This book tells the story of . . . well, there it is in the title, I guess. The book essentially has two main thrusts, despite Goodwin’s attempts to integrate them into one. The first is the relationship between Roosevelt and Taft. It’s a kind of a political tragedy in a way. It’s the story of two fast friends finding each other and becoming the closest of political allies and then, through process of time, falling apart from each other and becoming political enemies in the race for the White House and, ultimately, kind of destroying the Republican party for decades. And, as with any good tragedy, it’s all done from the best of motives and with the best of intentions. The second thrust is about the rise of progressive journalism concurrent with the Roosevelt-Taft story, specifically seen through the rise and fall of McClure’s Magazine and the stable of writers McClure formed there: William Allen White, Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell, etc. The connections between the two stories are frankly pretty tenuous and I found most of the progressive journalist stuff to be kind of tedious. Ida Tarbell is certainly a fascinating figure and the story of McClure’s extramarital affair, nervous breakdown and complete ruination was sufficiently grim. But the book is too long; the body of the book, not counting the references, notes, index, etc., is nearly eight hundred pages. Of closely set type. Frankly, I think the book would have been better if Goodwin had saved the progressive journalism stuff for a later book or something. It’s the Roosevelt-Taft story that is the heart of the book and the thing you’ll remember after reading the book. It’s both painful personal drama and engaging political philosophy. With the journalist angle out of the book, it would be closer to five hundred pages, which is just more manageable. As it stands, it’s too much of a brick and too intricate for me to recommend it to anyone but history buffs; had it just focused on the Roosevelt-Taft angle, it might have been a book I could have recommended across the board. Conditionally recommended. 3 stars.
tl;dr – story of Roosevelt-Taft relationship is engaging political philosophy and tragic personal drama, but book suffers from overlength due to inclusion of tenuously connected stories of many journalists. 3 stars.