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Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America
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Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America

3.74 of 5 stars 3.74  ·  rating details  ·  2,848 ratings  ·  139 reviews
In Polk, Walter R. Borneman gives us the first complete and authoritative biography of a president often overshadowed in image but seldom outdone in accomplishment. James K. Polk occupied the White House for only four years, from 1845 to 1849, but he plotted and attained a formidable agenda: He fought for and won tariff reductions, reestablished an independent Treasury, an ...more
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published April 8th 2008 by Random House (first published 2008)
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Jeremy Perron
As a presidential history buff, I often get asked who I thought was the greatest president, and not wanting to bring up the usual suspects (Washington, Lincoln, FDR, etc.) I would calmly say `James K. Polk.' There were two reasons for this, one, I wanted to say something that would shock them; and, two, he actually is one of the better presidents. He is the only president who accomplished all he set out to do*. The entire country would look rather different today if it were not for Polk.

Walter B
Book twenty-nine of my Presidential Challenge.

President Polk was an interesting guy. He promised to only serve one term and he was a man of his word. He increased the size of the country by a larger amount than any other President short of maybe Jefferson. He came into office with four clearly established goals:
1. Reestablish the Independent Treasury System.
2. Reduce tariffs.
3. Acquire some or all of the Oregon territory.
4. Acquire California and New Mexico from Mexico.

He accomplished all of the
Who likes James K. Polk? Apparently smart people do. Consistently scoring in the top ten of Schlesinger's Best Presidents List, our eleventh president, obscure to most people today and (purported) in his own time, is a monolith of achievement and decisiveness. To me, Polk was an unexpected gasp of good air between Jackson and Lincoln.

His election was said by the London Times to be "the triumph of every thing that is worst over every thing that is best in the United States." I don't agree, but es

“Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America” is the fifth of ten books by historian and lawyer (and mountaineer!) Walter Borneman. He is more frequently the author of books on 18th and 19th century US history, but has also written on mountain climbing in his home state of Colorado. Borneman’s most recent book is “The Admirals: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King – the Five-Star Admirals Who Won the War at Sea” published in 2012.

Remarkably, this 2
Nov 28, 2009 Grumpus rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Arminius
The best part of this book for me was the fact that I learned about many characters for whom many US places are named, such as Slidell, Benton,and many for whom counties are named in Tennessee where I once lived.

It was filled with interesting facts throughout that I will always remember because I know they'll end up on game show as a question I'll be asked for big bucks.

Things like Polk was the president who had the shortest life after the presidency (103 days), his wife was the longest widowed
Borneman’s portrait of Polk and summary of his motivations, vision, political support, and accomplishments forces on me a higher respect for the Polk presidency than I held heretofore – seeing him as part of the litany of leaders queuing between the massive forces that were Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln.
Borneman places Polk within the fascinating American political world peopled by the likes of Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster, John Quincy Ada
Bill Powers
An excellent history of our 11th and one of our most underrated Presidents of the United States, James K. Polk. He intentionally limited himself to one term when he ran in 1844 and set very specific goals that he wanted to achieve; 1) resolve the issue of Oregon with Great Britain; 2) acquire California; 3) reduce the tariff and; 4) establish an independent treasury. He achieved all four of his goals and successfully resolved the issue of Texas being admitted into the Union. Polk was the most as ...more
Andy Miller
Interesting read about a President who is not well known but is ranked suprisingly high on the lists of effective/good Presidents. Perhaps an example of author following his subject. Polk was a slave holder but also strong believer in the union. Polk's answer, as was Andrew Jacksons, was that slavery should not be discussed in political arena. The author here does occasionally discuss the issue of slavery, but not in any way that measures how significant the issue was at the time, of course disc ...more
While not as poetic as an Edmund Morris or as breathtakingly broad as a David McCullough, Borneman overall gave an excellent summation of an often skipped-over president. The first few chapters gave me doubts about the academic research put into the book, but by the time Polk was well into his terms in Congress, many more primary sources and contemporary historical factors began to be pulled in by Borneman. I am disappointed though that the author did not elucidate the personality of Polk or ela ...more
James Polk, I learned from Walter Borneman, set four objectives for his presidency and achieved all of them. Two of those objectives resulted in a 38% increase in US land mass, fulfilling the manifest destiny yearnings of his era. Polk ranks high among historians but is unknown among the general population. Andrew Jackson, his mentor, accomplished a lot less and lives on in the national consciousness and the $20 bill.

This book won't bring Polk's legacy forward, but for those who are interested i
My interest in Polk was piqued many years ago by seeing his signature on copies of Land Patents from the 1840’s conveying land in the county in which I reside. Briefly, a land patent is a muniment of title issued by the Federal Government of the United States for the sale of some portion of the public domain under, in this instance, an 1820 Act of Congress.

James K. Polk, served 7 terms in the House of Representatives, twice Speaker and once governor of Tennessee, the 11th President when the US
David Bird
It's appropriate that the leading blurb on the back of this volume comes from Jon Meacham, since this volume stands to his American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House much as its subject stood to Andrew Jackson. There is a similar worship of power, and admiration of its successful manipulation, with scant interest in whether the ends were worthy.

We learn very little of Polk the man, other than that he was a devoted husband, that he was consistently ambitious, and that he tended to micro-ma
John Frazier
It's difficult to understand why James Polk is as enigmatic as he is today, why most of us know so little about the United States' eleventh president. Given the years of the sole term he served, 1844-1848, and the contemporary issues, he warrants much more review and discussion.

A fellow Tennessean and protege of Andrew Jackson, Polk rode Old Hickory's coattails to considerable success as a congressman and governor before a confluence of unlikely events thrust him into a national spotlight he ha
There was a lot going on with Polk, and people should know more about him! This book helps. It's interesting and written in an easy style without being light fluff. Anyone jabbering about Mexican immigrants and illegal aliens in the Southwest United States would do well to take a look at what was up with that land a mere 150 years ago. The politics of Washington in this book? Nothing short of fascinating, as is the look at the next crop of up and coming presidents who all pop up.
Patrick King
Polk was the third US President in the Andrew Jackson dynasty but very much his own Presidency. This biography tells his story very well. While not a gripping biography of Chernow's Washington: A Life, it shed light on a period that can for those reliant on school history lessons be solely focused on the building towards a civil war.

This biography benefits from being able to take from a multitude of sources including Polk's personal diary (something that is lacking in his successor to the White
Pretty good read if you are A) a fan of presidential biographies; or B) a fan of this part of American history as much as I'm becoming. Particularly the 19th century from Andrew Jackson to Teddy Roosevelt. A monumental time in this country's history probably peaking in its greatness during the Civil War through the Industrial Revolution before the United States became a "world power" but was certainly concerned with goings-on outside its borders.

Polk's legacy is interesting. By no means was he
Pop presidential history that does exactly what it promises, just like Polk himself.

Like most presidential biographies, we spend the first hundred pages getting to the White House, the next two hundred in office, and the last fifty discussing legacy. For a change that format is completely appropriate to the subject. James K. Polk seems to have been born with the ambition to sit in the president's chair, and was the youngest man to that point to reach the office. Then he died in fewer than four m
John E
An excellent overview of the political life of Polk and the times from 1830 to 1850. The only real new point he makes is that he was not a political "dark horse" when he was nominated to be President in 1844, but was in reality a seasoned and ambitious politician. Good read.
Focusing as much on the political and military actions of others taken during James K. Polk's presidency (1845-1849) this book was full of great information. Polk was a protégée of Andrew Jackson, thus his Young Hickory nickname, and a Democratic party player who pledged to serve a single term and pretty much accomplished all his stated goals in office, the annexation of Texas, Oregon and California, reduction in the tariffs, and an independent federal treasury all took place during or just befo ...more
Collins Roth
Polk was for me extraordinary in how uninteresting he was a person. His strongest strength of character seems to have been dogged persistence. He seemed incapable of getting along with anyone, and inspired little or no allegiance a leader. As a result, the book is interesting not so much for the portrait of the man as the portrait of those around him and the times.

That being said, this is a fascinating book that chronicles a President who oversaw the emergence of the nation as a transcontinenta
I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I always had a negative impression of Polk because he was portrayed as the leader of "Manifest Destiny" and hell or high-water he was going to fight to take Texas and the west. Although he was a pupil of Andrew Jackson and did support the takeover of Texas and the California and Oregon territories my view of him as a person, leader, and President has changed. I never realized he was such a pragmatist or an effective political tactician. Polk in reality di ...more
Yes, during his presidency, James K. Polk trounced Mexico in the Mexican-American War, he formalized the annexation of Texas, and he acquired two additional and immense tracts of territory for the U.S. (California and New Mexico from Mexico, and Oregon, Washington, and Idaho from Britain). And, yes, Polk was one of the few leaders in history to hold so fast to his campaign promises, realizing his wildest expansionist dreams and enacting several important fiscal policy changes. But relatively lit ...more
This book was largely dull. While a good biography of a generally underrated president like James K. Polk would be a good idea, this one isn't it. This book is light on details, and as such, I never seemed to get a good grip on what kind of man Polk was. As the book seems to be more about how the country increased in size, that might have made for a better subject matter. Plus, after reading Jean Edward Smith's wonder Grant (which also offers an alternative to Borneman's analysis of Zachary Tayl ...more
Jeffrey Taylor
Solid work placing Polk in the context of American history and in the history of the Presidency.

I liked the organization of the book and the last chapter which considered Polk's place in American historiography as well.

I did find what appear to be two areas where improvement is needed. Polk either led the way or contributed to the abandonment of the 54 40 line for the northern boundary of Oregon. This abandonment may well have been seen as a breach of faith by northern Democrats and may have he
Excellent biography of an often overlooked President. Before I read this biography, all I knew about James K. Polk was the fact that he was President of the United States, and that he's buried on the grounds of the Tennessee Capital (since he was a Tennessean). Now that I've read this biography, I wonder why he has been so overshadowed. It was during his tenure in office that we obtained Texas, the Oregon Territory, and California. I also learned that he was hand-picked by his mentor Andrew Jack ...more
As I make my way through biographies of each American president (Polk is number eleven), I grow more and more wary of starting each book. They can be dreadfully dull, even if informative.

McCullough's "John Adams" was the main exception, of course, being interesting enough to the general populace of slobs like me to turn into a decent mini-series, but this book comes reasonably close to that success. It is not quite as fascinating a tale (Polk was neither a founding father, nor, despite her char
John Maniscalco
I really enjoyed this book. It was a quick read that gave a succinct background of the political debates of the time. The author does an excellent job of providing you with just enough information, he does not get bogged down in the weeds nor does he gloss over important points.

I left this book with a great respect for Polk and I find him to be one of our greatest presidents. He never waivered in his convictions and stayed true to his campaign promises, something I find to be endearing. Polk was
If you like American History, Politics and Geography this book is for you.

James K. Polk really changed America.

He acquired one third of what we now know as continental USA through war with Mexico and good ole money. I have always thought one of the indispensable qualities of a leader is vision. James Polk certainly had a vision of where he wanted to take the country.

The original ideas and push behind acquiring what was deemed part of our manifest destiny came from Andrew Jackson aka ‘Old Hickor
James Polk provides a look at one of the paradigm shifts to occur in United States history. The era of expansion that occurs under Polk coupled with the changing role of the government sets the stage for what would become known as manifest destiny and the prosperity of the Gilded Age. It also serves to lay the catalyst for the Civil War and the debate about an American Empire. The author sets his book along several lines and breaks them into sections accordingly. Probably the boldest claim of th ...more
I must confess that Polk was not someone that I remember learning about in school, but he came to my attention rather recently when doing some research on various First Ladies, and in particular, Sarah Polk. There is also a song my fiancé likes to sing about Polk which keeps him in my mind too, but more on that later this week. So as I endeavored to read about all the presidents, and I was organizing who I wanted to read about, I put Polk toward the top of my list.

I can’t even begin to explain h
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Walter R. Borneman, b.1952, an American historian and lawyer, is the author of well-known popular books on 18th and 19th century United States history. He received his B.A. in 1974 from Western State College of Colorado, and received an M.A. in history there in 1975 for a thesis on "Irwin : silver camp of the Ruby Mountains"; in 1981 he received a law degree from the University of Denver, and prac ...more
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“If the government was ever to be destroyed, Polk concluded, it would be by “the alluring and corrupting influence of executive patronage.” 0 likes
“The agitation of the slavery question is mischievous and wicked, and proceeds from no patriotic motive by its authors,” Polk wrote in late December 1848.” 0 likes
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