Oxford publishing Carroll native’s major work on Wilson administration7/2/2014
The son and brother of two of the more consequential leaders in the history of Carroll, Iowa, who spent a half century in the upper echelon of American academia with a 30-year teaching tenure at Brown University, will publish a major book on one of the more influential, albeit behind-the-scenes, political leaders in the 20th century.
Charles Neu’s “Colonel House: A Biography of Woodrow Wilson’s Silent Partner,” a 704-page biography, is scheduled to be released in December or early January by Oxford University Press.
House, a member of a wealthy Texas family, wanted to be in politics but in the late 19th century he didn’t have a commanding physical presence, a necessary attribute for success in Lone Star State politics.
“So he chose to be the man behind the scenes, the kingmaker,” Neu said. “He had this fantasy of becoming a great man.”
House rose to become Woodrow Wilson’s key political adviser and played a central role in U.S. decisions around World War I.
The book, Neu said, has relevance for readers interested in American politics today.
“It will take them back into a different period of history,” Neu said in an interview in Carroll while visiting his brother, Art. “Reading this book will give them a better sense of how we got where we are.”
The book includes a testimonial from the celebrated American author Larry McMurtry, who penned, among other works, “Lonesome Dove.” Neu has known McMurtry since the 1960s when both taught at Rice University in Houston, Texas.
Neu, 78, a professor emeritus in history at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, grew up in Carroll, a son of Arthur N. Neu, Carroll’s longest-serving mayor with 26 years in that role at city hall.
Later, Charles would see his older brother, Art Neu, elected as state senator, lieutenant governor and finally mayor of Carroll.
Charles Neu graduated from Carroll High School in 1954 and then went on to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where he studied history and English literature. Neu earned a doctorate in American history from Harvard University.
After teaching at Rice, Neu moved back to the Ivy League with a position as a professor at Brown, where he taught for 33 years, serving as chairman of the history department for six years.
Still connected to Brown as a professor emeritus, Neu is living in Miami. He has worked on the House book on and off since the 1960s — taking breaks from the significant research to author more books.
Charles Neu’s other books include: “An Uncertain Friendship,” about Theodore Roosevelt and Japan; “Troubled Encounter,” an account of U.S.-Japanese relations; “The Wilson Era,” a book of essays on the era; a volume of essays on Vietnam; “America’s Lost War,” also on Vietnam; and a book on Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt.
With a brother and father having success in politics, Charles Neu acknowledges the door was wide open for him to come back to Carroll and run for office, to help shape history rather than write about it.
“I began to think about that more as Art’s own career evolved,” Neu said. “There are certain temptations to that. But you’ve got to have the right kind of temperament for it. The kind of temperament you need for that and the kind of temperament you need for scholarship are at opposite poles. You’ve got to want to spend a lot of time with people. Scholars spend little time with people. We spend most of our time by ourselves pursuing whatever vision we have.”
He added, “I might have been able to do it, but it would have been an enormous strain, and I’m not so sure it would have worked out very well.” CV
Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who writes for The Carroll Daily Times Herald and offers columns for Cityview.