One of the consequences of Donald Trump's presidential candidacy is that it piqued my interest in the last career businessman who mounted a successful bid for the Republican presidential nomination, Wendell Willkie. While I don't believe in the notion that history is somehow repeating itself, I was interested in learning more about the fate of businessmen as presidential candidates and what lessons Willkie's example might hold for "the Donald."
While Steve Neal's biography offers quite a few insights into the factors and failings of Willkie's presidential run, the book overall is a disappointment as a biography. A longtime political reporter and columnist, Neal devotes most of the book to Willkie's political career, with over a third of it alone on his 1940 presidential campaign. While this makes sense from the standpoint of Willkie's significance to American history, it effectively condenses the majority of Willkie's years as a lawyer and business executive to a prelude to his political activities. Often, key developments in Willkie's life are not analyzed or even described, merely noted in Neal's rush to get to what he wants to write. As a result, much of Willkie's development, particularly of his political views, tends to get lost. The result is an account that, while readable and even gripping in its evocation of the Willkie phenomenon, comes up short as the biography it is advertised as being.