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Originally published Saturday, February 25, 2012 at 5:00 AM

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Book review

'Taft 2012': for our times, a time-traveling presidential candidate

In "Taft 2012: A Novel," cultural journalist Jason Heller imagines what would happen if former President Taft, a progressive Republican, reappeared and ran for president in 2012.

Scripps Howard News Service

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'Taft 2012: A Novel'

by Jason Heller

Quirk Books, 256 pp., $14.95

William Howard Taft was a supersized man who many contend left a puny legacy, but the nation's 27th president changes the shape of things to come in the world imagined by Jason Heller in "Taft 2012: A Novel."

In this alternative history, the 2012 election isn't so much about President Obama, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney or Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. It's Taft who takes center stage.

He suddenly reappears on the White House lawn in 2011. Taft is muddy, dazed and unable to explain how he got there, but he's certain he is still a progressive Republican. Nobody else can explain his reappearance, either, but he checks out as the real deal. The Secret Service assigns him the code name "Big Boy," and, over the course of the novel, he rises to become a people's candidate.

No worries if Taft's swooping walrus mustache is the only thing that comes to mind about the U.S. president from 1909 to 1913. You don't have to be a political wonk or a history buff to enjoy this book. Heller fills in the blanks about Taft, overshadowed by colorful predecessor Teddy Roosevelt.

And it's fun to see the modern world through Taft's eyes. He experiences cellphones, the Internet, punk music, reformulated Thanksgiving turkey and merciless media hype. Heller has his version of Taft take on more serious subjects, too, like civil rights, the true nature of the modern food on our plates and campaign funding.

The novel is a fun read, and even the most casual of political observers will enjoy watching Taft's new political career play out.

But don't delve into it on an empty stomach. Taft doesn't go hungry no matter what century it is, and you'll be reading all about it.

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