Woodrow Wilson: A biographical book review essay

By Dr. Michael Popejoy

It may not seem too unusual that a historical figure on the level of Woodrow Wilson would have a plethora of biographies written on his life and career. However, it is a surprise that two major biographies would appear so close together. I would think that at least a decade would occur before a new biography would emerge on Wilson. Yet, the most recent biography published in 2013 follows very close to the earlier biography published in 2009. So, what are the differences in the biographies? What new information has emerged overall these years especially between 2009 and 2013?

I wanted to investigate at least one major issue that affected Wilson’s life and seems to have been left out of both historical and contemporary biographies, the details about his illness that clouded his final time in office. Was it a stroke? Was it something else? How long was he incapacitated?

Historians and biographers have not dared to grapple with something that I discovered in my training for public health. Indeed, public health authors have been slowly coming to the conclusion that Wilson contracted the same Spanish Flu (1918-1919) that killed an estimated 100 million people worldwide. In the literature, this same flu is beginning to be thought of as one of the major factors in ending World War I.

A great deal of new public health information about this massive pandemic is more prevalent than ever before. However, neither of the two most recent biographical scholars has mentioned it in their history of Wilson. Why not? Why would they disregard such important historical information even after it has been vetted so thoroughly and is such an important part of the history of public health?

It was reported in the historical literature that Wilson walked through one of the battlefields over which modern virologists would have considered still a hot zone of virus contagion for the Spanish Flu. He and others got sick soon after and reports were that he was sick the entire trip back to America from France. So, could it be that Woodrow Wilson was felled by this flu that killed so many others? The same flu that may have ended World War I since so many soldiers were ill or had died from the flu, making it too costly to continue?

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One thought on “Woodrow Wilson: A biographical book review essay

  1. This is an interesting article. Suggest consulting Gene Smith’s book, “When The Cheering Stopped: The Last Years of Woodrow Wilson” (1971) which covers his illnesses.

    Stephen R. Rolandi
    Larchmont, New York

    Like

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