Paul McNutt is one of the men, to borrow from Terry Malloy, who could have been a contender. The son of a small town Indiana lawyer, he proved his ability at an early age as a bright and socially engaged student. Within a year of earning his degree at Harvard Law School he became a professor in the law school of his undergraduate alma mater, Indiana University, and rose to become its dean within a decade. A Democrat, he built upon his experience with the American Legion to win election as governor of Indiana in 1932, where he soon distinguished himself as an effective executive. Like many of his counterparts McNutt had his eye on the highest office in the land, yet his ambitions were thwarted by his rivals, most notably the incumbent president Franklin Roosevelt. With his goal of winning the Democratic party nomination in 1940 frustrated by Roosevelt's decision for a third term, he served in a series of federal and diplomatic posts before leaving politics altogether in 1946, having never come close to his cherished goal.
McNutt's career is hardly unique for its frustrated aspirations, yet all too often it is those frustrations which serve as the only thing for which they are remembered, One of the accomplishments of Dean Kotlowski's fine biography is to approach the span of McNutt's career as a subject worthy of study in its own right. In the process he gives due credit of McNutt's many achievements as an educational administrator, commander of the American Legion, governor of Indiana, and as the leading American representative to the Philippines as a critical transition point in the relationship between the two countries. In the process Kotlowski demonstrates why so many of McNutt's contemporaries regarded him as a viable presidential prospect, and his examination of McNutt's efforts and their frustrations forms one of the most interesting parts of this book. It all makes for a solid study of a man too often overshadowed by the giant who dominated the politics of the age and one who is fortunate to have a biographer this diligent in his research and respectful in his treatment.