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About The Book

Acclaimed historian Robert Merry resurrects the presidential reputation of William McKinley in a “measured, insightful biography that seeks to set the record straight…a deft character study of a president” (The New York Times Book Review) whose low place in the presidential rankings does not reflect the stamp he put on America’s future role in the world.

Republican President William McKinley transformed America during his two terms as president (1897 – 1901). Although he does not register large in either public memory or in historians’ rankings, in this revealing account, Robert W. Merry offers “a fresh twist on the old tale…a valuable education on where America has been and, possibly, where it is going” (The National Review).

McKinley settled decades of monetary controversy by taking the country to a strict gold standard; in the Spanish-American war he kicked Spain out of the Caribbean and liberated Cuba from Spain; in the Pacific he acquired Hawaii and the Philippines; he developed the doctrine of “fair trade”; forced the “Open Door” to China; forged our “special relationship” with Great Britain. He expanded executive power and managed public opinion through his quiet manipulation of the press. McKinley paved the way for the bold and flamboyant leadership of his famous successor, Teddy Roosevelt, who built on his accomplishments (and got credit for them).

Merry writes movingly about McKinley’s admirable personal life, from his simple Midwestern upbringing to his Civil War heroism to his brave comportment just moments before his death by assassination. “As this splendid revisionist narrative makes plain….The presidency is no job for a political amateur. Character counts, sometimes even more than charisma” (The Wall Street Journal). Lively, definitive, and eye-opening, President McKinley resurrects this overlooked president and places him squarely on the list of one of the most important.

About The Author

Photograph by Gregory Strom

Robert W. Merry is the author of five previous books, including President McKinley: Architect of the American Century and A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War and the Conquest of the American Continent. He spent a decade covering Washington for The Wall Street Journal and served as an executive at Congressional Quarterly Inc. for twenty-two years, including twelve years as CEO. He also is the former editor of The National Interest and The American Conservative. He lives with his wife, Susan, in Langley, Washington, and Washington, DC.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (November 7, 2017)
  • Length: 624 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781451625462

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Raves and Reviews

“As this splendid revisionist narrative makes plain, [McKinley’s] legacy includes three rules to guide his successors: Transformative leadership wears many faces. The presidency is no job for a political amateur. Character counts, sometimes even more than charisma.”

– The Wall Street Journal

“In his measured, insightful biography, Robert W. Merry seeks to set the record straight. . . . Merry is methodical and deliberate . . . Clear and thoroughgoing, Merry’s book is a deft character study of a president. It is also a brief for the slow-and-steady school of leadership, a subtle reminder that show boating moralizers can be balanced by grounded and wise souls.”

– The New York Times Book Review


– Christian Science Monitor

“One of the country’s most under-appreciated and unknown presidents finally gets his due in this lively, deeply researched and richly informed biography of the 25th occupant of the nation’s highest office, William McKinley. Merry has written a gem of a book that will gratify any political junkie or fan of presidential history.”

– Karl Rove, author of The Triumph of McKinley

“Merry reexamines McKinley and his legacy and puts a fresh twist on the old tale, one in which McKinley belongs far more to the modern American presidency than is generally known. . . . Merry offers a window on the past that also holds a reflection on the present. In it, readers will receive a valuable education on where America has been and, possibly, where it is going.”

– National Review

“A superb study of this neglected American statesman . . . Merry unites impressive archival research with astute judgments to offer a riveting portrait of McKinley. He covers a vast amount of territory, focusing on the link between McKinley’s rise and the formation of the modern Republican party.”

– The National Interest

“A fresh biography of the short-lived presidency of William McKinley (1843-1901), "an unlikely figure to be presiding over the transformation of America.". . . Merry makes a persuasive case that he was not just an amiable Ohio governor, protégé of Cleveland businessman Mark Hanna, but a canny, ambitious statesman.”

– Kirkus Reviews

“Merry’s clear and nimble writing keeps the story moving along to McKinley’s White House years and the Spanish-American War. . . . Merry convincingly portrays McKinley as a crucial actor in American imperialism.”

– Publishers Weekly

"Critics or admirers of McKinley’s presidency will agree it was a momentous one and that Merry’s is a fair-minded profile of its central actor."

– Booklist

“A sparkling new McKinley biography”

– Gloucester Times

“If you want to understand the United States’ standing in the world at the end of the nineteenth century, and the powerful nation that emerged from it, read this book. Robert Merry’s fast-paced and revealing biography makes it strikingly clear that McKinley’s legacy is as rich and fascinating as that of his irrepressible successor in the White House, Theodore Roosevelt.”

– Candice Millard, New York Times Bestselling author of Destiny of the Republic

“William McKinley built coalitions, cultivated compromise, and governed by consensus. It’s an eye-opening read, McKinley’s performance all the more striking in contrast with presidential politics today.”

– Charles Rappleye, author of Herbert Hoover in the White House

“Engrossing . . . a work of revision, a corrective, and on these terms, Merry is successful. This comprehensive treatment, focused most intensively on McKinley’s years in the White House, convincingly shows Hofstadter’s verdict to be false and in so doing, fills a gap in the literature on this undeservedly unheralded president.”

– City Journal

"A deserving reappraisal of a middling leader that will intrigue presidential history fans."

– Library Journal

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