Wilson - by A.Scott Berg
It is definitely a skill to write a very good 800+ page biography about a man that I didn’t find to be particularly interesting. I really enjoyed this book, but I really have no desire to learn anything more about former president Woodrow Wilson. His life just didn’t really seem that exciting to me.
Most remember him as commander in chief during World War I (it’s now been 100 years since the U.S. entered the war as I write this review). This book paints him in a very favorable light during the Peace Treaty that eventually ended the conflict a year later, and Wilson’s attempt to bring the U.S. into the League of Nations. Ultimately, he failed. Politics never changes.
The majority of the book covers this period, not surprisingly. As I mentioned, there really isn’t much more about the man that was that interesting. He was born in the South immediately after the Civil War ended to a Presbyterian minister, and seemed to have a good life growing up. He was very smart, and wrote an awful lot during his youth about politics, and the state of the world. This seemed to be the man’s greatest gift - the ability to reflect, record, and ultimately learn from history. He enters Princeton as a young man, yet Princeton seems to have a less than favorable reputation. Although it’s an Ivy league school, it has more of a standing as a holiday camp for rich young men.
Wilson soon joins the academia after graduating, and works his way up to President of the University. He continues to woo the country with his ideas and reflections, which tends to thrust him into politics virtually overnight. The next thing we know, he’s governor of New York. What did he do as governor? I have no idea. It seems as though as soon as he’s governor, there’s talk about making him the 28th President of the United States. With incumbent Taft and his predecessor Theodore Roosevelt in the midst of political mudslinging, it allows Wilson the ability to win the 1912 election.
Other than the aforementioned involvement in The Great War, I can’t remember much about his years in office prior to that. The big thing that I remember is that the poor man was ill an awful lot. I mean – an awful lot. And we’re talking serious illnesses here, folks. I lost track of how many strokes the man had. It’s a bit sad when your physician – Dr. Cary Grayson is actually one of the main characters in this biography. It seems like every other page detailing an event in Wilson’s life requires his doctor’s attention.
Things are so bad late in his first term, that he’s bedridden for many months and is essentially an invalid. This is the President we’re talking about here. Yet in the days before CNN and taking videos with phones, he somehow manages to keep things hidden, and with the aid of his wife, he’s somehow able to keep the country functioning.
His true achievement, again, serves during the peace treaty after the first World War. He’s the calmest head in the room. Other nations, such as France, want to basically emasculate Germany for the war they’ve “caused”. Wilson knows better, though, and tries to allow the main loser of the conflict the ability to carry on with dignity. I would argue that, as good as his intentions were, he couldn’t quite get the other world leaders of the victor’s side to agree. (History shows us that it was Germany’s suffering during the next decade that eventually gave rise to Adolph Hitler)
It’s a bit of a shame that so many of the man’s years were spent in bad health. Reading this book made me feel as though I was experiencing the same symptoms. You read over and over again about how much pain a person was in, you start to feel a bit queasy yourself.