Guest of Honor: Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and the White House Dinner That Shocked a Nation by Deborah Davis
I must be drawn to this type of history writing - one event in an eventful life used to illustrate the character of those involved as well as the significance of that moment in time. Deborah Davis uses the White House dinner of Theodore Roosevelt and Booker T. Washington as the climax of her narrative. Although lost in history, this casual dinner in 1901 was so shocking to the South that it remained an issue for many years to come.
If she had only written of the dinner and its aftermath, Guest of Honor would have been a very interesting article for a history journal. Instead, Davis writes parallel biographies of the two great men, drawing similarities between the two. Although I thoroughly enjoyed reading about these two men, I felt that there was a bit too much effort made to parallel their lives. Losing a young first wife was not so rare in the late 19th century, nor has it ever been rare for a strong willed girl to become a trying adolescent. Coming back to these topics repeatedly, it seemed that Davis was implying a deeper connection between the men, one that was not supported in any way by the historical record.
However, the historical record itself is quite interesting, and Davis adeptly presented both men's views on the racial issues and tensions of their day. With Roosevelt, she looks at both his words and actions, the latter being far more revealing of his progressive and fair nature than the former. In writing of Booker T. Washington, she shows the philosophy behind his often-criticized efforts to teach former slaves self sufficiency and technical skills. Upon finishing Guest of Honor, I immediately added to my queue a biography of Booker T. Washington which Davis recommends.