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William McKinley

af Kevin Phillips

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2035134,672 (2.95)8
Examines the life and presidency of William McKinley, arguing that his diplomatic and military achievements, as well as the lack of major scandal during his administration, make him worthy of admission to the ranks of the near-great chief executives.
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Viser 5 af 5
liked this "american presidents" bio better than the other one I read, but still feel they sacrifice something by keeping them so short. I still consider McKinley a prequel to the more entertaining T.R., but accept the thesis that he was underrated
( )
  cspiwak | Mar 6, 2024 |
The author states up front that his intent is to persuade you that McKinley needs to come up a grade or two in the rankings of presidents. He makes a good case, and I didn't need much convincing anyway, but his statement of his case lands one in the depths of Hagiography Hell; the eulogy book that came out after his assassination which I used to browse at my grandmother's house was less fawning. It doesn't help that he seems to think that an integral part of his brief is to denigrate McKinley's predecessor and successor, both of whom were, in my humble opinion, the best and finest leaders of the age, or any other, come to that. As far as narrative, his main thrust is to describe and analyze McKinley's pursuit of nomination and election to the presidency; Phillips being a noted political consultant and election analyst, this comes naturally and was to me the best part of the book by far. These two emphases leave relatively little space for narrating McKinley's actual conduct of office, which may be just as well, as the burning issues of the day, bimetallism and tariffs, were hardly chosen with twenty-first century reading interests in mind. Historiographically, Phillips could use some coaching; he relies very heavily on quoting biographers, usually laudatory, and said quotations are often unattributed save in the endnotes. This book is informative and insightful in parts, but the ubiquity of its bias represents a considerable irritant. ( )
3 stem Big_Bang_Gorilla | Oct 11, 2017 |
It is one of the weakest biographies I ever read and definitely the worst work from 'The American Presidents Series'. It's a combination of being very boring, not giving you enough relevant information and at the same time inserting some fancy observations that could be interesting in different settings but provide nothing but distraction in this book. ( )
  everfresh1 | Aug 7, 2015 |
As part of my ongoing quest to read a book about every U.S. President, I picked up this volume. Having read a few books and numerous articles by Kevin Phillips, and a number of books in this series, I expected more than I found.

Schlesinger's series offers single-volume biographies of all the Presidents. For the fair-to-middling Presidents without major historical importance, I've relied on this series to fill a lot of the gaps in my quest. The series has been uniformly well written, concise, and informative. None of them go into great detail, but for these Presidential lesser-lights the biographies have been quite adequate.

My problem with Phillips book is is that it isn't truly a biography, but rather a pastiche of gilded age facts and figures, placing McKinley in the context of his times. It is as though he describes an exquisite picture frame and explains how perfectly it suits a portrait of McKinley, but says little about the actual portrait. A key fact about McKinley is that he was assassinated, which Phillips barely mentions; a casual reader might even miss this key fact. And we learn very little about his wife, except that she was terribly ill, prone to epileptic seizures. Perhaps McKinley left little historical record to work with, but surely there was editorial and news coverage to draw on, particularly concerning his assassination, that could have made this into a true biography.

Phillips makes an excellent case that McKinley set the stage for the entire progressive era, following in the footsteps of his hero and mentor Rutherford B. Hayes who also had progressive tendencies. This is an important story to learn, but I think McKinley deserves a longer telling of that story. ( )
2 stem cvanhasselt | Aug 23, 2013 |
William McKinley is usually considered a middling US President - not in the top tier of presidents, but not at the bottom either. As one of the later Gilded Age administrations, McKinley and his cabinet are mostly remembered for events like the Spanish-American War in Cuba and the Philippines and for arguments over tariffs and the gold standard. He's considered by most historians to be fairly passive in leading by public opinion and to be the first president to use a modern approach to the press. And his assassination opened the door to Teddy Roosevelt and the Progressives.

In this volume of the American Presidents series, Kevin Phillips makes the case that McKinley should be considered a much stronger leader who began many of the initiatives later completed by Roosevelt and later Progressive administrations, and should be included in the second tier of presidents, well above where he usually falls in rankings today. If true, there's a disconnect in understanding McKinley, and I'm not sure I buy Phillips' reasoning. McKinley left very little in the way of personal papers and items normally considered direct sources. Phillips instead relies on writings by others around McKinley and some rather speculative interpretation of McKinley's words and deeds. Part of what most bothered me about Phillips' discussion is his speculation on what McKinley "would have done" had he not been assassinated in 1901. I suppose it's ok to do that, but it's a stretch.

Is McKinley the passive placeholder that Phillips put forth as other historians' opinions? Probably not. He was very popular, and did indeed seem to do some things that show a Progressive bent. Would he have brought about the kind of change that Roosevelt did? Should we view Teddy as a continuation of work begun by McKinley? Probably not. Teddy put his own mark on things and did things his own way. But the real McKinley is somewhere in the middle there as a mix of all these aspects. And almost certainly deserving of more respect than he often gets. ( )
2 stem drneutron | Mar 13, 2011 |
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Examines the life and presidency of William McKinley, arguing that his diplomatic and military achievements, as well as the lack of major scandal during his administration, make him worthy of admission to the ranks of the near-great chief executives.

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