2014: 3. All The Great Prizes

All The Great Prizes: The Life of John Hay from Lincoln to Roosevelt, John Taliaferro

It took me forever to finish this biography of John Hay (so much so that I incurred a library overdue fee, which is against my type-A nature).  I liked it, but I just ran out of steam around the Panama Canal crisis, and the last bit was a slog.  I don't blame Taliaferro - he's a good writer and the biography is pretty easy-going. I think it's just a nature of a cradle-to-grave biography.  No matter how interesting a person is (and Hay is pretty darn interesting), reading a person's whole life wears me out.  I much prefer histories of an event - than strait biographies.  Plus, isn't it always a little depressing to finish a biography? They all end the same way - and then they died! 

But if you do want to read a traditional door-stopper sized biography, this is a pretty good one.  John Hay started life as Abraham Lincoln's private secretary, living in the White House, and spending every day with the great man (he's the young man with the mustache trailing behind Lincoln in the movie Lincoln, which was one of my very favorite movies of 2013).  He went on to be a writer, best friend with Henry Adams and good friends with Henry James.  He served under various Republican administrations, and was Secretary of State under McKinley (and thus, under Roosevelt as well), where he was instrumental in dealing with the Boxer Rebellion, the Panama Canal, etc.  And, (and this is important if you are reading a life), he was a reasonably interesting person - witty, erudite, etc.  He was a flirt, too, which gives it a bit of spice.  

And Taliaferro does a nice job balancing the personal and the political.  It's not his fault that when I picked it up I was more interested in Lincoln than Roosevelt, and that I got bored at the end.  As I said, it's the nature of this sort of book, rather than the book itself.

Categories: Not a President!

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017