Monday, June 22, 2009

John Hay - From Poetry to Politics - Winner, Biography, 1934

John Hay - From Poetry to Politics
By: Tyler Dennett
Dodd, Mead & Company, 1933

John Hay is another of those political figures (that I often run into in my readings of the Pulitzer winners) whose name was familiar to me, but I couldn't remember exactly what it was that he was known for. I remembered mentions of his name in the biographies of Theodore Roosevelt and Walt Whitman plus a few mentions in different NPR programs I had listened to. So, I had a general idea of when he was involved in politics but nothing else. Tyler Dennett's biography of Hay proved surprisingly interesting reading for a political biography (or, heaven forbid, I'm just getting used to the endless talk of this policy and that).

Hay worked in political administrations in various capacities from Abraham Lincoln to Theodore Roosevelt. From Illinois, Hay came to Washington, DC as a secretary with Lincoln and his entourage. He followed this by stints as military representative and ambassador in various places in Europe, but the position that he is best known for was Secretary of State. While you may not be familiar with his name, issues that you might be familiar with that Hay played a key role in were the Open Door Policy with China, negotiations concerning the United States' building of the Panama Canal, negotiations concerning the Alaskan border with Canada, and many treaties with foreign nations as the United States emerged as a world power.

I'm not sure who I could say would be interested in reading this biography, but I could recommend it for anyone interested in the history of the rise in power of the United States in the world, as Hay was instrumental in this transition time.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

A History of the United States - Winner, Non-fiction, 1926

A History of the United States
By: Edward Channing
Macmillan, 1905 - v.1
Macmillan, 1908 - v.2
Macmillan, 1912 - v.3
Macmillan, 1917 - v.4
Macmillan, 1921 - v.5

As you can tell, I have taken a step back to an earlier work than the ones I have been reading recently. Edward Channing wrote the six volumes of A History of the United States between the years 1905 and 1925 (I have only listed volumes 1-5 because I am going to be honest - I only read volumes 1-5). Had Channing not been such an interesting and succinct writer, there is no way I would have made it through as many volumes as I did. As I began the first volume, though, I realized that this was going to be a great "summary" of American history that would help me to tie all of the pieces together. I love American history and was a history major in college, but I have never really experienced a good summary of the events in the United States from as far back as we have record up to the end of the Civil War.

This work is not easy reading in that it is a huge reading commitment, but I would say that it is written in an easily understood manner. This would be a good book for anyone who is REALLY interested in American history, but I think it would be even more appropriate for someone who did not grow up in the United States (but who does have a good understanding of the English language). It provides a truly useful overview for those who can persevere to the end.