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THE REAL WOODROW WILSON: An interview with Arthur S. Link, editor of the Wilson Papers
By James Robert Carroll

Review by John Hanchette, Gannett News Service
December, 2000

First, a caveat: The author, whom evidently I have encouraged a couple of times, in his acknowledgments refers to this writer as "wise and witty." Despite this glaring lapse in judgment and powers of observation, James Carroll has produced a useful, compact, and brilliantly assembled study of the 28th president of the United States.

The tidy little book, about the size of a large wallet, consists mostly of a loooong interview with Arthur S. Link, noted historian and editor of all 69 volumes of "The Papers of Woodrow Wilson." It was Link's lifework. By the time he was through, Link knew Wilson better than relatives did. But there's much more - about two dozen illustrations, an extensive bibliography, and a 24-page chronology that summarizes this important president's life.

Wilson usually makes the top ten when the lists of great presidents are compiled, but many Americans have never heard of him. A brilliant academic (Princeton) and two-term president in the second decade of the last century, Wilson guided the country through World War I. But failing health left him unable to gain United States membership in the League of Nations, and he bungled ratification of the Treaty of Versailles, which Link says helped make World War II inevitable.

Carroll crams a lot in here. Wilson was viewed as cold and dour, even at the time, but the author prints love letters Wilson wrote that are, well, hot - really passionate. He loved and memorized risque limericks. Wilson was also a devoted sight-gag prankster, sometimes breaking up serious meetings by wiggling his ears and throwing his double-jointed jaw out of place. Not what we were taught in civics class.

This book is also a story of literary and historical detective work. Link - who died in 1998 - made a dogged pursuit of Wilson's papers, and Carroll's efficient recounting of it provides an adventure in itself. This is also a nice glimpse into the vagaries of American behavior, and the modernization of presidential scrutiny. It turns out Wilson had a minor stroke in 1906, six years before being elected president. He lost the sight of one eye. Little is made of it at the time, except by his doctor, who cuts out the southern fried chicken and gravy. A major stroke eventually cripples him in the presidency, and finally kills him.

Praise should be given this small Vermont publishing company. Major houses tend to stay away from these historical gems because they don't interest all those materialistic, well-heeled, but pitiful people you see submitting to embarrassing street interviews on the Jay Leno show - people who can't place the year of the War of 1812.

Ordering Information: 5" x 7"
ISBN 1-884592-32-5 Hardcover: $19.50.
The Real Woodrow Wilson  (HC) $19.50

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