Broadsnark's Reviews > The President and the Assassin: McKinley, Terror, and Empire at the Dawn of the American Century

The President and the Assassin by Scott  Miller
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Oct 15, 2011

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Read in November, 2011

Miller is a good writer and it is a smooth read. The turn of the last century is a fascinating time in American history. He does a pretty good job of showing how the US empire grew. The idea of juxtaposing President McKinley's life against that of the man who killed him was a good one. It does give you a certain sense of the time.

It is clear; however, where Miller's politics lie. Not surprisingly, a man who worked for the Wall Street Journal and graduated from Cambridge does not have a lot of love for anarchists. It would have been better if he just let all his disdain ooze out everywhere. Instead, if you don't know anything about the time or people he is talking about, you might think he is giving fair portraits of people like Emma Goldman.

He finds plenty of time to paint a loving portrait of a warmongering, imperial president. So there is no excuse for picking out only the most violent or pathetic examples when he is describing anarchists. He describes the violence in Europe without any mention of how much was later found to be the work of provocateurs. In talking about the roots of anarchism, he speaks only about a few out-of-context ideas of William Godwin and mentions nothing about Kropotkin or even someone like Tolstoy.

Miller's tendency to humanize McKinley and dehumanize the anarchists would be enough to annoy me. But he also quickly descends into the usual historian boy bullshit. That would be history books filled with long descriptions of battle and which contain virtually no mention of women. Where there are mentions of women, they are either the archetypal mother (McKinley's mother), the sickly or neurotic woman (McKinley's wife), or the whore (Emma).

The book is still worth a read if you are interested in that time. But you should definitely pair it with a more radical view of empire building (perhaps Harvest of Empire) and some material on anarchists that isn't so one-sided.

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