Synopses & Reviews
James Grants enthralling biography of Thomas B. Reed, Speaker of the House during one of the most turbulent times in American history—the Gilded Age, the decades before the ascension of reformer President Theodore Roosevelt—brings to life one of the brightest, wittiest, and most consequential political stars in our history.
The last decades of the nineteenth century were a volatile era of rampantly corrupt politics. It was a time of both stupendous growth and financial panic, of land bubbles and passionate and sometimes violent populist protests. Votes were openly bought and sold in a Congress paralyzed by the abuse of the House filibuster by members who refused to respond to roll call even when present, depriving the body of a quorum. Reed put an end to this stalemate, empowered the Republicans, and changed the House of Representatives for all time.
The Speakers beliefs in majority rule were put to the test in 1898, when the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana Harbor set up a popular clamor for war against Spain. Reed resigned from Congress in protest.
A larger-than-life character, Reed checks every box of the ideal biographical subject. He is an important and significant figure. He changed forever the way the House of Representatives does its business. He was funny and irreverent. He is, in short, great company. “What I most admire about you, Theodore,” Reed once remarked to his earnest young protégé, Teddy Roosevelt, “is your original discovery of the Ten Commandments.”
After he resigned his seat, Reed practiced law in New York. He was successful. He also found a soul mate in the legendary Mark Twain. They admired one anothers mordant wit. Grants lively and erudite narrative of this tumultuous era—the raucous late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—is a gripping portrait of a United States poised to burst its bounds and of the men who were defining it.
Advance Praise for
“Thomas Reed—Czar Reed, the all-powerful Speaker of the House at the end of the 19th century—was an architect of the modern American state. Sadly, he has been lost to history. But in this lively, intelligent biography, James Grant brings him back, with gusto, humor, and a sense of tragedy.”
--Evan Thomas, author of The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst and the Rush to Empire, 1898
“No period in American history is more colorful or relevant to our own—for better and worse—than the Gilded Age. James Grant brings it all memorably to life: Mugwumps and Half-Breeds, congressmen of flamboyant plumage for sale, not to mention a political process frozen in partisanship. Looming above it all, literally larger than life, is Thomas B. Reed, perhaps the most fascinating politician you’ve never heard of. A hero to young Theodore Roosevelt, as Speaker of the House Reed singlehandedly crushed the filibuster. (One is tempted to say, Boy do we need him now). At the same time, Reed’s erudition and stinging wit may well have cost him the White House. In the end, his ambition yielded to his principles, prompting him to resign the speakership rather than endorse the imperial vision of his fellow Republicans. It’s taken a century, but Reed at last has a biographer equal to his story.”
--Richard Norton Smith, author of The Colonel: The Life and Legend of Robert R.
McCormick, 1880-1955 and Scholar-in-Residence of History and Public Policy at George
and#8220;Timely and entertaining. . . . John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Mich McConnell should make andlt;iandgt;Mr. Speaker! andlt;/iandgt;mandatory reading.and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;andlt;bandgt; -- andlt;iandgt;The Sunday Star-Ledger andlt;/iandgt;(Newark, NJ)andlt;/bandgt;
and#8220;Rollickingand#8230;. [a] droll, urbane narrativeand#8230;. A lively, opinionated, and timely study of irresponsible politics grappling with a dire economyand#8230;. Grant's Reed encapsulates a political era that is the mirror image of our own.and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;andlt;bandgt; --andlt;iandgt;Publishers Weekly andlt;/iandgt;(Starred Review)andlt;/bandgt;
and#8220;It is good to have this excellent biography of Thomas Reed, a vastly underappreciated major figure in American political history. But it is especially worthwhile reading about him right now, because his era has so many similarities and#8211; maybe too many and#8211; with our own tumultuous and dysfunctional times.and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;andlt;bandgt; and#8212;andlt;iandgt;The New York Times Book Reviewandlt;/iandgt;andlt;/bandgt;
and#8220;A winning new biography. . . . After his death, oblivion overtook Reed quite quickly. Grant has helped restore him to his rightful place among the giants of the House.and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;andlt;bandgt; and#8212;andlt;iandgt;Roll Callandlt;/iandgt;andlt;/bandgt;
and#8220;Astute. . . . Grant is excellent in explaining how Reed could be a man of principle but also a practical politician.and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;andlt;bandgt; and#8212;andlt;iandgt;The Washington Postandlt;/iandgt;andlt;/bandgt;
and#8220;The most influential speaker of the House most people have never heard of . . . Reed makes for good copy . . . Grant has managed to rescue Reed from oblivion and to capture the raucous political atmosphere in which Reed did battle.and#8221;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;andlt;bandgt; --andlt;iandgt;The Wall Street Journalandlt;/iandgt;andlt;/bandgt;
“The most influential speaker of the House most people have never heard of…Reed makes for good copy…Grant has managed to rescue Reed from oblivion and to capture the raucous political atmosphere in which Reed did battle” (Jonathan Karl, The Wall Street Journal).
In a scholarly and fast-paced narrative, Grant describes the last decades of the nineteenth century in America—an era of rampantly corrupt politics where votes were bought and sold, Congress was paralyzed, an era of stupendous growth, financial panics, land bubbles, and populist protests. He follows the story through the career of Speaker of the House Thomas Reed, a neglected but fascinating figure, ripe for discovery.
James Grantand#8217;s enthralling biography of Thomas B. Reed, Speaker of the House during one of the most turbulent times in American historyand#8212;the decades before the ascension of reformer President Theodore Rooseveltand#8212;brings to life one of the brightest, wittiest, and most consequential political stars in our history, a man who changed forever the way the House of Representatives does its business by reforming the misuse of the filibuster.
About the Author
James Grant is the founder of andlt;iandgt;Grantand#8217;s Interest Rate Observerandlt;/iandgt;, a leading journal on financial markets, which he has published since 1983. He is the author of seven books covering both financial history and biography. Grantand#8217;s journalism has been featured in andlt;iandgt;Financial Timesandlt;/iandgt;,andlt;iandgt; The Wall Street Journalandlt;/iandgt;, and andlt;iandgt;Foreign andlt;/iandgt;Affairs. He has appeared on andlt;iandgt;60 Minutesandlt;/iandgt;,andlt;iandgt; Jim Lehrerand#8217;s News Hourandlt;/iandgt;, and andlt;iandgt;CBS Evening News.andlt;/iandgt;