James K. Polk (The American Presidents, #11)
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James K. Polk (The American Presidents #11)

3.55 of 5 stars 3.55  ·  rating details  ·  157 ratings  ·  27 reviews
The story of a pivotal president who watched over our westward expansion and solidified the dream of Jacksonian democracy

James K. Polk was a shrewd and decisive commander in chief, the youngest president elected to guide the still-young nation, who served as Speaker of the House and governor of Tennessee before taking office in 1845. Considered a natural successor to Andre...more
Hardcover, 208 pages
Published January 4th 2004 by Times Books (first published February 1st 2003)
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Jennifer Nelson
Although James Knox Polk led a rather uninteresting and uninspiring life, John Seigenthaler does an exceptional job making this biography a very interesting, compelling read. He presents a very balanced view of the politics of the time and gives James Polk gracious treatment as many historians have not. Mr. Seigenthaler packs in plenty of detail into this 150-page book yet does not depart from the big picture. His writing style is very readable and has a clarity that I especially enjoyed (he mad...more
Matt
While reading Blood and Thunder: A Tale of the American West last year, I learned a bit more about President James K. Polk, and always wanted to pick up a biography about him. This was exactly what I had in mind - not too dense and academic, just a nice overall look at his life and his service in government in 160 or so pages. The one criticism I might have is that the war against Mexico and the acquisition of California and New Mexico is covered a bit too quickly, thankfully I had the backgroun...more
Kim
The author left out a lot of salient details. For example, he notes the the "Corrupted Bargain" of 1824 shaped Polk's destiny, but the author never describes what the Corrupt Bargain was. The author also talks about how Polk's paternal side shaped his politics and created introductions in Polk's early career. But Mr. Seigenthaler did not bother to research the maternal side of Polk's history, other than to say that Polk's mother would have been thrilled that her husband would allowed her son to...more
Steven Peterson
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. is the overall editor of the "American Presidents" series. This features short biographies of American presidents, their backgrounds, their accomplishments (or lack thereof), and their post-presidency lives. The purpose of this series, in Schlesinger's words (Page xvi): "It is the aim of the American Presidents series to present the grand panorama of our chief executives in volumes compact enough for the busy reader, lucid enough for the students, authoritative enough for...more
Nathan
The dry harrumphing style of the book matches Polk's dry harrumphing personality. Siegenthaler handily hits all the high notes in this short little book, such as they are. Polk was no innovator, no pioneer, no revolutionary, yet he was effective. His strength, broadly, was his efficacy. He entered office with a clear agenda: lower tariffs and expand the territory of the United States. This concise book makes it clear that he was successful in both.

The politicking he gets tangled up in to get th...more
The other John
This book is part of a series, The American Presidents, that tries to connect the events of each presidents life and career with the events and culture around him. According to Mr. Seigenthaler, James Polk was one of our most effective presidents. In his single term of office (having chosen up front not to seek reelection) he managed to complete the annexation of Texas, acquire the California territory, establish a fixed border between Canada and the U.S. and create an independent treasury. Yet...more
Eliot
Very readable account of a consequential, virtually forgotten presidency. What I liked best were the details of Polk's dealings with James Buchanan. (Seigenthaler paints a clearer portrait of this future terrible president than I derived from the book on Buchanan in this series, as a matter of fact.) As for Polk, he emerges as an irascible and stubborn workaholic who managed to achieve the objectives he set for himself at the beginning of his presidency through a combination of relentless determ...more
Stacy
While not a loveable or charismatic president, James K. Polk shows a man of very strong character. It is fascinating to see someone who says they are only going to serve for four years and actually honors that sentiment. Even nicer to see someone set some specific goals, but not too many and actually work to achieve them. Once again, I am struck by the fact that history really does repeat itself. We might light to think we are living in special times, but we are not. The problems we have today a...more
Don
May 10, 2014 Don rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2014
Good compact biography of POTUS number 11. The author spends a lot of time on Polk's pre-presidency and does a good job recounting the rough and tumble o Tennessee politics of the era as well a explaining Old Hickory's apron strings
natalie
Feb 06, 2012 natalie rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to natalie by: History Teacher
I am surprised at myself. I had to read this book for a history term report. Usually, I loathe biographies. I don't know whether I enjoyed it more because I have aged and developed a liking for personal histories, but I do know that it was largely due to Seigenthaler's skill in crafting the language and in portraying Polk's life. Considering that it was an assignment-- and on history, no less-- it was a great book. Recommended to anyone, honestly, if you like history or have to do a report on a...more
TrumanCoyote
Unfortunately evincing the typical modern WienieWorld outlook a bit too often, which tended to get in the way of the text for me. At times it even got rather preposterous, as in this example: "Whatever Buchanan's sexual preference, times were no more sympathetic to homosexuality in the mid-nineteenth century than in today's world of homophobia." lol The book was alright though, as long as it didn't fall into the usual anachronistic trap that such right-thinking types all too frequently prove hei...more
Darren
Very nice overview of an oft forgotten president. I live close to where Polk grew up, and was first elected to public office, so it was especially interesting to read mentions of places I've been.

Here's an interesting aside. We toured the Polk ancestral home which is now a museum, and were very impressed by the beauty of Polk's wife. I've seen many 19th century portraits and I think this is the first that I actually said, "wow, she's hot!"

Ian Hastings
When you look at his accomplishments, he may have been one of our better/best presidents. He accomplished everything he set out to do at the beginning of his term.

I am still amazed at how these early presidents were all so connected to one another. Serving in previous administrations, being mentored as young politicians before becoming president. that seems to change not too long after Polk.
K.C.
Sep 23, 2007 K.C. rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: History Buffs
I knew nothing of Polk going in but found him very interesting. Young Hickory was one of the unsung great presidents. He had 4 objectives going into office which he promised would only be one term and he achieved them all in three years.

1. Reduce tariffs
2. Wrest Texas from Mexico
3. Wrest Oregon from Britian
4. Establish a Federal Reserve.

He was a bit of a cold fish, but impressive.
Phillip
I've always been interested in this president who set out out to do a few things in one term, accomplished them, and then promptly died. This is a bit of a Cliff Notes biography, and most of it is about his nomination and election, rather than his presidency. But, nevertheless, it was a mostly quick read and learned a great deal. A good book!
Janet
This biography made me want to read a longer one on Polk. Although I didn't always agree with his political beliefs, it was impressive that he did all he set out to do in his presidency. Maybe if I have time, I'll read another biography on him.

This is a good, quick read on a president who was important, but is often forgotten.
James
Good to read as a sequel to the Jackson book in this series. (Easy to skip Van Buren as he is well covered in both of these.) The Jackson bio did a great job analyzing the contradictions in his presidency from a contemporary perspective. The Polk is more of a straight-up history, but is almost a fun page-turner.
Drew Dickson
Probably the worst book on an interesting presidency I have every read. I don't even remember what about the book made it so boring. Maybe it was an entirely banal writing-style, maybe it was an unnecessarily academic approach to the subject. Whatever it was, I will never read another book from this series.
Jonathan
One of the better books of the President Series. Well researched and written. You could say the book did not focus on Polk's presidency. I would argue that his earlier elected positions provided tremendous insight into his decision making process as President.
David
A good book on a president who is largely unknown to most of us. This helped me link together several pieces of the history of Polk's era. A bit compressed, but Siegenthaler is a master journals
Mike Mccormick
This series of books about the presidency is great because you don't have to invest too much time on each president, but can get a good overview of their life and their presidency.
Don
This was only 150 pp, but helped close a gap in my historical understanding. He was determined. Grim. Successful at attaining his goals. Died at 53, 6 weeks after ending his presidency.
Avis Black
A good short biography. Polk was more important president than he's given credit for, considering he doubled the size of the United States.
Blake Maddux
A fine biographical sketch and succinct political history of the first half of the nineteenth century.
Monte Lamb
This is well written and gives a good description of Polk's life and how he affected our history.
Mary
Very brief and a quick read, but not very satisfying.
Bob Miller
Excellent review of Polk's life and presidency.
Linda
Linda marked it as to-read
Jul 15, 2014
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Goodreads Librari...: Merging author names: Seigenthaler 5 16 Mar 20, 2013 04:03PM  
John Seigenthaler’s journalistic and political legacy includes four decades as a reporter, editor and publisher at the Nashville Tennessean and a concurrent nine years as the founding editorial director of USA Today. Two times during his newspaper tenure, he took leaves of absence to serve as an aide to Robert F. Kennedy, who was his close friend.
Upon retiring from the two newspapers in 1991, Seig...more
More about John Seigenthaler...
The Year Of The Scandal Called Watergate A Search for Justice Set Free: A Story of Peace Found Through Forgiveness The Suspect: A Memoir Coup: The Day the Democrats Ousted Their Governor, Put Republican Lamar Alexander in Office Early, and Stopped a Pardon Scandal

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