Basic Information : Synopsis : Characters : Thoughts : Evaluation : Book Group : New Words : Book References : Good Quotes : Table of Contents : References
Author: Doris Kearns Goodwin
Edition: eBook on Overdrive from the Fresno County Library
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: History, Biography,
Language Warning: NoneRated Overall: _ out of 5
Synopsis (Caution: Spoiler Alert-Jump to Thoughts):
Cast of Characters:
PrefaceIn this chapter, Goodwin talks about why she wrote this book. It started with wanting to write about Roosevelt as a Progressive. She was teaching a class on this subject. But as she delved into this more, she wanted to understand the relationship Roosevelt had with Taft and how he got on with the journalists in his age. Goodwin realized that Taft was a lot more sympathetic person than she realized.
The question that most intrigued me was how Roosevelt had managed to rouse a Congress long wedded to the reigning concept of laissez-faire-a government interfering as little as possible in the economic and social life of the people-to pass shuch comprehensive measures.
The story is Goodwin is telling has three strands:
- Theodore Roosevelt and his crusade to expand the role of government in national life
- William Howard Taft and his role in the Roosevelt and his own administration
- Bully pulpit
Describes Roosevelt as someone with physical vigor and mental curiosity.
This is such a good combination when you added a mind like Roosevelt
Taft noted Roosevelt’s large personality to go with his large presence. small villages which one would hardly think had ever heard of the United States should seem to know all about the man.
When Roosevelt returned to America from his hunting expedition in Africa, he made remarks to an enthusiastic crowd in New York which included … any man who has ever been honored by being made president of the United States is thereby forever after rendered the debtor of the American people. You get the feeling of this from former presidents in their work and how they get along, even those who had been political enemies.
At the start of the presidency, Roosevelt predicted that Taft would be a beloved President-lovable personality. A big man with a big heart, what went wrong? Goodwin thinks that Taft inherited a misfortune where Roosevelt had angered the Republican establishment by going directly to the populace to override them. This left Taft when trying to be a very public man, which he was not, more of a personable man trying to pick up the pieces after the fight.
Something which we have not learned today is how compromise can be good to accomplish long term objectives. Goodwin says that Taft became president where there was a bitter rift… when progressives viewed compromise with conservatives as treachery.
Taft was not a natural campaigner. Nor did he respond well to criticism-it bothered him. It was his wife who was the one who felt he should be president, more because of the prestige and money. Taft would rather have been on the Supreme Court. Nellie Taft was a free-thinker who did things which was acceptable to a man, but did not feel right being done by a woman-smoking, beer, debate, … She felt all were equal, even when she was in the Philippines when Taft was governor there, she had Filipinos in for their social events.
When Taft felt it would be improper to greet Roosevelt upon his return from African, it was because he felt it would not dignify the office of President. While there is sense where we need to keep a sense of dignity for the office, there is also the sense that Roosevelt would have been out there running up the gangplank to greet Taft if the shoes were reversed. In some ways dignity is what small men hide behind and large men ignore.
In Taft’s mind, he was compromising to continue the work of the progressives-he was making deals to further the cause. But there is also a sense that the deals on the whole were weakening what Roosevelt had acquired.
Will and Teedie
...ambition in a woman is synonymous with unhappiness. - Delia Torrey, Louise Taft’s sister.
Taft’s father had high expectations for Taft. But somehow, Taft could go to his father and talk about his weaknesses. What kind of a person was taft’s father? How did this mold Taft into the kind of President he was?
In college Taft was not much of a student. Doing enough to get by. no outside reading.
To contrast that with Roosevelt’s father. It was said that he was one of those grown up men who never forgot they were children themselves. What how that influence Roosevelt?
Roosevelt was surrounded by books. On a European trip of four months, he read 50 books. This would carry through in his life. A great mind developed, he would be able to remember books he read when the situation called for it. He saut that My library has been the greatest possible please to me. He always carried around a book, even as President. If there was a break in the activities, he was reading.
When Roosevelt’s father said that his body, not his mind was the problem with him, he devoted himself to building himself up physically. This is something which was an indicator of what type of person Roosevelt was. He would understand there was a problem, throw his energies into understanding it. Then conquering it. The modus operandi was to constantly force himself to do the difficult/dangerous until it became a habit through repeated effort and will-power.
His college life broadened ever interest - isn’t that what college was to do? Too bad I did not understand that when I was in college.
Notes from my book group:
How far have you made it in this book?
Was this book too long? Too short? What would you leave out? Or what more would you have wanted to know about?
Was the book biased towards any view? If so, towards what? How does Goodwin’s view shape the story she tells?
When you think of Roosevelt, what words come to mind? How does this book alter or reinforce your image? Could Roosevelt operate in our time like he did in the early 1900’s?
What forms does corruption take place in this book? To the people of that time, did it seem like the status quo? How was corruption fought? Where is the status quo today not “fair”? How can this be changed?
Compare Roosevelt as president to let's say our last four presidents? How do they compare in style? Ideology? Background?
How do you define words like Bully Pulpit, progressive, popularism, muckrackers, corruption? How have these definitions changed from Roosevelt's/Tafts to the current day?
How did Roosevelt’s experiences in New York form him?
Have any of you read the Octopus by Frank Norris-it was talked about in Bully Pulpit. I was surprised by its reference here. Any thoughts on how the Mussel Slough Tragedy is related to the general themes of Bully Pulpit? Do we have robber barons today? If so where are they found? Any unmasking you would like to do?
Compare the reading habits of Roosevelt and Taft.
The New Yorker praised The Bully Pulpit saying “[Goodwin] is too disciplined to make explicit comparisons to the present in the book, but it’s infused with a sense that the story she tells may hold lessons for us.” Did you see any parallels between the political climate during the Progressive era that Kearns details and today? What are they? From Simon and Schuster
Many people when they read about Roosevelt, they also think of our present day politics. At what points are their similarities? Differences? Are these points valid when we compare today’s climate with that of around the 1890’s to 1910’s?
Next month we will continue to look at The Bully Pulpit. Have we seen any seeds which leads to the deterioration of their relationship?
Goodwin used the person letters of several people to write this account. How will the historians of the future be able to write their accounts? Will we be able to get as personal of a view as we are of Taft and Roosevelt?
There is talk that The Bully Pulpit will be made into a movie. Who would you want to play the various parts in this story?
Was there anybody you would consider religious? How did they show it?
What take aways have you gotten from this book?
Already asked questions from the Feb 8th meeting
Why was the title The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism chosen? Why did Goodwin write the book?
Three women play a part in this book: Ida Tarbell, Nellie Taft, and Edith Roosevelt. Describe the roles they played. What choices did they make in their relationships with men? How did it affect their lives? Would you say the choices were appropriate for them? Or did you feel they may have been better off making different choices? Was marriage a hinderance?
How would Taft and Roosevelt have been different without Nellie and Edith?
One of the knacks which Ida Tarbell had was to be able to temper situations. How was she able to do that? To what effect?
...ambition in a woman is synonymous with unhappiness Is that true today? Is that true with men as well? What place does ambition have as a Christian. How in the politician's life is ambition needed? How can it be destructive?
Both Taft and Roosevelt had interesting fathers. Taft’s father was someone who was demanding but able to be talked with about weakness. While Roosevelt’s father understood they were once children also. How did their father’s influence the type of men they would be?
One of the areas Goodwin explores is how the press interacts with Roosevelt. Describe these interactions. Do we have muckrackers today? Who would they be? Are the interactions which Roosevelt had with the McClure journalist desirable today? How come? Why not? Do we have a magazine similar to McClure’s today?
Topics & Questions for Discussion From Simon and Schuster
1. In describing Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, Goodwin writes, “the lively natures displayed by young Taft and Roosevelt remained with them throughout their lives. The aftermath of their anger, however, was handled very differently.” (p. 69) How does each man handle his anger? In what ways does this manifest in their respective political careers? Did you learn anything about the upbringing of either Roosevelt or Taft that surprised you? If so, what?
2. Why do you think Goodwin choose to title her book The Bully Pulpit? What role does the press play in the Roosevelt and Taft presidential administrations? Does the press play a similar role in politics today? Explain your answer.
3. Ida Tarbell “was certain that having a husband and children would thwart her freedom and curtail her nascent ambition” (p. 172) and decides that she will never marry. Nellie Taft, too, is initially opposed to marriage. Why do both women feel that marriage is a hindrance? What opportunities are available to women at the time? Why does Nellie finally agree to marry Taft?
4. Of Nellie Taft and Edith Roosevelt, Goodwin writes “In many ways, the two women complemented and balanced their respective partners.” (p. 132). Describe Roosevelt’s relationship with Edith and Taft’s with Nellie in light of Goodwin’s assertion. Was there anything about the relationships that surprised you? If so, what?
5. Douglas Brinkley said “If Roosevelt had done nothing else as president, his advocacy on behalf of preserving the [Grand] canyon might well have put him in the top ranks of American presidents.” (p. 351) Do you agree? What do you think Roosevelt’s crowning achievement was during his presidency? What was Taft’s and why?
6. Ray Stannard Baker had a close relationship with Roosevelt. How were the two men able to help each other? Baker considered Roosevelt’s ability to “endure criticism ‘one of his finest characteristics.’” (p. 650) Do you agree with Baker’s assessment of Roosevelt? Why or why not? What characteristics do you think are necessary in a president?
7. Roosevelt famously quoted the West African proverb “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.” (p. 256) Give examples of how he enacts this philosophy in his presidency. How does Taft’s approach compare to Roosevelt’s? Do you think one approach is more effective? If so, why?
8. The New Yorker praised The Bully Pulpit saying “[Goodwin] is too disciplined to make explicit comparisons to the present in the book, but it’s infused with a sense that the story she tells may hold lessons for us.” Did you see any parallels between the political climate during the Progressive era that Kearns details and today? What are they? Discuss them with your book club.
9. Baker’s articles in McClure’s magazine about Coxey’s Army brought hundreds of additional recruits and revealed to him “the incredible ‘power of the press.’” (p. 185) How do the staff members of McClure’s use their positions to affect political and social change? Describe the ways that the press is able to influence both the Roosevelt and Taft administrations. What role does the press play in today’s political landscape?
10. During Roosevelt’s and Taft’s time in office a sitting president couldn’t “go on the stump and can’t indulge in personalities.” (p. 410). How else have presidential campaigns changed?
11. Do you consider The Bully Pulpit to be entertaining as well as educational? Would you recommend it to a friend?
1. Talk about the differences in the economic arena between the early 20th century, the historical period of this book, and the early 21st century. How similar are the issues of economic disparity?
2. Define populism...during Rooevelt and Taft's era and during our own? The same...different? What has spurred the growth of the movement then and now?
3. What role did the press play in the Roosevelt and Taft administrations? What role do the media play today? What exactly is muckraking? Can today's journalists be considered modern muckrakers? Do we have anything comparable to McClure's magazine today?
4. This is the first book in Goodwin's oeuvre that focuses prominently on women: especially Ida Tarbell and the wives of the two presidents. Talk about the ways in which those women made a difference...and talk about the times in which they operated. How amenable was society of powerful women?
5. Of the two primary figures, Roosevelt and Taft, which do you feel made the greatest difference? Which one most impressed you—and why? How did the two men differ in personality, as well as in their political view, tactics, and effectiveness?
6. How would you explain the deterioration of the friendship between two presidents?
From Reference and User Service Association, A Division of the American Library Association
1. Name several comparisons between the Progressive Era and today. Would you rather be a member of the working class then or now? Who is a contemporary robber baron in your opinion?
2. What was the role of the press then? What is it now? How do they compare? Who is doing the muckraking (reform minded journalism) of today?
3. Talk about the women in this book. What roles did they take on and
play at home and in politics?
4. How has your view of Theodore Roosevelt changed since reading this book? Could a modern president do what he did while in office?
5. This is a story of friendship and rivalry. Which other US presidents have experienced both friendship and rivalry?
6. Goodwin could not have written such an intimate portrait of the two men without their letters to each other and to their wives. How will history be recorded for historians in the next 100 years?
7. Doris Kearns Goodwin has noted that Ida Tarbell knew how to make people come to life on the page. How does Goodwin manage to do the same?
8. Steven Spielberg and Dreamworks, the makers of the movie Lincoln , based in part on Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, have acquired the rights to make a film based on The Bully Pulpit. How different would this movie be from Lincoln? Whom would you cast for the parts of Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Alice Hathaway Lee Roosevelt, Edith Roosevelt, Nellie Herron Taft (she sneaks cigarettes!) , Ida Tarbell , Sam McClure
? What scenes from Bully Pulpit stick out in your mind as particularly cinematic?
9. The role of government in dealing with the economic and social issues was a central issue during to the Progressive Era as it is today. What do you think Roosevelt would say about the social and economic issue of today?
10. The text of this book is 750 pages. Did the detail incorporated into this
volume advance or detract from the story? If you could edit, what would you cut? Is there an untold story here, something you would have liked more of?
11. Doris Kearns Goodwin has confessed that the Progressive Era was her favorite time in history. If she were to write another biography, whom would you like it to be about?
- First Line:
- Last Line:
- Publisher's Web Site for Book
- Author's Web Site
- Barnes and Noble
- New York Times Review
- NPR Review
- Lit Lovers