Written by Graydon Carter and Originally Published in Vanity Fair in August 2013
Since winning the National Book Award for his exquisite book Max Perkins: Editor of Genius—an expanded version of his senior thesis at Princeton—A. Scott Berg has established himself as one of our foremost biographers, reappearing every decade or so with a new blockbuster invariably hailed for its painstaking research, masterly storytelling, and cultural resonance. This fall, the Pulitzer Prize winner (for 1998's Lindbergh) will emerge from sequestration with Wilson, a biography of the 28th U.S. president. And with the prescience that all truly great biographers possess, Berg discovered in Woodrow Wilson a figure who would understand Washington's current state of affairs.
In “A League of His Own,” beginning on page 68, Berg depicts a president facing a Congress no less partisan or obstructionist than the current one. Wilson, though, was not an aloof, lean-back, feet-on-the-desk sort of fellow. Out of the ashes of the First World War, he envisioned a League of Nations, the first international organization of countries to be dedicated to maintaining peace. In late 1919, in order to gather support for his plan, and in ruinous health, he embarked on a whistle-stop, 29-city train trip from Ohio to Oregon, down to Southern California, and then back across the country through Utah, Colorado, and Kansas, where his deteriorating physical condition forced him to end the crusade. A few months later, the Senate rejected his plan for the treaty. His efforts were for naught, but only temporarily. Twenty-five years later, his sweeping vision informed the creation of the United Nations. As Berg writes, “Presidents earn their places in history not simply through their vision and eloquence but, ultimately, through their actions.”