All the Great Prizes

The Life of John Hay, from Lincoln to Roosevelt

If Henry James or Edith Wharton had written a novel describing the accomplished and glamorous life and times of John Hay, it would have been thought implausible – a novelist’s fancy. Nevertheless, John Taliaferro’s brilliant biography captures the extraordinary life of Hay, one of the most amazing figures in American history, and restores him to his rightful place.

John Hay was both witness and author of many of the most significant chapters in American history – from the birth of the Republican Party, the Civil War, and the Spanish-American War, to the prelude to the First World War. Much of what we know about Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt comes to us through the observations Hay made while private secretary to one and secretary of state to the other. With All the Great Prizes, the first authoritative biography of Hay in eighty years, Taliaferro has turned the lens around, rendering a rich and fascinating portrait of this brilliant American and his many worlds.

Hay’s friends are a who’s who of the era: Mark Twain, Horace Greeley, Henry Adams, Henry James, and virtually every president, sovereign, author, artist, power broker, and robber baron of the Gilded Age. As an ambassador and statesman, he guided many of the country’s major diplomatic initiatives at the turn of the twentieth century: the Open Door with China, the creation of the Panama Canal, the establishment of America as a world leader.

Hay’s peers esteemed him as “a perfectly cut stone” and “the greatest prime minister this republic has ever known.” But for all his poise and polish, he had his secrets. His marriage to one of the wealthiest women in the country did not prevent him from pursuing the Madame X of Washington society, whose other secret suitor was Hay’s best friend, Henry Adams.

With this superb work, Taliaferro brings us an epic tale.



"A valuable reassessment of an underestimated politician and diplomat"
The Economist
“Taliaferro’s skillful, admiring biography … brings Hay vividly to life.”
Publishers Weekly
“John Hay … the world’s most interesting man…. The mini-series almost writes itself.”
Austin American-Statesman
“It was a rare pleasure to spend a week in the company of a man of such grace, charm, intelligence, and accomplishment as John Hay in this fine biography by John Taliaferro…. [All the Great Prizes] is a full, balanced, and admiring portrait of this great American. While not hesitating to show Hays warts and weaknesses (few), it nevertheless presents the sort of man who can serve as a model for Americans seeking to understand us at our best…. It speaks to the high art of Taliaferro’s writing that this jam packed life … maintains the reader’s attention and earns more than respect for his subject.”
Ted Lehmann
"John Taliaferro’s big, utterly fantastic new biography of Hay … becomes at once the definitive portrait of a man whose life spanned a crucial era in American history – and whose work helped define that era…. A genius of animation works on every page…. Taliaferro carries his argument magnificently, assessing with a nice candor.”
Steve Donghue
Open Letters Monthly
“Given that John Hay’s public career was bookended by his service to Lincoln and Roosevelt, it seems surprising that this is the first biography written about him in 80 years. Thanks to Taliaferro’s skillful work, it seems unlikely that another will be needed for a while.”
Dallas Morning News
"This is a great biography of a great American…. John Taliaferro tells the full story of Hay’s life, not only his complex professional life but also his fascinating personal life…. He has given us a detailed, readable, strong account of one of the greatest Americans of his generation.”
Walter Stahr
Washington Independent Review of Books
"In this lively and landmark biography, the distinguished writer John Taliaferro analyzes the long public career of John Hay – who held the distinction of being Abraham Lincoln’s personal secretary and Theodore Roosevelt’s Secretary of State – is one of the seminal statesmen in American history. All the Great Prizes is the grand book he so richly deserves."
Douglas G. Brinkley
author of "Cronkite"
“At long last, John Hay has gotten the biography he deserves. From his youthful service at Lincoln’s side to his late years as Theodore Roosevelt’s Secretary of State, this gifted writer, diplomat, and friend was a central figure in America’s exciting journey from near-death to world power. John Taliaferro tells this remarkable life in rich and flowing detail.”
David Von Drehle
author of "Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year"
“John Hay led more than a charmed life – yet endured more than his share of tragedy. John Taliaferro brings Lincoln’s gifted secretary and biographer – and Theodore Roosevelt’s accomplished secretary of state – back to vivid life in this page-turning account of an extraordinary eyewitness to, and maker of, American history. After generations of bewildering neglect, Hay needs a great biography no longer.”
Harold Holzer
author of "Lincoln at Cooper Union"
"One of the most intriguing figures of the Gilded Age, Hay emerges in this beautifully narrated book as an astute, if somewhat unwilling, eyewitness to history. Making deft use of Hay’s own letters, some recently discovered, Taliaferro brings the man to life."
Martha A. Sandweiss
author of "Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line"
"John Hay has long been one of those remarkable American figures who hide in plain historical sight – until now. With insight and eloquence, John Taliaferro has brought Hay into the foreground, telling a remarkable story remarkably well."
Jon Meacham
author of "Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power"
"John Hay began his career as private secretary to Abraham Lincoln, writing many of Lincoln’s letters, and ended it as secretary of state in the administrations of William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, responsible for many of their foreign-policy achievements. He was at the bedside of Lincoln and of McKinley as each president lay dying of an assassin’s bullet. John Taliaferro’s absorbing biography of this notable author, diplomat, and bon vivant who knew most of the important people of his time fully measures up to the significance of its subject."
James McPherson
author of "Batttle Cry of Freedom"
Thursday, January, 01, 1970