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Woodrow Wilson: A Biography

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  5,326 ratings  ·  150 reviews
The first major biography of America’s twenty-eighth president in nearly two decades, from one of America’s foremost Woodrow Wilson scholars.

A Democrat who reclaimed the White House after sixteen years of Republican administrations, Wilson was a transformative president—he helped create the regulatory bodies and legislation that prefigured FDR’s New Deal and would prove ce
Hardcover, 702 pages
Published November 3rd 2009 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2009)
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3.80  · 
Rating details
 ·  5,326 ratings  ·  150 reviews

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James Thane
Sep 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This is a well-written, evenly-balanced account of the life of the twenty-eighth president of the United States, the first major biography of Wilson in over two decades. Cooper describes Wilson's childhood and early family life and details his rise through the halls of academia to become the president of Princeton.

After winning and losing some major battles in that office, Wilson consented to run for governor of New Jersey on a progressive reform platform. He won the election and, after only two
Apr 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This was a really fine biography, although I am not sure how much I like Wilson after reading it. I started reading this when I heard some fairly extreme pundits starting to trash Wilson. I realized that while I did not wish to agree with the pundit, I was not as informed about Wilson as I thought I was. I had read the most about his diplomacy, especially his role in the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 and the his failures around the League of Nations. I was much less aware of his background, his ...more
Mar 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobook
In his thoroughly-researched biography of Woodrow Wilson, John Milton Cooper, Jr. offers the reader a look into the life and times of a significant man in American history. Wilson not only shaped America and the world in the early 20th century, but also helped to push the parameters of the American political system, both from his academic ivory tower and within the Oval Office. As Cooper explores the nuances in Wilson's life, the reader is treated to a wonderful narrative that rises above partis ...more
Whitebeard Books
Apr 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Exceptionally interesting information here! Woodrow Wilson is one of those overlooked presidents I believe. He was years ahead of his time and had intrigue while in office. He seems to have been a man with a combination of ingredients that took a small portion of many other presidents. He had a sex life, a conspiracy while in office, he entered a very unpopular war, had ideas far ahead of his time about solving not just US problems but of a united world. Any person who enjoys American history wi ...more
Amanda M.
Feb 14, 2012 added it
Shelves: 2012, history
The other day when I sat down to dinner, my friend Jon asked, “How’s the boyfriend?” To a casual listener this would seem like a completely normal way to begin a conversation; to those at the table more familiar with my weird proclivity for naming historical figures in games of “marry, boff, kill,” it would’ve been obvious that he was actually referring to America’s 28th president, Woodrow Wilson. Over the course of the semester, I’ve devoted more time reading this biography than I have to most ...more
Dec 14, 2009 marked it as to-read
The NYTimes review made Cooper sound like a professional Wilson booster-apologist, member of one of those scholarly cheering sections, perennially urging reevaluation, which every one of our presidents seems to boast. My taste in presidents, aside from the pivotal empire-builders and empire-savers like Lincoln and FDR, runs more to the con-men (JFK) and the crazies (Nixon) who've noir-ishly helmed the state; I'm also getting interested in the great failures, so I think I'm due for a Wilson biogr ...more
Shawn Deal
Aug 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
A great history about an unlikely man who became president. I loved all the detail put into this book. It was well researched. Well written and and a very accessible read. A very good biography about this man.
A very well-written biography of the 28th President by the magnificently-named John Milton Cooper. There is certainly a lot to either like or dislike about Wilson, who's probably best known for his failure at the end of his presidency to get the Senate to pass an unrevised version of the Versailles Treaty that would have placed the USA in the League of Nations. Against this, one should keep in mind Wilson's successes in implementing his progressive domestic goals during his first term, but one n ...more
Steve Smits
Dec 02, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A popular contemporary conception of Woodrow Wilson is that he was a largely successful president whose term ended in failure by his quixotic quest for Senate approval of the Treaty of Versailles and American entry into the League of Nations. He is viewed by some today as an academician and theoretical visionary whose skills as a politician were not particularly strong. There is also the image that he was completely invalided by a stroke suffered in 1919 and that the remainder of his term was ca ...more
Aug 20, 2015 rated it really liked it

“Woodrow Wilson: A Biography” is John Milton Cooper, Jr.’s 2009 biography of the 28th president. It was the 2010 Pulitzer Finalist in the Biography category. Cooper is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of nearly a dozen books, including “The Warrior and the Priest,” his 1983 comparative biography of Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt.

“Woodrow Wilson" is detailed and comprehensive - and clearly the result of significant resear
Steven Peterson
Mar 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
A very nice biography of Woodrow Wilson. He began his adult career as an academic, became President of Princeton University, was elected governor of New Jersey, and--finally--he was elected President of the United States. He was not just an ordinary academic either, but the author of journal articles and books that were--for the time--well reputed. A political scientist who became elected to political office. . . .

The book follows him through his life course. It portrays his strengths and his we
Nov 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
Woodrow Wilson: A Biography, a wonderful work of scholarship, is aptly subtitled. Cooper focuses on Wilson's entire life and seems determined to get that story just right. Thus, the author picks no fights in this cautious tale. Mostly, I found that refreshing. Cooper is clearly a fan of Wilson's, but no apologist. Thus, he doesn't minimize Wilson's racial attitudes and fairly places the blame for the WWI Treaty's American failure at Wilson's doorstep.

Cooper is much taken with Wilson's oratorical
Bookmarks Magazine
Feb 08, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mar-apr-2010
It is hard to doubt that Cooper's book is now the definitive biography of Wilson: professors from Harvard, Brown, and Yale gave it this accolade in their reviews. These and other critics tended to praise Cooper for disentangling Wilson from the contemporary use and abuse of his legacy; as Cooper puts it, the 28th president "was no Wilsonian, just Woodrow Wilson." Reviewers were also impressed by Cooper's chapters on the ample domestic agenda of a president normally remembered for foreign affairs ...more
Mike Clinton
Apr 27, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an excellent, informative, substantial biography, exactly the kind that makes people fans of biographies, written with a sharp focus and engaging style that made me look forward to the sessions when I could spend with it (although circumstances kept me from getting through it as quickly as I might have.) Cooper presents Wilson with a favorable eye, balanced with reasonable assessments of his shortcomings and mistakes. More than most presidents, Wilson continues to be a figure towards wh ...more
Bryan Craig
Feb 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
I think this is probably the best one volume biography of Wilson I have read so far. It used to be Heckscher, but I give Cooper the edge because of his writing. There is so much going on, but his writing style makes it enjoyable. Be prepared, it is a dense read, but Wilson had such a impact. I do wish the book was more of his life and times, though. Cooper refers to many situations that really could be expanded just a bit. Yet, the author presents a balanced view of Wilson and shows warts and al ...more
Sep 02, 2009 marked it as to-read
Shelves: american-history
While Woodrow is not my favorite Pres., I am looking forward to this bio by Cooper.
Chaston Kome
Nov 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Wilson’s legacy has come to the foreground again in the past few years, especially in regards to his legacy on race relations. At Princeton University, there has been discussion to remove his name from their school of Public and International Affairs, as to cease commemorating a terrible racist. It was this new brand of discussion that caused me to look into Cooper’s biography of our 28th President.

Cooper’s biography tells the complex story of a complex man with such amazing ability; never, in a
David Beeson
Jun 18, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fans of The West Wing may remember Ainslie Hayes, played by Emily Procter, the Republican lawyer who takes a job in the Counsel’s Office of a Democratic White House. In a bantering argument with Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe), she asks “How many grand theories of international relations did [Woodrow] Wilson come up with that were dead on arrival in Congress?”

There was, in fact, only one that mattered. But it was massive.

US President at the end of the First World War, Wilson was a leading figure in drawi
Oct 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
A slog of a read in its first half, during Wilson’s career in academia, the pace picked up dramatically to cram his presidency and final years into the second half. Ultimately, details were sufficient throughout, although more could have been said of Wilson’s faults and indifference at times. Cooper was fair, however, calling out Wilson’s wrong-headed decisions as well as his good ones. For a single-volume biography, this did its job, but Wilson—and the time—deserve more pages. I also enjoy an e ...more
Regina Lindsey
Woodrow Wilson by John Milton Cooper
4 Stars

Wilson is most known as the professorial president who managed the US entry into WWI. The first to hold the office with a PhD, Wilson started life with a learning disability, possibly dyslexia, and had only two years elected government experience prior to capturing the Democratic Party’s nomination. This did not, however, prevent him from managing the legislative process well. In fact, he appears more adept than Theodore Roosevelt in this manner. While
Nov 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everybody interested in Woodrow Wilson
Shelves: croah
Woodrow Wilson ranks among the most controversial presidents in American history. Elected at the peak of the Progressive movement in the United States, he secured passage of a number of new measures that fundamentally transformed the government’s relationship with the economy, yet presided over the introduction of segregation at the federal level. While promising a new approach to foreign policy governed by morality rather than crass personal interest, he initiated Latin American military interv ...more
Mar 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Embarrassingly here are the new things I learned from this 600 page book that I’ll likely retain five years hence:

• The ex-president used to go by his birth name of Tommy Wilson.
• He was a big baseball fan. Obviously before the Houston Astros ruined the sport for many of us.
• He almost took his first academic post at the University of Arkansas before they rescinded the offer! (way to go Hogs…or Cardinals or whatever you were called in those days)

If anyone’s still with me, the most important aspe
Rosa Ramôa
Jan 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Os 14 pontos de Wilsom...
"1.º Estabelecimento de tratados de paz. 2.º Livre navegação de todos os oceanos.3.º Supressão de barreiras alfandegárias. 4.º Desarmamento. 5.º Resolução das questões coloniais. 6.º Evacuação e restabelecimento da Bélgica. 8.º Devolução da Alsácia-Lorena à França. 9.º Retificação das fronteiras italianas. 10.º Autonomia dos povos que constituem o Império Austro-Húngaro. 11.º Evacuação e restabelecimento da Roménia,Sérvia e Montenegro. 12.º Autonomia dos povos não turcos
Sep 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
Good book. Wilson had a lot of flaws: racist (who wasn't back then?), self-righteous. But he busted his ass and seemed to have, for the most part, a decent moral compass (aside from racism and anti-civil libertarian positions). I liked very much how much he appreciated the need to have ALL Americans involved in the First World War. The idea that only a small number of people would be inconvenienced by the war effort was not his way. His League of Nations was a failure, and that was largely his f ...more
Oct 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
John Milton Cooper Jr. has spent his life exploring the life of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, so it is unsurprising that this full-scale biography is packed with detail and nuance. What is pleasantly surprising is that its scholarship is matched by its readability. Cooper writes very well, very clearly, and his narrative of the beleaguered president's life is compelling and dramatic. I've been lucky recently to read a few presidential biographies that were real page-turners. This happily is ano ...more
Mar 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
Enjoyed reading this well-written biography of the 28th president of the United States, especially with the History Book Club moderators guiding the discussion. Wilson became a real human being to me, with nuances of personality and attitudes brought in, making me want to examine his actions and speeches in a more thoughtful light than the one-dimensional portrait most people get from today’s “sound bite” commentators. This book always comes to my mind now when I try to understand other presiden ...more
Aaron Million
Nov 03, 2011 rated it it was ok
This is a very well-researched and detailed biography. However, I think that Cooper frequently looks the other way when evaluating many of Wilson's actions, motives, and policies. I came away with the impression that Wilson was a racist. He was also an idealist, which ultimately helped him destroy his own presidency and his campaign for the League of Nations. His obsession with the League of Nations, and his ambivalence to race riots in 1919 and the subsequent Palmer Raids is disturbing.
Wilson is a man of contradictions. A racist who advocated for women's suffrage and arguable opposed Prohibition, a reformer and a devout Presbyterian, an idealist and opportunist in equal measure. This biography clears up a lot about his life.

A necessary and very helpful book, about an all-too-human president.
elliot leven
Mar 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Jul 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
“Wilsonian” is a word that gets thrown around a lot in foreign policy circles, and we are as guilty as anybody. The term—usually derogatory—warns against anyone stumping for policies (especially foreign intervention) based on idealistic notions such as self-determination or human rights. Woodrow Wilson has become something of a cliché: the stuffy, pie-in-the-sky academic-president who thought he could solve all of the world’s problems through high-flown rhetoric and goodwill. Of course few peopl ...more
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John M. Cooper (born 1940) is an American historian, author, and educator. His specialization is late 19th- and early 20th-century American Diplomatic History. Cooper is currently Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.