Short, adequate biography of possibly America's most obscure president: apart from the well-known "Tippecanoe & Tyler Too" slogan, and the fact thShort, adequate biography of possibly America's most obscure president: apart from the well-known "Tippecanoe & Tyler Too" slogan, and the fact that he was grandfather to another president, I knew basically nothing about him. But what there is to know isn't very interesting. The Battle of Tippecanoe was more of a skirmish, and it definitely wasn't a victory for the white Americans, led by Harrison--a surprise dawn attack by native Americans on a weary army led by Harrison, who had not bothered to post watchmen after camping the previous night. It was an odd historical accident that years later it became a famous battle. As for Harrison, the first whig elected president, there's very little of note. He served as governor of the Indiana territories, did a single term in the Ohio senate and half of a term in the US senate, all while accomplishing little except perhaps to see to the welfare of veterans. A moderate on slavery, and just about everything else, he seems to have gotten the nomination for president mainly because he had no strong opinions, and because he wasn't connected to the Jacksonian Democratic machine that dominated the past decade of national politics. The election of 1840 was certainly one of the most ridiculous in American history.
And then when he became president, he got sick and died just 31 days in office, leaving us Tyler, an anti-Jacksonian democrat that opposed just about everything the Whigs stood for. The reason Tyler was chosen as VP seems to have been because no other whig would accept the post--Vice President was a political dead-end that no one wanted to take on.
As a biography, it is barely adequate: it presents the facts of Harrison's life without any particularly deep analysis of his philosophy in context for the time. Harrison's short time in office gets about a chapter, with little discussion about the historical consequences of Tyler's presidency--I guess that's covered in the next book....more
This book is a fair amount of fun. I heard about it a few years ago, I think on the Volokh Conspiracy, where Wexler acted as guest-blogger for a week.This book is a fair amount of fun. I heard about it a few years ago, I think on the Volokh Conspiracy, where Wexler acted as guest-blogger for a week. It examines a number of the lesser known parts of the constitution, the "bat eared foxes" of the constitution rather than the lions or horses or whatnot: the recess appointments clause, the titles of nobility clause, weights and measurements clause, no quartering of troops in the 3rd amendment, etc. Generally Prof. Wexler covers the meaning in historical context, the times they've been brought up in court cases (even very frivolous cases), how legal scholars view it, and how it might be exploited in the future.
It's a light, quick read, and I'd probably have given it 3 stars, except for the fact that Wexler is very funny. He is unapologetically liberal, and often skewers social right-wingers, but always in a very hilarious manner. The sections on why assorted people from John Quincy Adams through a government committee in 1871 hate the metric system is especially recommend (reason: it's way too complicated, and please we have to think of the children!).
There were a couple clauses I hoped would be covered that weren't: the article V alternative method of amending the constitution by convention, or Article IV's section about Congress guaranteeing a republican form of government for the states, or how the states cannot make anything but gold or silver legal tender for payment of debts. Oh well. The book is short, but well-written. Oh and the bibliography has a lot of good suggestions for further reading on the topics covered....more
It's been a long time since I studied 19c European history in college, and I'm reading Sperber's biography to Marx. In preparation for that, I wantedIt's been a long time since I studied 19c European history in college, and I'm reading Sperber's biography to Marx. In preparation for that, I wanted a quick refresher course, and this slim volume was very rewarding for that purpose. It gives an excellent background several strands of Marx's thought: first, a superb introduction to Hegel in the historical context, together with the main successors to his thought, the Young Hegelians; second, it does a great job placing Marx's economic thought in context of earlier economists, and shows it was not particularly original; third, it presents the thesis that the overall thrust of Marx's life and work was directed at a particular conception of human freedom, of liberty from forces that alienate people from their true selves. The final chapter on the place of Marx and his writings in the past century and half of history is perhaps the best part of the book--politically, histeographically, economically. Despite the extreme brevity, everything is discussed according to the proper context.
This is probably the best of all the Very Short Introductions I've read. HIGHLY recommended....more
Following up after A Wicked War a couple weeks ago, I was interested in the Mexican side of the war, and this looked like the most promising availableFollowing up after A Wicked War a couple weeks ago, I was interested in the Mexican side of the war, and this looked like the most promising available (on Kindle at least). There's a lot of superb information, too: about two thirds of the book is a history of the decades before the war, and what a depressing history Mexico's early years were: a horribly bloody war of independence that dwarfs the US's in casualties, followed by decades where no president ever managed to complete his term in office; instead, coups and revolutions followed incessantly. Liberal, federalist governments quickly fall to conservative, absolutist, and back, or else to intemperate opportunist Santa Anna, who held office eleven separate times. It can sometimes be confusing which group is in power during key events, especially during the early 1830s crisis point with Texas, where power changed hands at last four times in a short period.
The actual events of the war and the political jockeying of diplomats and politicians during it, though, are dispensed in a mere handful of pages. Greenberg's account is much more comprehensive, and after her book, A Glorious Defeat felt wanting. I felt like giving it a mere 3 stars, but historical background from Mexico's view was really, really comprehensive despite the shortness of the book. It makes an excellent companion. The conclusion of long-term effects on Mexican post-war history was useful, though it also felt a bit brief. ...more
This extended version of a short book de Lint wrote a few years ago (sort extended--still a very short read) is very typical de Lint, and utterly charThis extended version of a short book de Lint wrote a few years ago (sort extended--still a very short read) is very typical de Lint, and utterly charming. The main theme is so recognizable--young girl caught up in the Other World, in a a revels type situation where the natural order is turned upside down, and the protagonist must figure out what is happened, enlist cooperation of spirits, and set things right while growing as a person--we've seen this dozens of time with de Lint and yet each time feels fresh and interesting.
The story and art work are delightful. Recommended....more
NEW BOOK BY PATRICIA BRIGGS! I had this pre-ordered for months.
Actually, it's not the best in the series--at its worst, it is a bit soap-opera-y, withNEW BOOK BY PATRICIA BRIGGS! I had this pre-ordered for months.
Actually, it's not the best in the series--at its worst, it is a bit soap-opera-y, with what is now a LARGE cast of werewolves and hangers-on, all doing their own thing which is either pleasantly familiar cause it's like revisiting old friends, or sometimes annoying in that you wish the story would move a little faster. One of the best things I liked about the otterkin book a couple years back was that it removed Adam and Mercy from their customary digs and gave the chance to introduce some new characters and a much different situation than normal.
Still, once it gets started, it gives a superb new-and-interesting monster-of-the-week story, and Mercy's and everyone else's actions are all smart and believable. And then, as is normal for Briggs, it is over WAY TOO QUICKLY.
I feel like I ought to give it 3 stars, but darned if I didn't read the thing in one sitting, and then feel an urge to go back and read everything else.
Oh, there were a couple references to things in the past that I couldn't remember. I was thinking perhaps I missed a whole book, but I see there's a book of short stories due out in a few months. I pre-ordered it and can't wait!
A short but terrific and engaging book book on America's war against Mexico. It's considered largely a forgotten war today, though we people in TexasA short but terrific and engaging book book on America's war against Mexico. It's considered largely a forgotten war today, though we people in Texas know of it because we all went through multiple classes of Texas history in school, and it was the war that gave us most of our southern and western territory. The history we learned when I was in school, though, was a white-washing of history, where Mexico belligerently provoked a war trying to get Texas back, or something, and slavery was hardly mentioned at all.
Even though I'd read other histories that portrayed the war in a worse light, this careful examination was tough for a patriotic Texas: an utterly unjust war, carefully provoked by President Polk, who lied to congress and the American public in order to gain as much land as possible, to the Pacific. The war itself was brutally prosecuted--the US military, still relying largely on volunteer militias that the generals could not effectively discipline or control, raped, robbed, murdered and pillaged with abandon. This is clearly revealed from archival sources and letters. It was even well-known at the time, from accounts by what were basically embedded reporters. Greenberg presents unearthed archival evidence from letters, contemporary newspaper accounts, and a number of other sources.
This book mainly tells the political history, through a series of careful portraits of the primary players, especially those of later importance, and a few minor figures. The battles are covered as needed, but not the focus, as it has been in many other histories. President Polk definitely does not come across well as either a man who could be trusted, or as one with the slightest ethical impediments, but he and his wife are surprisingly sympathetic as a couple of equal partners. Sarah Polk was modest in public but as ruthlessly ambitious as her husband. Lincoln's friend and first law partner (and enormously popular whig politician) John J. Hardin gets an in-depth treatment that he never has gotten before. It's suggested that his unfortunate death in battle may have cleared the way for Lincoln to later become Illinois's most prominent whig. The aging Henry Clay lost the 1844 election on a platform set against expansion and anexation of Texas. If he had won, the war would definitely have never happened. Even though he was ever a consumate politician, he took a brave stand against the war, publicly speaking of its injustice, which Lincoln heard on his way to serve his first term in Congress, and which profoundly influenced him.
Lincoln is given a cover treatment as one of the subjects of the book, but in reality he was a minor player with little influence. He opposed the war while running for office in 1846, but the war was essentially over by the time he actually entered Congress, a year and half later (the long delay between election and seating Congress wouldn't be fixed until 1933). Upon entering Congress, he gave a number of speeches denouncing Polk, the war, and the expansion of slavery, but they had virtually no impact except to make him unelectable in Illinois for the next decade. Illinois, as a Democrat-dominated western state, heavily and heartily supported the war. Most of the opposition came from New England Whigs, and Lincoln's home-state press denounced him as a virtual traitor. I had read of his opposition before, but the timetable of events of the war, Clay's speech, and Lincoln's entry in Congress put things in perspective.
It's not really until the last chapter that it becomes apparent why Lincoln was included. The author's thesis is this basically the starting event that made the Civil War almost inevitable. The careful sectional balance of power that had persisted for the past quarter century, after the Missouri compromise, was upset, and trying to deal with the vast new lands set up a torrent of consequences and conflicts, busting the traditional balance of power and eventually unleashing chaos. In other words, it was a major turning point for the country, one of the most major ones in the 19th century. It was also an important turning point for Lincoln. Whereas previously, he had been a conventional, conservative whig mostly interested in economic development of the US and tariff issues, after hearing Henry Clay's 1847 speech he began publicly speaking against national injustice and personal freedom. He didn't become an abolitionist (he never embraced abolition until the last couple years of his life), but for the first time gave up a mostly indifferent ambivalence towards slavery in favor of actively opposing its spread. (He maintained Clay's unrealistic hope that slaves could be sent back to Africa, where they could live freely and independently separate from whites, which he continued to believe were the superior race). Those were positions not popular in Illinois, democrat-controlled, and while not allowing slavery, still practiced a personal indenture of blacks that virtually slavery.
This is a very engaging, very well-written book. Recommended to anyone interested in mid-19c American politics. And it's gotten me more interested on the event. Next up: a book on the impact of the invasion of Mexico, from a Mexican perspective....more
This brief book gathers together almost all Lincoln's writings through his life, public and private, that relate specifically to slavery or race. ThatThis brief book gathers together almost all Lincoln's writings through his life, public and private, that relate specifically to slavery or race. That alone makes it valuable, though without Lincoln's complete writings available online, in modern edited form, not essential.
However, the introductory by Dr. Gates, is a superb essay on the subject of Lincoln and Slavery, and how contemporary and subsequent African-Americans have dealt with the subject of Lincoln and Race. It's given me a lengthy reading list to explore in the future, for instance.
There's one particular idea, one way of thinking about Lincoln, that struck me as new and important: Lincoln's own thinking on slavery and African-Americans cannot be handled under the single idea of race, which is how we modern Americans instinctively approach it.
Instead, there are three categories that existed in Lincoln's mind that were capable of being almost completely separate: the issues of slavery, colonization, and the welfare of blacks themselves. Thus Lincoln can be seen opposing slavery from the earliest time in his life, without any implication of racial equality--indeed, an explicit opposition of racial equality until the last years of his life. There could be the ridiculous, sometimes romantic notion, that Americans could pursue their historical destinies and blacks could manage their own without our interference, if only every African-American could be convinced to move to Liberia, or Haiti, or Panama and leave white America to themselves.
It's a very perceptive approach to reading Lincoln's own writings, which fill the rest of the book. On those, Gates lets Lincoln speak for himself, but the chapters give useful headings of the historical context, sometimes with particularly notable passages highlighted.
A useful book. Dr. Gates apparently also narrated a public TV series on Lincoln, which is where his idea for the book arose. I haven't had cable since the mid 90s, but am planning to to look this up on netflix or amazon prime in the future....more
This book is now the starting point for modern Lincoln scholarship. I'm still in the process of reading two other books that are direct responses to iThis book is now the starting point for modern Lincoln scholarship. I'm still in the process of reading two other books that are direct responses to it.
Grasping the picture of Lincoln as a whole from this biography is difficult. Donald wrote many books, monographs, and articles related to Lincoln over his life, but for this book, written late in his life and career, put aside reference to all historical works, in favor of an attempt at a fresh work direct from archival sources.
I'm on a mid-19c reading spree, and am going to put off a full review for now. I plan to go back and re-read this in the future, after I finish some more works. I'll just give some stray thoughts, which are not particularly original:
From Lincoln's earlier life, it's hard to grasp that he would one day become president. Though he maintained life-long ties to the Whig party, and was very much a party man with lots of connections to people in power, and while he maintained aspirations and ambitions, it was not the sort of drive or ambition that often leads to the pinnacle of power. His 1858 and 1860 opponent Douglas had more ambition, vastly more experience, and more connections, but is now only remembered in Lincoln's shadow.
That Lincoln, post-assassination, became the figurehead of the 19th century anti-slavery movement, is also not evident from his earlier life. He was certainly opposed to it all his life, but he avoided entanglement with the abolitionists for most of it as well. He could demagogue against blacks on occasion, and seemed to care very little for the welfare of blacks until the last year, perhaps 2 years, of his life. I think that's related to the third point below:
Lincoln's primary strength as a politician, administrator, and person, as well as his main weakness, were his personal and professional friendships, the connections forged through his party, his legal profession, and extensive exchanges by letters throughout the country. He was generally superb at judging other men, putting them in places of power while president, and leaving them alone to do their work. Thus, incredible expansion of the treasury under Lincoln, with the bureaucracy put in place to handle the new Revenue Service and the nation's first income tax, was almost entirely the work of Chase. Stanton, possibly the most tirelessly working cabinet secretary in US history, managed the switch from a militia-based army to a national army, together with a national conscription effort and a tremendous marshalling of resources. Seward, the ultimate political insider, kept delicate international relations from blowing up. On numerous issues and aspects of the war, Lincoln himself seemed very passive, even disinterested.
Lincoln's intense personal loyalty forbade him from turning out a friend because political winds blew the wrong way--he was behind them for right or wrong, steadfastly. It also meant he left patently incompetent men in place, especially in the military, with McClellan and others, even when they failed repeatedly. That he eventually found just the right generals was simply extremely lucky for the country.
And, on emancipation, on the rights of blacks: one gets the feeling that, apart from stopping slavery, such things mattered little to him for most of his life, perhaps simply because he never had personal connections with them. Illinois was negrophobic in extreme, and Lincoln's opinions before 1862-3 were the default white man's. By getting to know Frederick Douglass personally, by correspondence and 3 visits to the White House, perhaps he finally came around to seeing blacks as potential equals. Then, of course, there was the final decision to allow blacks to serve in the army, where they made some of the best troops of the country. Though, a month before he died, Lincoln was still only talking of giving suffrage to "very intelligent negroes."
But there, as through his life, he showed a tremendous capacity for self-growth, and a willingness to rethink his previous positions.
Anyway, those are thoughts on Lincoln as Donald presents him. I want to reread it before I write a review of Donald's actual book. ...more
This is a superb short little book on the relationships of the press (and assorted writers and diarists) to Lincoln. Though the references at the endThis is a superb short little book on the relationships of the press (and assorted writers and diarists) to Lincoln. Though the references at the end reveal most of the quotations come from secondary sources and not archival research, it is still quite comprehensive and wind-ranging within the scope of the thesis. It also functions quite well as a work of popular history.
The book begins with a very nice succinct summary of the political situation of the US at the point in 1860, with background info (chapters 2-5). It can be skipped by those familiar with it, though I recommend at least the chapters on party and political patronage. From there it progresses chronologically, starting with the campaign and election of Lincoln, introducing key historical players alongside a generally lively recitation of events as they occurred. This is followed by quotes from a wide-range of newspaper sources from around the country. Most papers of the day were very associated with particular parties and the party point of view, and Mr. Tagg supplies helpfully supplies the political biases the first time they're mentioned in a chapter, except for the ones that are so important they appear every chapter (Horace Greeley's Tribune for instance). Quotes from letter-writers and diarists are also frequently mentioned. Polish exile Adam Gurowksi is one of the most interesting of the latter, with repeatedly insightful comments--so much so that I'm planning to follow up with reading his dairies at some point.
Of course, from the title, it's clear that most of writers are extremely critical, from all sides of the political spectrum. Lincoln's inherit moderation and his tendency to keep his long-term plans close to his chest (and his homeliness) were not aspects that endeared him to either crowds or journalists. And the long war, where the Union armies suffered setback after setback, left many putting all the blame on Lincoln, again and again. Only at the tail end are there really positive statements (though Tagg does give us what southern papers wrote as well, and of course, until occupation, they were particularly unrelentingly vitriolic).
The book ends just after Lincoln's assassination. One gets a glimpse of the sudden reversal of all public criticism, into effusive praise--the process where Lincoln was transformed into a near-mythological man, a virtual American Christ. I would have appreciated some additional chapters on the opinions in decades after, and the historiography of Lincoln over the next century and half, but that would have deviated from the essential scope: the opinion of Lincoln during his presidency....more
Not the most convincing of characters: Ismae, an unwanted child whose mother tried to abort her and ended up killing herself, grows to a teenager undeNot the most convincing of characters: Ismae, an unwanted child whose mother tried to abort her and ended up killing herself, grows to a teenager under the abuse of her turnip-farming father. And then she gets smuggled away to a monastery where it turns out that children whose mothers die in childbirth get adopted by an ancient God of Death (now nominally a saint in the Catholic Church). She has the special ability to heal rapidly, as well as immunity to all poisons. So, after a couple years of training, she's sent out as an assassin for her convent, and then then quickly gets tugged into cutthroat courtly politics of late 15c Brittany.
And she convincingly plays her part as a minor noble, despite getting no education at all the first fourteen years of her life. At one point, her character refers very early on to nobles talking to each other "like characters playing in a masque". Where would her character have learned what a masque is?
One other unbelievable note: apparently in 15c France, people carry crossbows that are always drawn, so all you have to do is "slap a quarrel" in (quarrels are always slapped in, never simply placed in), and fire. And they're semi-automatic. At no point in this book, or in the sequel, does anyone ever crank or pull bowstring back into place. They simply slap another quarrel in and fire.
Anyway, there's a love angle that's completely obvious where the story is going 15 pages in... when she's forced to accompany a young handsome nobleman even though they both despise each other. There are some amusing lines now and then, usually in reference to assassination and death. A quick read, moderately enjoyable.
Really more of a 3 1/2 star book: a somewhat disconnected look at the State Department's role in "rebuilding" Iraq in 2007-2010, when our government pReally more of a 3 1/2 star book: a somewhat disconnected look at the State Department's role in "rebuilding" Iraq in 2007-2010, when our government poured billions and billions into ill-thought out programs and mostly put utter incompetents in charge of carrying them out. Many parts are laugh-out-loud funny (or, maybe not, depending on how you feel about your tax dollars utterly wasted). There's no real overarching theme or analysis except complete incompetence at the hands of our government. It's clear few if any nation building lessons were learned from Vietnam, even if we did learn combat lessons. Still, recommended as one of the first generation of books revealing what a debacle Iraq War II was....more
This post-young Repairman Jack, pre-The Tomb sets Jack's first months living in NYC. I read it eagerly, and found it a masterful piece of character buThis post-young Repairman Jack, pre-The Tomb sets Jack's first months living in NYC. I read it eagerly, and found it a masterful piece of character building, setting up, very convincingly, so many parts of Jack's later life and demeanor. Wilson is now a master of his trade, and the writing is very good.
However... nothing really happens, nothing gets resolved. I'm holding hope for the remaining books in the series, but I would recommend waiting until the whole series is out, and reading them in one go. This novel just doesn't stand up on its own....more
Loosely connected to Graceling, this introduces a new land in the same world where instead of talents, certain people (and animals) have the ability tLoosely connected to Graceling, this introduces a new land in the same world where instead of talents, certain people (and animals) have the ability to read thoughts and force their will onto others (predator animals use it to convince prey to come running to them). It's really a bit of two stories in one, with no resolution to the first (the connection to Graceling), and a long meandering finish. ...more
Three hours of my life wasted. I admit to playing and loving all the Halo games. This clumsily written, bland novel adds nothing to that. Master ChiefThree hours of my life wasted. I admit to playing and loving all the Halo games. This clumsily written, bland novel adds nothing to that. Master Chief remains as much a non-character with no personality as he ever had before....more