ELIHU ROOT – Philip C. Jessup, Dodd Meade, 1938
This biography (two volumes; 1050 pages) should not have been published. Elihu Root was an eminent New York City lawyer, an excellent Secretary of War, a fabulous Secretary of State (under Theodore Roosevelt) and a Senator from New York.
The writer did not know how to write this story; the organization is sloppy. When Root was appointed Secretary of War (President McKinley), the author spends ten (10) pages on the appointment and wraps up with paragraphs about people who did not want Root to accept the appointment. Note there is no background or telling of the affect on Root: What was the effect on his law practice? Just get up and go and leave clients to their own devices? What was the effect on his family – what did they think? What was the effect on local government government matters he was working on when Root went to Washington? None of these questions are explained.
For his personal life and his law business [which Root loved, liked or had grown tired of], the book provides insignificant background: By example a local matter describes competing transit companies in New York City, but did does not explain the transit market, competitive forces and the personalities being affected by the sage lawyer.
There is more to writing a biography than stringing together quotes from letters, some of which cover a page and a few go a few pages. This biography puts Root in the middle of a crisis or a situation, and based upon that placement of Root the reader is supposed to understand the crisis or the situation. When the Spanish left Cuba (1898), there was no sanitation, an illiterate population (96 percent), no institutions, no education, no law enforcement and no economy. There was the church. Note as Secretary of War Root was in charge of Cuba reconstruction because the U.S. Army was the agency capable of performing. According to this biographer the Cuba situation, circumstances and crisis were handled by exchanges of letters, actions and decisions made by Root, Theodore Roosevelt in Washington D.C. and Leonard Wood in Cuba.
I don’t know what the U.S. Army was doing in Cuba or why. In lieu of reading more about those Washington D.C. actions for 100 pages, I stopped reading at page 320. The remainder of the biography would get no better.