To me, a well-written and well-researched non-fiction book should be able to capture and hold the interest of the reader from the beginning. Some non-fiction books end up sounding like a list of facts or a boring pile of biographical information before the main objective of the book unfolds. Guest of Honor: Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and the White House Dinner That Shocked a Nation was a great read from the get go and I finished this one quickly and remained engaged the entire time.
It’s often hard to not skim in historical works, but Deborah Davis does a nice job of inserting details, history, letters and facts without making her book read like a textbook that you are required to read. The book is full of history that is probably not well-known even to history buffs and she does an excellent job of discussing prominent, although less famous, important people who were active at the same time as Roosevelt and Washington.
The book focuses on the lives of Theodore Roosevelt, TR in the book, and Booker T. Washington, from their births to their deaths and their fateful meeting and communications in between. TR and Washington came from two drastically different upbringings and social circumstances, one white, one black in a time where slavery may have been abolished, but racism was still very much alive. Davis parallels the lives, careers and rising success of each man in a conversational fashion. She includes humorous stories, letters written by the men and to them, shortcomings and intimate family stories. Neither figure is deemed to be more important than the other and the book moves very quickly.
While both TR and Washington are successful, Davis does include their downfalls, misfortunes and problems which make them both very real even though they are larger than life. When TR becomes President, he invites Washington to the White House for dinner with his family; the simple dinner quickly ignites a storm of backlash, racism and support. Neither man expected that a simple dinner could cause such an uproar and it is interesting to see how both men react.
While the dinner is the focus of the book, it does not overtake it and it was very interesting to read and learn all about these two important men in America’s history. Often we are just given a gloss over on these figures but Davis digs deeper and makes both TR and Washington very accessible. I also enjoyed reading about other historical figures in the book that I never knew about. Davis does a nice job of exploring and explaining a controversial dinner, the friendship of two powerful men and discussing the rampant racism in the early 1900’s. It’s great to see how far our country has come, even if we still do have a long way to go.
Lauren Cannavino is a graduate student, freelance writer, wine lover, and avid reader. Random musings can be found over at www.goldiesays.com.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Atria Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.