William Cooper's Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic
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William Cooper's Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic

3.98 of 5 stars 3.98  ·  rating details  ·  203 ratings  ·  19 reviews
An innovative work of biography, social history, and literary analysis, this Pulitzer Prize-winning book presents the story of two men, William Cooper and his son, the novelist James Fennimore Cooper, who embodied the contradictions that divided America in the early years of the Republic. Taylor shows how Americans resolved their revolution through the creation of new soci...more
Paperback, 576 pages
Published August 27th 1996 by Vintage (first published August 27th 1995)
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Pulitzer Winners: History
15th out of 87 books — 48 voters
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The Bancroft Prize
11th out of 66 books — 11 voters

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Kirsten Mortensen
What is interesting about this book is that while it is nominally a history, it is interlaced with a delicious helping of literary criticism.

The William Cooper of the title is the father of James Fenimore Cooper, and as Taylor shows, Cooper's novels were more than Revolutionary era romances. They also romanticized the Cooper family's personal history. "The Pioneers," in particular, functioned as a retelling of William's life story -- only with an ending more to James Fenimore's liking than what...more
Jeffrey David
Immeditaley, following the War for Independence and the Constitution, the U.S. was a very unstable place both politically and econmically. Anyone who thought that "free land" meant "freedom" was mistaken 9at leat that's what I got out of this book.) Taylor teaches at UC-Davis and I've caught many of his lectures. He is very wise to a forgotten p[eriod of AMerican history, the highly-contentions 1790 political battles. This book documents politics on the Amreican forntier in upstate New York, as...more
This is a really great work of history- very well crafted. Taylor blends literary analysis and social history and biography to examine in detail the changes that occurred in American society in the early republic period. William Cooper, a relatively uneducated wheelwright, took advantage of the changes brought by the Revolution to reinvent himself as a great proprietor/landholder. He tried his best to assume a new position among the genteel elite. He and the other elites believed that the Revolu...more
Essential for understanding James Fenimore Cooper's novel, The Pioneers (1823)--but more importantly, essential for understanding post-revolutionary America: the frontier tenacity of settlers; the self-making potential of the ambitious; the erratic speculation of land; the humbling of the Federalists and the subsequent empowering of the populists. Taylor takes us to the brink of a new industrial era and, on the way, shows how the wealthy, genteel patrician (the emblem of money and power in one s...more
May 27, 2008 Gwynneth rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: early American history buffs, real estate buffs, political history buffs.
It should come as no surprise that disreputable real estate deals and land brokers have not changed all that much since the 18th century. The fashions may be different, but the fast and loose rules are relatively the same.

Taylor documents the rise of William Cooper from poverty to genteel landlord and political office holder. This was accomplished by combining aspects of social climbing with sketchy land title grabs and political intrigue (aka special interest lobbying). If there is one point t...more
An impressive accomplishment. It's too heavy on blow-by-blow political history for my taste, but it certainly does what it tries to do historically. Yet I don't entirely buy into the personal story.

Alan Taylor describes how William Cooper (father of novelist James Fenimore Cooper) rose from poor wheelwright to New York land magnate after the Revolution thanks to a long series of fraudulent land deals; how he became an influential but awkward local community leader in the frontier town he built t...more
"William Cooper's Town" certainly deserved recognition with the 1996 Pulitzer Prize. It is an intriguing look at the development of a frontier community in the earliest days of the republic. The story of parvenu William Cooper's rise and eventual decline from political and social prominence in Upstate New York is well-told with keen insight into the fractiousness of early U.S. politics.

James Fenimore Cooper's first great success in the literary world was a fictionalized account of his father's...more
Josh Maddox
“By treating William Cooper’s career and his son’s most powerful novel as parts of a whole, William Cooper’s Town is a hybrid of three usually distinct genres: biography, social history, and literary analysis. First, it is a biography of Judge William Cooper…Second, this book is a social history-a community study of Cooperstown, New York…Third, I reassess the production and meanings of The Pioneers.”

As Alan Taylor explains in his introduction, William Cooper’s Town is a very atypical history b...more
Roy White
Taylor is an exemplary historian, combining human empathy with context and erudition. Here is a sort of review:
Margaret Sankey
Fantastic history of the two generation rise and fall of would-be patriarch William Cooper and his dubiously gained Otsego Patent in New York--rising from marginal society thanks to a Revolution he didn't participate in, land chicanery, maple sugar and land development schemes, self-education and a failed attempt to get big city elite to pay him deference, misjudged Federalist politics in 1800 and ultimately the squandering of potential by spoiled heirs raised in privilege and frontier luxury wh...more
Tom O'meara
Impressive research. Idea that Cooper was not murdered?
As history books (and I love history) go this one is pretty darn interesting. It's not as all-absorbing as some fiction work, but the people in the story come alive and Taylor does a great job of showing you their whole characters, flaws and all. For anyone who is from or has visited upstate New York, it's a fascinating read about the roots of this town and how different it was back then. Not the fastest or easiest of history books to read, but if you are in the mood for a longer, more challengi...more
Vam Norrison
I picked this up after reading Taylor's "American Colonies" and James Fenimore Cooper's "Pioneers" in school. The depth of Taylor's research and his ability to navigate between real events and their fictions make this book rewarding. This is a wonderful companion to "The Pioneers" and a great model for history research and writing.
Lauren Hopkins
Reads like a novel. I love the literary analysis when Taylor attempts to connect his biography of William Cooper to James Fenimore Cooper's novel, "The Pioneers." Very unique and very telling in terms of the relationship between this father and son. Also just a great historical analysis of early America.
I got to page 84 and decided it wasn't interesting enough to finish. It read more like a history book than a Pulitzer Prize winner. Maybe my expectations were too high and I expected something easier to read like Champlain's Dream.
Wisteria Leigh
2009-Winter,Pulitzer Prize,American history,late 1700s,Cooperstown,William Cooper,biographical,narrative,James Fenimore Cooper,The Pioneers,gentility
Only vaguely interesting as I had just moved to Cooperstown when I read it. All in all a very difficult book to get into though.
Martha Duke
Sep 09, 2010 Martha Duke is currently reading it
Shelves: ny-down
Bought this book because I thought I should. Tried to plod through it. Didn't get very far.
This was a fantastic read!
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Alan Shaw Taylor is a historian specializing in early American history. He is the author of a number of books about colonial America, the American Revolution, and the Early American Republic. He has won a Pulitzer Prize and the Bancroft Prize for his work.

Taylor graduated from Colby College, in Waterville, Maine, in 1977 and earned his Ph.D. from Brandeis University in 1986. Currently a professor...more
More about Alan Taylor...
American Colonies: The Settling of North America (The Penguin History of the United States, Volume1) The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832 The Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution Liberty Men and Great Proprietors (Institute of Early American History & Culture (Paperback))

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