Top critical review
Too Many Intrusions or Speculations By The Author
Reviewed in the United States on August 30, 2019
This is unquestionably a great book wherein the author juggles an enormous mass of data and history into a readable whole. Its being a Pulitzer finalist helped draw me to the title, but after reading it, I hope I can see why it was passed over. For all its merits as a history, the structure has a lot of warp and rot. A handful of years ago when Obama discussed the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell on the White House lawn, he told reporters that he had to work through Congress. Someone from the pool told him to “work faster.” From the reading it is easy to see that Cooper the author is a liberal professor in a Midwestern state, obviously a modern Progressive protective of his Progressive hero, Wilson, but “work faster” always seems to sit in the background. Like Obama, Cooper dutifully rolls his eyes at everything the Republicans do. The writing of history means reporting the facts and reconstructing the atmosphere in which decisions are made, perhaps even to hint at motives or character. Cooper often writes that something is not clear or is unknown, but he often goes on to speculate freely, even on some occasions to pen a full-page essay on a Progressive or liberal issue. He looks over events or actions as a Monday morning quarterback – “Wilson should have fired him on the spot” – “Wilson should have known better.” After WWI during negotiations about the peace treaty, Cooper encapsulates the French national character under two headings: grandeur and revenge. Cooper had just written of Wilson's traveling through war-ravaged Belgium, but he seems to have ignored the fact of war-ravaged France, of villages of gaunt children and old persons, of towns destitute of young men, etc, but the sole fact he cites to support his charge of “revenge” is that the French had the Germans sign the treaty on the same table and in the same room and in the same palace as the Germans had made the French sign in 1871. Had one of Wilson's antagonists used such sweeping labels to describe Jews or blacks, even if Wilson had used them himself, Cooper would have pounced on their anti-Semitism or racism, but who can explain to Prof. Cooper that he trespassed the line himself? Sometimes he exposes Wilson's racism or chauvinism, and sometimes he shades it. After Wilson's stroke, Cooper resumes the writing of history, saying that Wilson's secretary, doctor and wife kept his real condition under wraps, but that this essentially left the presidency unfilled, leading many to point out the fact that without a functioning chief executive, the government was incomplete. Wilson's wife Edith controlled who saw her husband, in effect making her the working president, but to this – a situation unprecedented in American history – Cooper basically asks, “Why not?” Who better qualified to know her husband's thoughts and wishes? This is almost as bad as saying that any unelected First Lady’s signature on a bill is sufficient to make it law, no different than the president’s. Halfway through the book when Cooper defended Wilson once too often, the author's hand was clearly shown – Wilson the Great One had achieved many things, but too many would-haves, could-haves and should-haves litter the work, a work bent not only in telling of Wilson's work and life, but also to redress all of history's wrongs to the president. This book, unquestionably a valuable resource, began as a faithful volume written along the lines of classical history, but then the toxins seeped in, as Cooper looked to remount his Rocinante to tilt at the next objector.