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Pulitzer Prize winner Berg (Lindbergh) presents a thorough, entertaining account of our 28th president. Wilson, a lawyer who became an academic-a professor of history, political science, and law-then president of Princeton University, was elected New Jersey's governor in 1910. Two years later he won the U.S. presidency in a landslide. Berg's detailed account of Wilson's presidency shows how Washington has changed over the past century. In Wilson's White House, the West Wing was staffed with six people. The president (until a late second-term stroke) walked the streets of Washington, DC, to and from appointments and visits. After ten years of research, Berg is unable to disguise his admiration for his subject; he tends to downplay Wilson's flaws, such as his obvious racism. But Berg shows us that in many ways Wilson was a trailblazer. He reformed Princeton's curriculum to what is now the standard for undergraduate education. As U.S. president, he took his isolationist nation on the path to world power, advocated for women's suffrage, instituted the income tax, and pushed for the direct election of U.S. senators. VERDICT This excellent biography is long, but given Wilson's remarkable life and considerable list of accomplishments, one would expect nothing less. It will appeal to general readers interested in American history, politics, the presidency, and higher education.-Robert B. Slater, Stroudsburg, PA (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
*Starred Review* His name is customarily listed in the category of great when historians rank the U.S. presidents. Woodrow Wilson was, it will be recalled, chief executive during WWI. He kept the U.S. out of war in his first term, but in his second, he propelled the country into a conflict that had gone global. Berg, author of such highly acclaimed biographies as Max Perkins: Editor of Genius (1978) and Lindbergh (1998), renders Wilson with an astute, sensitive understanding of the man and his presidency. Berg's research is deep and thorough and important for a wide readership comfortably couched in a graceful, smooth presentation. Wilson was unique among presidents in his rise through academe, his prepresidential resume including a professorship at and then the presidency of Princeton. His only real political connection before entering the White House was a brief tenure as governor of New Jersey. In the highly dramatic presidential election of 1912, Wilson defeated the incumbent, President Taft, and a third-party candidate, past president Teddy Roosevelt. The Allied success in WWI prompted Wilson to travel to Europe for the peace conference; the first sitting president to leave the country, he was determined to see that a peace treaty would include a charter for a League of Nations. But the U.S. Senate refused to ratify the treaty, the U.S. never joined the league, and Wilson's heart and body were broken. With a year left in his second term, he suffered a stroke and spent the last months of his presidency in seclusion, with his wife, Edith, effectively running the executive office behind closed White House doors. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: A national author tour, radio interviews, and an extensive advertising campaign support the publication of one of the major biographies of the season.--Hooper, Brad Copyright 2010 Booklist
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This won't replace John Milton Cooper Jr.'s superb 2009 biography of the United States' 28th president (Woodrow Wilson), and one could argue that Berg's isn't needed so soon after Cooper's; other than two caches of papers belonging to Wilson's daughter Jesse and his physician, nothing significantly new about him has been learned in the past four years. Notwithstanding, Berg (he won a Pulitzer for Lindbergh) has written a lively, solid book. It's more digestible than Cooper's scholarly tome, and Berg does a better job of capturing Wilson's personality. Before he occupied the Oval Office, Wilson served as president of Princeton; Berg-like Cooper-is an alumnus of the university, and is generally sympathetic to the man (he puts much emphasis on Wilson's love for his two wives and characterizes him as a passionate lover as well as a determined leader), while taking a more critical stand against his racial views and policies, his handling of the League of Nations, and of the secrecy that surrounded his late-presidency illness. Most importantly, Berg presents Wilson's failure to win the world over to his post-WWI vision as a personal and national tragedy. He's right, but Berg's likening of Wilson's life to biblical stages is overkill (chapter titles include "Ascension," "Gethsemane," etc.). Fortunately, the theme of tragedy-while nothing new-binds the book and lifts it above more conventional biographies. Photos. Agent: Lynn Nesbit, Janklow & Nesbit Associates. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.