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

John Taliaferro. Simon & Schuster, $35 (672p) ISBN 978-1-4165-9730-8
John Hay (1838-1905) ranks among the nation’s great secretaries of state. A native of Illinois, he became acquainted with Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, served as the president’s White House secretary, cowrote Lincoln’s biography (with John Nicolay), then became ambassador to Britain, before joining both William McKinley’s and Theodore Roosevelt’s cabinets as secretary of state. He did in fact win “all the great prizes.” Taliaferro’s skillful, admiring biography (the first since 1934) brings Hay vividly to life by setting him among family, friends (many of them well-known figures in their own right), and the well-heeled political circles in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, in which Hay moved with ease. The author also does his best to see into his subject’s emotional life—especially his deep, unrequited affection for another man’s wife. It is, however, too often in the nature of biographies—even a fine one like this—to let interpretation yield to narrative. Thus Taliaferro raises few of the issues that characterized U.S. foreign affairs in the seven years (1898-1905) of Hay’s secretaryship under Roosevelt, and which historians of American diplomacy have long debated. This book will inform its readers but, alas, not affect or advance those debates. 16-page b&w photo insert. Agent: Esther Newberg, ICM. (May)
Reviewed on: 02/04/2013
Release date: 05/14/2013
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