As the first major one-volume biography of William Jennings Bryan to appear since the years immediately following his death, BRYAN is a notable publishing event. Today Bryan is largely remembered as the youthful orator from Nebraska who stampeded the Democratic Presidential convention of 1896 with his Cross of Gold speech and as the old man who was humiliated by Clarence Darrow in the Scopes trial. Probably no political figure of comparable statue and influence has been so wretchedly neglected or so sketchily recalled. BRYAN is not a reevaluation; it is a monumental biography of a man whose towering importance has been wrongfully eroded by time.
The tragedy of Bryan's life is that he rose to prominence with ideas that were often decades ahead of realization and then saw his vilifiers gain glory by eventually adopting his programs. He was the first Presidential candidate of a major party to advocate such reforms as the breaking up of trusts, the direct election of United States Senators, the graduated income tax, the regulation of banks and railroads, and woman suffrage. For these proposals he was denounced from pulpits, attacked as a madman and anarchist by the establishment press and so feared by industry that many businesses threatened to close their doors if he acceded to the Presidency.