In the feast-or-famine way of presidential biographies, it was slim pickings for Taft. There's one book just about his 4 years as president, one about his emotional life (??), a few that are out of print, and a 1,000-page 2-volume biography that is regarded as mediocre. Its author was admittedly a big fan of TR and decided to research Taft because of their relationship, but ultimately didn't like him. And yet his is my best option, so I decided to read just the second volume of William Howard Taft by Henry Pringle.
It starts in 1910 when the mid-term Taft is in a tariff battle. As is well-documented on this page, I do not understand the tariff and every time it comes up I zone out, so this was not an auspicious beginning.
Here is what I know about Taft's life pre-1910 due to his apperances in the Roosevelt biography and a quick reading of his wikipedia page.
- He went to Yale, where he got the nickname "Big Bill," was a wrestler, and graduated 2nd in his class.
- He then returned to Ohio to start his law career in order to pursue his dream job of supreme court justice. (Ohio is to the turn of the 20th century what Virginia was to the turn of the 19th century as far as presidential politics go. Including Taft, 4 of the last 8 presidents — Hayes, Garfield, McKinley, Taft — were Buckeyes.)
- Benjamin Harrison made him Solicitor General, and then McKinley put him in charge of the newly-acquired Philippines.
- When Roosevelt took over, Big Bill was Governor-General of The Philippines. Roosevelt repeatedly offered him jobs in the federal government, including a supreme court seat a few times, but he refused because he wanted to finish the job he'd started there. I'm actually pretty sad that I don't get to read more about his time as Governor-General — apparently he was really good at it and had a great relationship with the Filipinos, who found him lovable if baffling walking around in the tropical heat in a 3-piece suit.
- Roosevelt eventually convinced him to come home and be Secretary of War, and was public about the fact that he thought Taft should succeed him as president.
- Roosevelt loved Taft. Taft loved Roosevelt. Know who didn't love Roosevelt? Helen Taft. Except Helen wanted to be first lady, and Roosevelt was going to make that happen. Taft would have preferred to wait for a supreme court seat. Helen and Roosevelt had other opinions.