I’ll see your five and raise you.

I really enjoyed reading 1920: The Year of Six Presidents even if I should have been warned by the title that the author would be a little loose with his language. I found myself getting distracted every so often throughout the book by strange word uses, odd sentence structure and infelicitous phrasing. The title lends itself to the notion that the book is about six people who were president in 1920. This is not the case. The next assumption is that it probably has to do with six men who ran for president. Also not quite true. The book deals with six current, former or future presidents who were in some way related to the race for president in 1920. And not all of them very closely.

The six men were the Roosevelts, Franklin and Theodore, Calvin Coolidge, Warren Harding, Herbert Hoover and Woodrow Wilson. Wilson was the sitting president when the election came, Harding and Hoover ran for president (and very nominally Coolidge and FDR did too), Coolidge and FDR were the vice-presidential nominees and the author postulates that Teddy Roosevelt would have run; if he hadn’t died in early 1919. Anyway, leaving the oddities of the title to one side, the book itself was an interesting exploration of the election of 1920 and the events that led up to it. There’s also a short summary of what happened afterwards, but it isn’t taken in nearly the same detail. It’s worth a read for the lowdown on one of the more interesting elections I’ve read about.

The author’s writing style got on my nerves, however. I like breezy writing in it’s place, but an historical work discussing political matters shouldn’t read like a dime novel or a blog. The book was badly in need of a solid editor. The word “timber” was overused; everyone was of or not of “presidential timber” or “gubernatorial timber”. At one point some women were described as being “skimpily unclad”. Were they then wearing lots of clothes? Elsewhere such phrases as “crack-brained idea” and The New York Times pondered aloud” appeared. Most egregious, it seems to me, was the use of a parenthetical phrase to give the appearance of the spoken word: “her stories were short and so, come to think of it, was she”.

I enjoyed the book for the factual content and what I learned about a particular period in history with which I was not as familiar, even if the book’s style detracted a little from it.

Listening to: Seatbelts – Waltz for Zizi
via FoxyTunes

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