As his presidency drew to a close, Woodrow Wilson came to realize the claim history would soon have on the documentary record of his life and work, of which he had been a rather inattentive keeper. While some of his more important manuscripts had been kept at his home on S Street in Washington, D.C., approximately 200,000 papers were left behind in the basement of the White House. That is, until one of the president’s longtime friends, the journalist and author Ray Stannard Baker, came forward spurred by an interest in Wilson and his involvement in the American Peace Commission in Paris, 1919. In The President and His Biographer: Woodrow Wilson and Ray Stannard Baker, the renowned historian Merrill D. Peterson looks not just at Wilson’s life and career, but also at the way Wilson was represented by Baker and other biographers, as well as in the media. Rather than addressing the voluminous Wilson historiography, Peterson bases his biographical study on primary sources—in particular the sixty-nine volumes of his Papers edited by Arthur Link and those compiled by Baker—providing a vivid and detailed narrative of our nation’s twenty-eighth president.
Making the reader constantly aware of the powerful filters through which we perceive historical figures, Peterson’s vivid and detailed narrative of encounters between the idealistic Wilson and his even more idealistic biographer makes for absorbing reading. A sympathetic account of a controversial figure in American history, The President and His Biographer will appeal to anyone interested in Wilson and his time.
Relying on a smooth, direct, narrative style, Peterson distills complex topics and presents them with remarkable clarity...General readers will welcome that approach and applaud this book for furnishing a concise, well-crafted, engagingly written, and illuminating portrait of an important president and Virginian.
Merrill D. Peterson, Professor of History, Emeritus, at the University of Virginia, is the editor of the Library of America edition of the writings of Thomas Jefferson and the author of numerous books, including The Jefferson Image in the American Mind, John Brown: The Legend Revisited, and Starving Armenians (all Virginia).