A Companion to Woodrow Wilson

Article excerpt

A Companion to Woodrow Wilson. Edited by Ross A. Kennedy. Wiley-Blackwell Companions to American History. (Malden, Mass.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013. Pp. xii, 668. $200.95, ISBN 978-1-4443-3737-2.)

A century after he took office, Woodrow Wilson remains one of the most controversial presidents in history. During his eight years in the White House, he achieved far more than most presidents, but he made terrible misjudgments that still mar his historical reputation. Wilson led the nation to victory in World War I, authored major domestic reforms, created the Federal Reserve, and articulated an inspiring vision for America's place in the world. But his administration also segregated the federal government, repressed wartime dissent, and failed to secure American membership in the League of Nations. Wilson's presidency culminated in his physical incapacitation after a devastating stroke in the fall of 1919. In a cover-up of Nixonian proportions, Wilson's wife and closest advisers concealed the extent of the president's health crisis from the public and Congress for the last year and a half of his second term. For better and for worse, Wilson's presidency made a deep and lasting impression on American history.

The contradictions of Wilson's presidency reflected his complex personality and his unusual biography for a politician. The first southern-born candidate to be elected president since the Civil War, Wilson lacked strong ties to any one state and spent more time living in the North than in his native region. An exceptionally talented political scientist and university administrator, he won the New Jersey governor's office through the backing of party bosses operating in smoke-filled rooms, not faculty lounges. An extraordinarily gifted public speaker, Wilson commanded the podium like few presidents before or since, yet he never developed the strong emotional bond with the American people achieved by other great presidential orators, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.

Woodrow Wilson has always fascinated scholars. This volume, edited by Ross A. Kennedy of Illinois State University, constitutes a major contribution to Wilson scholarship. The collection contains articles written by twenty-nine historians, political scientists, and international relations specialists from a diverse array of institutions in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Hong Kong. The articles assess the state of Wilson scholarship on a wide variety of topics from domestic reform to legislative battles and foreign policy crises. Students and scholars of southern history will find the articles on Progressivism and domestic politics particularly valuable, but all the articles are of interest.

From Arthur S. Link to John Milton Cooper Jr., Wilson scholars have set an exceptionally high standard of research, writing, and analysis. In keeping with that distinguished tradition, each essay in Kennedy's volume is insightful, comprehensive, and well written. …


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