Review of All the Great Prizes by John Taliaferro

Hidden in history: The awesome NH man we know little about



He strode the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a political and cultural giant — he served as Abraham Lincoln’s private secretary and as secretary of state to William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. He was instrumental in many of their foreign policy successes, including the notable “Open Door Policy” with China. He helped build the fledgling Republican Party. He was at the bedside of both Lincoln and McKinley when they died of an assassin’s bullet. Lincoln was said to “cherish him like a son”; he was like a “second father” to Roosevelt.

And that’s just for starters. It takes author John Taliaferro more than 500 pages to outline all of John Hay’s accomplishments in “All the Great Prizes” [Simon & Schuster, $35].

So why do we know so little about him? That’s especially so for Granite Staters since he spent much of his time at his estate overlooking Lake Sunapee in Newbury. (You can visit the estate, called “The Fells” — the house and gardens are open for tours until October.)

The lack of Hay biographies (none, really, since 1933) was the impetus for Taliaferro to write his. And it is a finally-assembled mother lode of information about Hay and his 50 years in public life. (And his private life too — Taliaferro uncovered some sorta shocking details.)

It’s nicely written for the casual reader; no dense data here. Read, enjoy, learn.  

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