A Man of Iron: The Turbulent Life and Improbable Presidency of Grover Cleveland

Threshold. Sept. 2022. 384p. ISBN 9781982140748. $32.99. BIOG
Senik, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, Newt Gingrich, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, offers a colloquial, wittily written biography, based on primary sources, of the only U.S. president to win two non-consecutive terms. According to Senik, President Grover Cleveland arguably stood out during the Gilded Age because of his integrity and relative non-partisanship. With his often anti-labor (Pullman Strike), anti-interventionist (in Hawai‘i), and sound monetary policies (opposed to the free coinage of silver), Cleveland is more admired, in retrospect, by Republicans than by his fellow Democrats. Although historians have not neglected Cleveland’s rapid political rise (see the biographies by Allan Nevins, Rexford Tugwell, Alyn Brodsky, and Henry Graff), contemporary lay audiences are more likely to have been impressed by his personal and political failings, as is clear here. For instance, Cleveland was frank about having fathered a child outside of marriage, and his politics were marked by racism toward Black, Chinese, and Indigenous Americans, whom he sought to assimilate, through education, into a hegemonist national culture.
VERDICT This biography may surprise readers; how many know about the thwarted movement to draft Cleveland for a third term in 1904? Or that Cleveland’s 21-year old bride was the youngest wife of a president but not the youngest woman to function as First Lady?
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