James Chace’s “1912” tells the story, in a very fluid and readable style, of the 1912 US presidential election. For those of you not of the US political junkie variety, the 1912 election was fascinating because it had three serious contenders for the office, including a sitting president and a former president, and the most serious Socialist candidate for the presidency in the history of the US.
It’s also a very personal story, as President William Taft, the incumbent Republican, who was incredibly beaten into third place on polling day, had been the handpicked successor to President Theodore Roosevelt, and a reluctant one at that. He was then stunned to find himself running against the man who had put him into the White House, indeed a man he regarded as one of his closet friends. One of the most touching scenes in the book is when the two men meet years later, by accident, in a Chicago hotel dining room, and renew their friendship to cheers from other diners.
One of the interesting features of the book is its picture of the political climate of the time, where three of the four candidates ran effectively on centre/centre-left (for the time) platforms of progressivism, with Eugene Debs, the Socialist, running on the hard left. It’s a sharp contrast with US politics today, whereby even moderate social democratic policies are regarded with suspicion.