Book Review: All the Great Prizes; The Life of John Hay, from Lincoln to Roosevelt by John Taliaferro

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

By John Taliaferro

This is a masterpiece of American History, centered on the life and times of John Hay, whose service to the American government and history began as one of two key young aides to Abraham Lincoln well before he became president. Hay continued with a wide range of government service supporting additional American presidents both domestically and abroad up to and including Theodore Roosevelt. Later, he and his long-time friend and co-Lincoln aide, Nicolay completed a ten-volume biography of Lincoln.

An important series of major achievements and events took place during Hay’s life and service including the following: Emancipation Proclamation, with the bloody Civil War resulting - maintaining the United States as “United” and preventing a slavery-driven schism; the Thirteenth Amendment; several presidential assassinations; American military protection of China from dismemberment by Russia and Japan; political and military support for the split from Columbia of Panama and engineering and construction of the Panama Canal; and strong westward expansion to the Pacific by a growing United States. In addition, important territories were added including Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and other areas now independent such as Cuba and the Philippines.

The book is challenging to read because of the thoroughness and detail throughout. This is a plus and a minus. One wonders why such detail - often additive to the story but at times seemingly extraneous and apparently used just because Taliaferro had the information - was added. Blizzards of names and places and dates numbed this reader at times.

One feature of Taliaferro’s writing is a dazzling array of words. He has a working vocabulary of immense proportions or/and made it a point to use advanced and impressive words. I compiled a list of thirty-four as I made my way through the book and following are examples including uxorial, bumptious, lachrymose, pusillanimity, soigne’, bibulous, oleaginous, porphyry, obloquy, suzerainty, and bagatelle - nearly all of which sent me to the dictionary.

The book is extremely well documented, with 57 pages of extraordinarily detailed Notes, 29 pages of Bibliography, 30 pages of Index, and a page of illustration credits. It is a work of significant value. Our book club was honored to have Mr. Taliaferro as our guest at our March 1 meeting. He was delightful and knowledgeable in all respects, especially since the book was first published in 2013.

Jim George - March 2023 - Austin, Texas

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