by Godfrey Hodgson
Yale University Press, 2006
Jolie Velazquez, Reviewer
House retired from business in middle age to take part in shaping social and political policies. He cut his teeth on rowdy Texas politics during the time of prairie populism and was instrumental in electing governors and senators, though he always refused to accept an appointment or run for office himself. When he decided to take on national issues, he found Woodrow Wilson to be the candidate he most wanted to work with since they already shared many of the same ideals. His initial help in getting Wilson elected led to a greater role on Wilson's team. How their political relationship rapidly developed into a warm friendship is still a mystery in this book and one of the reader's few disappointed expectations.
House was Wilson's primary civilian advisor on all politically touchy subjects, such as making cabinet appointments, and for all purposes he ran foreign affairs, the president's greatest weak spot. Even Secretary of State Robert Lansing deferred to House's judgment. Prior to the outbreak of the war, House engaged in a clandestine "shuttle diplomacy" mission to prevent hostilities. (The Kaiser later mentioned its near success.) Once the war began, House and Wilson turned their energies to creating their plan for peace, the Fourteen Points and the League of Nations. Lines are blurred as to who contributed more to this effort, but it was certainly a collaborative endeavor.
The book is meticulously researched, and the style is easy on the brain while still explicating profound issues. It gives credit to a unique individual whose personal charm, modesty, and intelligence were needed at the point this country was taking a lead role on the international stage. House's involvement with every important diplomatic issue of his day was disparaged by "Edith's camp" of memoirists and historians for many years, so we are grateful to Hodgson for delivering a different and thoughtful perspective on the Wilsonian era.
Originally Presented in the Fall 2009 Issue of Relevance: Quarterly Journal of the Great War Society