Tim Casteel's Reviews > The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism

The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin
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History never disappoints - offering so much we can learn and apply to our day.

Bully Pulpit captures the power of the progressive movement that transformed America from a corrupt oligarchy to a prosperous nation of safety and justice (for most).
This power was the result of two great forces: writers and a courageous president.

McClure and other great journalists raised "the tone of democracy” understanding that the "'vitality of democracy' depends on 'popular knowledge of complex questions.'"

Goodwin's hope is a "better understanding of what it takes to summon the public to demand the actions necessary to bring our country closer to its ancient ideals."

I enjoyed learning how Teddy Roosevelt's love of reading led to powerful change in our country. He would read an author and then enlist their help to work together to affect change.
"From an early age, [Teddy] read as he breathed."
Amidst the busyness of political life, Teddy set apart his evening hours "for his literary work, his reading and [spending time] with his family."

Leading journalist, Ray Baker, described Roosevelt:
"It was the personality of the man that chiefly attracted me,” he recalled. Never before had he encountered such vitality or such inimitable “concentration of purpose.” Entering Roosevelt’s large office in the police department as a previous visitor departed, Baker noted with astonishment that “in the few seconds that I took to reach his desk,” Roosevelt had picked up a book about the culture of Sioux Indian tribes and appeared totally engrossed in the work. “It is surprising,” Roosevelt explained, “how much reading a man can do in time usually wasted.”

One thing that is striking from the era of "The Bully Pulpit" is the sincere, heartfelt, encouraging letters exchanged between politicians and friends- especially during difficult times and facing daunting decisions. There is nothing to replace that in modern life - very few times when people are affirmed and encouraged by their friends.

Baker found Roosevelt's chief talent to be his ability:
"to command ordinary talents to an extraordinary degree. Whereas most people never tapped their 'vast stores of hidden energies', Baker contended that Roosevelt succeeded through 'the simple device of self-control and self-discipline, of using every power he possesses to its utmost limit—a dazzling, even appalling spectacle of a human engine driven at full speed.'


Most interesting to me was the similarity between our age and the early 1900's:
At the turn of the century, vast technological change (the industrial revolution) had changed the world bringing both great financial gain and injustice.
There was a "stunning increase in nervous disorders diagnosed around the turn of the century."
The cause?
- "The increased speed of communication facilitated by the telegraph and railroad"
- The transition to the fast paced & “unmelodious clamor of city life"
- News suddenly becoming global (hearing of atrocities w no way to act upon it) instead of local (and actionable)

The early 2000's is the early 1900's on steroids:
- Overwhelming flood of information
- Nonstop pace/noise
- Overwhelming/sensationalist news that leaves us sad yet impotent to affect change
The cure then: several months in Europe & drinking raw milk. Maybe we should give that a shot!

Politically, I mostly hold to laissez-faire, almost libertarianism. Bully Pulpit made me question that. What was needed at the turn of the 20th century was the government to step in and bring justice to corrupt unions, corporations and the entire political system.
It is not as simple as "I am pro-labor" or "I am pro-capitalism/corporations".
The progressive fought against the sins of the unions and "the sins of capitalists."
Think that'll preach in 2019?

And like Hamilton, they "wrote their own deliverance".
Journalism provided the "real facts" that shaped national discourse and made change possible:
“Before there could be action, there must be information and exhortation."
“The Pulpit, the Press, and the Novel,” Norris argued, “these indisputably are the great moulders of public opinion and public morals to-day.”


Truly- "the hand that rocks the fountain pen is the hand that rules the world.”

Fascinating but REALLY long (900 pages!) and overly detailed. Started reading on paper and had to switch to audiobook to make it through.
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Reading Progress

August 1, 2018 – Started Reading
August 1, 2018 – Shelved
January 28, 2019 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-3 of 3 (3 new)

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message 1: by John (new) - added it

John Majors dang that was one enormous goodreads review.


message 2: by Tim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tim Casteel I try to make my reviews proportionate to the length of the book! ;)


message 3: by John (new) - added it

John Majors Well done too though. Great quotes on TR reading. Even as president he would read a couple of books every night. I've had the book on my shelf since it came out. Need to pick it up this year...


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