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.
Taliaferro reveals the man behind the myth in his multifaceted complexity: extraordinarily gifted, self-effacing, charming, mischievous, and playful, a friend to rough frontier denizens and Hollywood stars alike. The author also explores Russell’s controversial partnership with his fiery young wife, Nancy, whose ambition and business savvy helped establish Russell as one of America’s most popular artists.
Borglum had an almost Ahab-like obsession with colossalism – a scale that matched his ego and the era. He learned how to be a celebrity from Auguste Rodin; how to be a political bully from Teddy Roosevelt. He ran with the Ku Klux Klan and mingled with the rich and famous from Wall Street to Washington. Mount Rushmore was to be his crowning achievement, the newest wonder of the world, the greatest piece of public art since Phidias carved the Parthenon.
Perhaps it is this very bombast that makes Mount Rushmore such an evocative and provocative masterpiece – inspiring and unsettling all at once. In Great White Fathers, author John Taliaferro chronicles the heroic struggle to shape the four faces of Rushmore, and then he shows us the warts, too. He reveals the astonishing backstory of America’s “Shrine of Democracy” – how the Black Hills were snatched from the Lakota Sioux; the grueling and perilous task of carving mammoth faces with dynamite and jackhammers while swinging from a five-hundred-foot cliff; the impact of auto tourism and crass commercialism on the land and lifestyles of the Great Plains.
Like so many episodes in the saga of the American West, what began as a personal dream had to be bailed out by the federal government, a compromise that nearly drove Gutzon Borglum over the brink. Nor in the end could Borglum control how his masterpiece would be received by future generations.
Great White Fathers is at once the biography of a man and the biography of a place, told through travelogue, interviews, and investigation of the vast records left behind by one of America’s most eccentric, and emblematic, visionaries. It proves that the best American stories are not simple; they are complex and contradictory, at times humorous, at other times tragic.
In Tarzan Forever: The Life of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Creator of Tarzan, John Taliaferro vividly recounts the remarkable life and career of the originator of Tarzan. Drawn extensively from Burroughs's own correspondence, memos, and manuscripts, Taliaferro's richly detailed narrative reveals how Burroughs, a down-on-his-luck Chicago pencil-sharpener salesman, first wrote about his most famous character, how he grasped the appeal of this "feral god," and how be spent the rest of his life nurturing and protecting it. Burroughs, Taliaferro explains, was a pioneer of synergy: His cross-promotional and marketing efforts helped sustain Tarzan's popularity for decades and increased Burroughs's readership far beyond North America. In the course of his career, Burroughs wrote scores of other books and stories, including westerns and adventures set on Mars, Venus, and at the Earth's core. In an attempt to graduate from the pulps, he made several stabs at the modern genre of social realism, though inevitably his editors and fans drove him back to his tried-and-true -- more Tarzan tales. Even today, a half-century after Burroughs's death, the character of Tarzan thrives; the arrival of Disney's animated Tarzan is only the latest manifestation.
Important as Tarzan was to Burroughs, Taliaferro makes clear that Burroughs's life was at least as colorful as the life of his jungle creation. Burroughs was a cavalryman in the Arizona Territory, a cowboy in Idaho, a speculator in Southern California real estate, a Hollywood producer, a witness to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and even a war correspondent in the South Pacific. Unlike Tarzan, though, Burroughs was far from the ideal balance of nature and nurture. He failed at two marriages, and despite the enormous popularity of his books and MGM's Tarzan movies of the thirties and forties, his lavish appetites forever pushed him to the brink of bankruptcy. Shaky finances ultimately drove him to develop his beloved California ranch, Tarzana, into the town of Tarzana, a Los Angeles suburb that today stands as the antithesis of Tarzan's African paradise. Quick to speak out on the controversial issues of his day, Burroughs wrote essays and stories advocating eugenics, the extermination of "moral imbeciles," and the deportation of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
In Tarzan Forever, Taliaferro captures all of Burroughs's gifts and flaws, his contradictions and complexities. The result is a deeply satisfying look at one of the architects of today's popular culture.