Woodrow Wilson


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Princeton to the Presidency

W. Barksdale Maynard

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Before Woodrow Wilson became president of the United States, he spent 25 years at Princeton University, first as an undergraduate, then professor, and finally as president. His experiences at the helm of Princeton—where he enjoyed four productive years followed by four years of wrangling and intense acrimony—reveal much about the kind of man he was and how he earned a reputation as a fearless crusader. This engrossing book focuses on how Wilson’s Princeton years influenced the ideas and worldview he later applied in politics. His career in the White House, W. Barksdale Maynard shows, repeated with uncanny precision his Princeton experiences.


The book recounts how Wilson’s inspired period of building, expansion, and intellectual fervor at Princeton deteriorated into one of the most famous academic disputes in American history. His battle to abolish elitist eating clubs and establish a more egalitarian system culminated in his defeat and dismissal, and the ruthlessness of his tactics alienated even longtime friends. So extreme was his behavior, some historians have wondered whether he suffered a stroke. Maynard sheds new light on this question, on Wilson’s temper, and on other aspects of his strengths and shortcomings. The book provides an unprecedented inside view of a hard-fighting president—a man who tried first to remake a university and then to remake the world.

W. Barksdale Maynard is lecturer in the Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University. He lives in Wilmington, DE.

“Barksdale Maynard has done a masterful job of capturing an untold story of one of America’s most interesting, and perhaps, enigmatic, presidents. Woodrow Wilson’s formative years at Princeton University served as a training ground for his tumultuous years in the White House. Woodrow Wilson: Princeton to the Presidency is not only a superb piece of research, it will prove to be a page-turner for those who want greater insight to this complex man.”—James A. Baker, III, 61st U.S. Secretary of State

“Maynard provides us with a fascinating account of our 28th President’s life from his time as a student, through his tenure as Princeton University’s President, and up until the day he died. A superb biography.”—Former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley

“Woodrow Wilson's complex personality shaped his tumultuous tenure as president of Princeton, which propelled him into politics. The radiating consequences of America's only professor-president still shape American politics and policy. Hence the high value of Barksdale Maynard's mind-opening study of Wilson's formative experiences in academia.” — George F. Will

“This poignant biography of the man who coined the phrase ‘Princeton in the nation’s service’ shows how much Woodrow Wilson’s experiences at Princeton as a student, professor, and president foreshadowed and molded his tragic career as a national and world leader.”—James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom

“Maynard provides an absorbing account of crucial events in the life of an important American political leader. His book is a significant addition to the literature on Wilson.”—Lewis Gould, University of Texas

“A fast-paced, well-conceived, and well-written biographical treatment of Wilson.”—James Axtell, College of William and Mary

"Maynard describes Wilson's experience at the Ivy League school, as a student, as a faculty member and, finally, as its controversial president. After finishing the book, Wilson's role as president of the U.S. is much clearer to me than ever before. . . . This is a beautifully researched book."—Dave Woods, ABC Newspapers

"A most welcome addition to the literature. . . . [A] splendid narrative. Maynard says he wanted to tell 'the human story of Woodrow Wilson from freshman year until the day he died' and to show 'what Wilson was like as a man, what he believed in, and how others responded to his challenging ideas and prickly personality.' He has done all this, and done it wonderfully well."—History News Network (HNN)

"The recurring patterns of Wilson's complicated, driven life revealed themselves in his academic career as student, professor, and president of Princeton University. Maynard's portrayals and interpretations of Wilson, his nemesis Andrew West, turn-of-the-century student and faculty life, and the fights over the 'Quad Plan' and the Graduate School are exceptionally fine."—Luther Spoehr, The Providence Journal (A Favorite Book for 2008)

"A lively narrative.... For Wilson scholars, this book is worthy of their time and attention. It is very readable, and there are small gems galore to mine." —Brian J. Cook, Presidential Studies Quarterly

"Anyone who has attempted to comprehend Wilson's personality, ideology, and behavior will appreciate the importance of Maynard's contribution. . . . An essential book for all readers who seek to understand presidential character and its impact."--Lloyd Ambrosius, History: Reviews of New Books

"[Woodrow Wilson] is a fascinating exploration into the 28th president's complex, confounding personality and its consequences." —Sharon Hernes Silverman, The Hunt

"The book is enjoyable for its insights into the hidden realm of Wilson's personality, where flaws abound. . . . Maynard provides political scientists and historians with an excellent account of the Wilson years." —P. D. Travis, Choice

"A worthy contribution to Wilson's biography."--Robert C. Hilderbrand, Journal of American History

Winner of the 2009 Honor Book given by the New Jersey Council for the Humanities.

Winner of the 2009 Richard P. McCormick Prize, given by the New Jersey Historical Commission.
ISBN: 9780300204889
Publication Date: August 27, 2013
416 pages, 6 1/4 x 9 1/4
40 scattered b/w illus.