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“1912” By James Chace Brings Larger Than Life Characters Back To Life

April 22, 2011

Over the past week I have found, as I always do, comfort from reading a good book.  For me, a good read often means, a book about history.  I slipped backwards in time to the election of 1912 and picked up the James Chace finely written, and easy page turner “1912”.  James Chace, was a history professor at Bard College.

The major players in the book are well-known, and though Chace does not break new ground in the background of this story, the ways he weaves his tale and amplifies the character’s back-story into the presidential election makes this a grand read.

A relaxing read.

There is just no way not to love Teddy Roosevelt who jumps out of the pages as a candidate and leader that begs to heard.  His stands are bold for the time, and in hind-sight, we know them to be correct ones.  His strong desire to ramp up regulation of big businesses, and his belief that the country needed an income tax shows he was a far-sighted Republican.   After TR left the presidency in 1908, Taft became the next leader of the nation.  TR prepared Taft to be his successor, hoping and expecting that Taft would carry on the progressive ideals and agenda from the TR years.  

Taft was not well suited for the White House, and truly did not like the job.  He became more and more conservative and finally ‘forced’ TR to make a bid for the White on another ticket in 1912.  The divisions within the Republican Party are on display to see, and also to better understand in historical terms from this book.  

In the end Woodrow Wilson will win the White House.   Wilson’s  self-righteous religious tones never settles with me, in this book or elsewhere.

But before the end plays out in “1912” Chace provides lively and insightful tidbits into the political motives of Eugene Debs who ran a spell-binding race on the Socialist ticket.  Debs wanted one thing more than any other.  Plainly put he wanted a more idealistic society in which means of production were owned and controlled by the workers. There is a wonderful short history of the labor movement and socialist movement at the turn of the 20th century.

Another grand tale that Chace tells in several pages involves the much larger and incredible one that J. Anthony Lukas provides in “Big Trouble”.    (I loved that book, and may end up reading it again for the pleasure of it.)   That story involves the 1905 assassination of Frank Steunenberg, an ex-governor of Idaho.  The murder was rumored to be the work of vengeful labor bosses, and Pinkerton detective James McParland tracked Wobbly organizer Big Bill Haywood all the way to Colorado to bring him back to stand trial, where he and two other men were defended by a team of lawyers that included Clarence Darrow.  Just an amazing story.

Haywood will play a role in “1912”.

If you need a reason to pull yourself into a chair and relax this weekend you could not do better with a history book than this one by James Chace

One Comment
  1. April 23, 2011 9:23 AM

    “For me, a good read often means, a book about history”. Same for this history buff. I will pick up a copy of “1912.” Yes, do read “Big Trouble” again. There is so much packed in there that several reads are often required to take it all in. John

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