Taliaferro, John. All the Great Prizes: The Life of John Hay, from Lincoln to Roosevelt. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2013.
I read this book for two reasons. First, I wanted to learn about American history from the end of Reconstruction to the beginning of the 20th century. Second, Henry Adams, grandson of John Quincy Adams and great grandson of John Adams was a close friend of John Hay and a major part of the story of this book. Having read biographies of the earlier Adamses, I was interested in reading more about the family.
The book was a success with regard to the first goal. John Hay was a significant figure throughout the last half of the nineteenth century, and a study of his life provides a good orientation to the political (and, in some cases, the cultural) issues of that era.
However, if David MacCullough’s biography of John Adams leaves a person inspired to develop a virtuous life, the lives of John Hay and Henry Adams are reminders that cultural sophistication and broad knowledge of the world is no substitute for true wisdom.