability to keep it in his pants when it came to younger women, and who no one really saw as presidential. Calvin Coolidge was the boring but effictive up and comer whose cold efficiency was both a blessing and a curse. Then there were the young men of the future: the affable back-slapping Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the whiz kid Herbert Hoover, who was eyed by both parties as a possible candidate.

The book delves into the backgrounds of each of these men, warts and all. It also tells us about some of the other interesting characters of the day: GOP front-runners General Leonard Wood (Theodore Roosevelt's commander at San Juan Hill), Governor Frank Lowden and Senator Hiram Johnson, as well as Democratic nominee James Cox (the first divorced candidate for the presidency) and socialist Eugene V. Debs, who campaigned from a prison cell. It tells the wonderful stories of each convention and how the ultimate nominees eventually won their contests (or rather how their parties settled on them) despite longshot status. It is also very informative about the issues of the day: prohibition, the anarchists, women's sufferance, the League of Nations, and the African-American vote.

This author has a wonderful ability to tell us something we don't know, something interesting but outside of the mainstream of history. For example, some of us have seen the movie Edgar and know about the anarchist bombing of Attorney-General Mitchell Palmer's house, but who knew that Franklin Roosevelt lived across the street and found pieces of the bomber on his front lawn? We all knew of Harding's affairs with Nan Britton and Carrie Phillips (Pietrusza gives us details), but who knew that as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, FDR supported a hair-brained scheme in which young sailors were pressed into service as undercover operators to entrap homosexual sailors (with orders to go "as far as necessary" to prove the offence). The book takes us through the dirty election campaign in which Harding was accused of having African-American blood at a time when such a thing was scandalous. It takes us through the blunders of the Democratic campaign and how Woodrow Wilson sabotaged the Democratic ticket.

When I read a portion of this book to my significant other, he said that it sounded like a soap opera. Pietrusza has the ability to make history that interesting. I give this book four and a half stars out of five, and recommend it highly.
Tags: subject: history, xxx author last name: i-q

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