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Re: Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency

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  • Ken S
    Sorry for taking so long to reply Travis. I thought Slavemaster President was a very interesting read, although I didn t think that the author fairly assessed
    Message 1 of 5 , Jul 16, 2008
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      Sorry for taking so long to reply Travis. I thought Slavemaster
      President was a very interesting read, although I didn't think that
      the author fairly assessed Polk's behaviour within the context of the
      times he lived in. I wrote a review of it in messages #26 and 29 in
      this group if you're interested in more detail. I also read Phil
      Klein's bio of James Buchanan. He's a fascinating historical study,
      it's difficult to assess whether he was an incompetent who accelerated
      civil war, an unfortunate who tried in vain to avoid it, or, as his
      worst critics accuse him of, an outright traitor to the union. I have
      another book by Buchanan entitled "Mr. Buchanan's Administration on
      the Eve of Rebellion" in which Buchanan himself attempts to explain
      what happened, but I haven't read it yet.

      I haven't read much about Madison, but after watching the HBO series
      on John Adams recently, the Presidents of that era have generated new
      interest for me. That's the nice thing about being a presidential
      history junkie, there's never a shortage of interesting books to read.


      --- In James_K_Polk_Appreciation@yahoogroups.com, "Travis Thompson"
      <travis62@...> wrote:
      > Ken:
      > Thanks again for your review/analysis of the Borneman Polk bio.
      I will
      > certainly offer my own thoughts once I have read it. Speaking of
      Polk bios
      > - and forgive me if I asked this question a year or more ago - but
      have you
      > also read the Seigenthaler bio on Polk and/or Dussenbere's "Slaveholder
      > President"? These two are the most recent Polk bios I have read.
      > I would really enjoy sharing more discussions regarding our
      > reading lists. I read the Nichols bio on Pierce and wholeheartedly
      > recommend it, provided you are willing to make allowances for Mr.
      > slightly wooden writing style!
      > By the way, what are your thoughts on two other James' - Messers.
      > Madison and Buchanan?
      > Regards,
      > Travis
      > _____
      > From: James_K_Polk_Appreciation@yahoogroups.com
      > [mailto:James_K_Polk_Appreciation@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of Ken S
      > Sent: Monday, June 16, 2008 9:18 PM
      > To: James_K_Polk_Appreciation@yahoogroups.com
      > Subject: [James_K_Polk_Appreciation] Re: Polk: The Man Who
      Transformed the
      > Presidency
      > Travis:
      > I got a chance to finish the book on the flight home from Toronto. It
      > was a tad slow in the middle, though to be fair, the acquisition of
      > Oregon can be a bit dry. I enjoyed Borneman's recounting of the
      > Mexican War, and especially gained an appreciation of the difficulty
      > of wartime communication at a time when the telegraph was new
      > technology. The description of the dysfunction in both parties in the
      > election of 1848 was also interesting as well as the dynamics of how
      > the third party affected the election. I found his description of the
      > Polk's trip home as informative, and his epilogue about Sarah Polk was
      > well written.
      > If I have one criticism of the book it would be that the author seemed
      > to lose objectivity about Polk as the book went on. While I accept
      > that Polk was, for the most part a very principled man, he was not
      > without his faults. Yet every time Polk was involved in some sort of
      > interpersonal conflict, the author seemed to minimize Polk's part and
      > seemed to magnify the wrongs of the other party. Having said that, it
      > probably a correct historical assessment that Gideon Pillow was
      > egotistical and lacked the capacity for honest self-appraisal (he
      > sounds a lot like George B. McClellan in this regard) and it may be
      > that John C. Fremont was a self-centered and pompous insubordinate.
      > But it would have been interesting if Borneman had given more of the
      > Tim Russert treatment to Polk, especially on the subject of the
      > Mexican War and his prosecution of it.
      > The author's description of Polk's relationship with his generals,
      > especially Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott, was fascinating reading.
      > The other thing about the book was that I felt that it never quite
      > captured the spirit of Polk's workaholism or his micro-managing even
      > though it made such an obvious contribution to Polk's poor health at
      > the end of his term.
      > On the whole I thought this was a terrific read, and I loved
      > Borneman's sense of objectivity, his economic use of his own opinion
      > and viewpoint, the quality of his research and his healthy skepticism
      > when it came to describing some of the more legendary aspects of
      > Polk's life. I'd rate it about an 8.5 out of 10 and would recommend it
      > to any one with an interest in US history.
      > It sounds like you're a prolific reader, and I'd love to hear your
      > impressions of this book when you get a chance to read it, as well as
      > about anything else you've been reading. I'm not sure what I'll tackle
      > next, right now it's between The Teapot Dome Scandal by Layton
      > McCartney, Brands' bio of Andrew Jackson (it's been sitting on my
      > bookshelf for a long time demanding attenion) or Roy Nichol's bio of
      > Franklin Pierce. There are also some more contemporary writings (not
      > the least of which is Scott McClellan's kiss-and-tell book) that are
      > attracting my attention.
      > I hope my impressions of the Polk book are of some help.
      > --- In James_K_Polk_
      > Appreciation@yahoogroups.com, "Travis Thompson"
      > <travis62@> wrote:
      > >
      > > Ken:
      > > Well you have really whet my appetite into tasting this book! I
      > ordered
      > > it as soon as it was released, and it is sitting on my bookshelf,
      > however, I
      > > have been so preoccupied (more specifically, absorbed) lately with
      > > Madison, that our estimbable Mr. Polk has taken a seat in the
      > bleachers of
      > > my study these days. Nonetheless, I am determined to begin the
      Polk bio
      > > before the end of June. Meanwhile, there is a new Tyler bio, as
      > well as 2
      > > fairly recent Pierce bios (after so many decades of silence) that are
      > > likewise beckoning.
      > > Please share more of your thoughts once you have finished this
      > book in
      > > its entirety.
      > > Regards,
      > > Travis
      > >
      > > _____
      > >
      > > From: James_K_Polk_
      > Appreciation@yahoogroups.com
      > > [mailto:James_K_Polk_
      > Appreciation@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of Ken S
      > > Sent: Wednesday, June 11, 2008 9:19 PM
      > > To: James_K_Polk_ <mailto:James_K_Polk_Appreciation%40yahoogroups.com>
      > Appreciation@yahoogroups.com
      > > Subject: [James_K_Polk_Appreciation] Polk: The Man Who Transformed the
      > > Presidency
      > >
      > >
      > >
      > > I finally got around to reading this book today (on a cross-Canada
      > > flight). I was able to read about 170 pages of it (it's about 365 or
      > > so pages, so I'm not quite halfway through yet). It's brilliantly
      > > written. It's the first Polk biography I've read that really gives
      > > me an understanding of what transpired in the major political
      > > fights of Polk's life. These include not only his congressional
      > > elections and the election for speaker of the house, but his three
      > > elections for Governor of Tennessee (one successful, two not). It
      > > also gives a very vivid picture of what transpired at the convention
      > > where Polk was hoping to be nominated for Vice-President and came
      > > out of it at the Presidential nominee. (It's almost like watching
      > > CNN coverage of it, but without the panels of talking heads.) It
      > > gives an especially good account of the election of 1844 and how
      > > Henry Clay blundered away what should have been a slam dunk election
      > > for him. (It reminded me of Hillary Clinton in some ways).
      > >
      > > The account of how he lost two elections for Governor to a skinny
      > > opponent (6'2" and 125 pounds) named James Chamberlain Jones
      > > (or "Lean Jimmy" as he was called) is especially delightful reading.
      > >
      > > The book also describes one of the best accounts I've ever read
      > > (make that THE best) of the relationship between Andrew Jackson and
      > > JKP, and also gives more insight into the kind of person that Sarah
      > > Polk must have been.
      > >
      > > The book just doesn't focus on Polk, it also gives insight into the
      > > background of the people in his life and times (such as Henry Clay,
      > > Cave Johnson, Aaron Brown, Sam Houston, Martin Van Buren, to name a
      > > few) and into the pertinent issues of his time (such as Texas,
      > > expansionism, slavery/abolition, the national bank, to list a few).
      > >
      > > So far my impressions of the book are that the author writes with
      > > clarity, his facts are well researched, and he keeps personal
      > > opinion or speculation down to a minimum. In short, this is one
      > > terrific read. I don't know why I waited so long to start this book,
      > > I'm absolutely smitten with it.
      > >
      > > I was wondering if any others have read it yet and if so, what your
      > > impressions were. If so, I'd love to hear from you.
      > >
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