I gave my friend Noel Taylor (yes, the noted William Howard Taft scholar) a book as a New Year’s gift.
This was his response.
When you first presented me with “President Taft Is Stuck in the Bath”
by Mac Barnett, I delighted over what I assumed would be a scholarly and well researched work that would share new insights into the life of one of our most misunderstood presidents. Lamentably, having now read the book cover to cover several times (an enterprise of only two to three minutes’ time) I have come to the unfortunate conclusion that historically speaking, Barnett is on very shaky ground. Although he notes correctly that Taft was our nation’s 27th president and accurately reports the first names of Taft’s wife and some of his cabinet members, most of the book is taken up with a graphic (literally!) realization of what is nearly universally regarded as an apocryphal tale.
I suppose the title should have given the game away, but I admit I expected more from Mr. Barnett, whose previous works such as “Billy Twitters and His Blue Whale Problem”
seem substantially more grounded in fact than this latest work. As it stands, this purported history of a widely discredited story comes across at best as a children’s fairy tale, and at worst as a character assassination of the lowest order.
The real kicker though, is that despite all of these obvious shortcomings, Mr. Barnett has once again, and at the eleventh hour, managed to spirit away from me that recognition which I have chased in futility for over 20 years now. Namely, with “President Taft Is Stuck in the Bath”, Mr. Barnett has won the Bancroft Prize!
Rants.org is grateful to Prof. Taylor for permission to reprint his review here.