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Zachary Taylor: Soldier, Planter, Statesman of the Old Southwest

3.54  ·  Rating details ·  355 Ratings  ·  35 Reviews
Considering the course his life took, one might wonder how Zachary Taylor ever came to be elected the twelfth president of the United States. According to K. Jack Bauer, Taylor "was and remains an enigma." He was a southerner who espoused many antisouthern causes, an aristocrat with a strong feeling for the common man, an energetic yet cautious and conservative soldier. No ...more
Paperback, 376 pages
Published August 1st 1993 by Louisiana State University Press (first published December 1985)
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Mar 17, 2012 rated it it was ok
12th entry in my 'presidential project' and the first to kick my ass. made it about 100 pgs and declare myself... conquered. look: the raw material probably ain't as interesting as the 11 which preceded; however, bauer's writing certainly doesn't help matters. do we need to know the spatial dimensions of every house, fort, or garrison taylor inhabited? or does shit like that piled atop other shit like that just kinda obscure the view? for a bio of this nature, ya gotta streamline or possess a no ...more
While certainly an exacting biography, this book has the unwanted distinction of being a remarkably boring book. And this coming from a person who reads biographies for fun.

It is not entirely Bauer's fault that this book is so hard to slog through, although a good chunk of the blame does lie on his shoulders for his decision not to abridge some of the long years of Taylor doing basically nothing on the frontier. Taylor was a career soldier unlike any of the former presidents, and while rising t
Feb 17, 2017 rated it liked it
K. Jack Bauer makes a noble attempt to piece together the life of a man who has few records or artifacts to tell his story, as Zachary Taylor's largely were scattered or destroyed by Civil War poachers. Unfortunately, Bauer appears to show a dislike of his subject, questioning Taylor's credentials and accomplishments on nearly every page. Clearly Taylor rode into the White House on the coattails of fellow generals Washington, Jackson, and Harrison, but managed to accomplish good things during hi ...more
May 19, 2015 rated it did not like it
As I see it, a biographer of Zachary Taylor has two challenges: 1; the lack of primary sources. Unlike many presidents who kept detailed journals and papers that survive today, much of Taylor’s correspondence was destroyed in a fire. 2; convincing someone other than a dedicated academic historian to read the damned thing. I read this book as part of a quest to read a biography of each president in order, and although I learned a few things about this often forgotten president, for the most part ...more
Brent Ecenbarger
Oct 24, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: presidents, biography
Most of what I knew about Zachary Taylor prior to reading this book, I had learned from two separate sources. Most of my knowledge came from reading the James Polk biography by Robert Merry, “A Country of Vast Designs,” which detailed Taylor’s Mexican war exploits and his ascension to presidential candidate for the Whig party. The rest of my knowledge came from “John Tyler: Champion of the Old South,” by Oliver Chitwood. Chitwood’s novel didn’t talk about Taylor at all, but I used to get Taylor ...more
May 06, 2013 rated it liked it

“Zachary Taylor: Soldier, Planter, Statesman of the Old Southwest” is K. Jack Bauer’s 1985 biography of the twelfth U.S. president. Early in his career Bauer worked at the National Archives and later became a naval historian. He was also a history professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for more than two decades. Bauer died in 1987.

This book is widely regarded as the definitive biography of Taylor, and for good reason. Relying on a wide array of prim
Brian Beahan
Mar 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
This book felt and read like a dissertation. If that didn't sway you, good luck. This book makes up for the limited correspondence available for this former president with long exposés on the forts and various landscapes in which he was living. I you are into that then this book is most definitely for you.
Jul 30, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
I have mixed feelings about this book. The section on the Mexican-American War is very detailed, a day-by-day account of what Taylor was up to. Meanwhile, the section on Taylor's term as President is somewhat broad and vague. The author does not do enough to describe the importance of the issues of the day nor the other players in D.C. (Clay, Webster, Clayton, etc.) I've found other Presidential biographies have done a better job in this sort of setting of the stage.

The other sin of the author i
Patrick Johnston
Mar 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
I don't see what everybody's beef with this book was. Yes, Bauer had a, shall I say, limited, personality to work with (and also a short presidency). But he did some excellent research and gave a fair analysis of Taylor.

If you only want a history of when the subject was president, then don't read this. But if you're a lover of history, I think it gives a great analysis of our military from the time, as well as a good history of the wars against Indians and for Texas. I otherwise probably wouldn'
Jessica (booneybear)
Senator Thomas Hart Benton described Zachary Taylor as a "brave, skillful, and determined soldier" and troops under his command knicknamed him "Old Rough and Ready" because of his willingness to to share their privations in the field, however, Zachary Taylor never really achieved the major success that he strove for in his military career.

When his military career wasn't progressing as he planned he even took a break and became a farmer for a while. After farming for a while, he realized that he
Mar 17, 2012 rated it liked it
I wouldn't dispute this book's research, but as a read, it is really tough going. It goes at length into Zachary Taylor's many campaigns in the military, but lacks color and context and often reads like the meeting minutes of a small town zoning board.

I appreciated that author K. Jack Bauer did not seek to champion his subject, as do so many presidential biographers. For instance, Bauer's assessment of Taylor as he left the Mexican-American War in triumph:

"Taylor returned home a great hero. In t
Sep 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
In my reading program of gong through the presidents biographies in order, this is of course number 12. The general opinion of this book is three stars but I give it four for a couple reasons. First, the number of serious biographies of Taylor amount to about two, so I am not counting presidential series and juvenile biographies. This makes Bauer's effort really valuable as it fills a big lacune. And, since the author had so much less to work with it is a more difficult biography to write. And, ...more
Dan Dundon
Jul 18, 2016 rated it liked it
Plowing through the biographies of U.S. presidents has allowed me to view many different writing styles in my effort to get to know each of the presidents. However, Mr. Bauer's was strangely devoid of many personal touches of Zachary Taylor. Perhaps this was not his fault for apparently many of the president's papers were lost during the Civil War.
However, the most telling part of the book is the last paragraph:
"He was not a careful, logical thinker nor an emotional man whose actions could be fo
Peter Sprunger
May 25, 2010 rated it really liked it
It would be hard to write an interesting book about Zachary Taylor. He was a military man with relatively little military action in his long career. His Presidency was cut short by an untimely death. For those reasons, Bauer's endeavor to write and engaging book was an uphill battle to begin with. However, Bauer keeps this book interesting by providing necessary details without going into too much minutia nor making it a chronology. It would have been nice to hear some more about the close of t ...more
This was a terrible attempt at scholarship. The book is poorly written and gives an overview with no specifics except for military encounters. This author should have focused his efforts on a military account of Taylor's life because after reading I feel I know nothing about the man. Admittedly there are severe source deficiencies when dealing with this subject but a much wider study could have been undertaken. Sadly there is not much written on Taylor and this does a poor job of adding to the s ...more
Jul 03, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This is a good, solid telling of the story of the life of Zachary Taylor, 12th president of the United States. The story itself is less than riveting, Taylor being a fairly mediocre president and not all that exciting other than by virtue of being president, and Bauer's writing style isn't riventing enough to overcome that, but it's solid. If you want to read a history of Taylor, this is probably your best bet. If you want to read a riveting story, give this one a pass.
Feb 19, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
I wish I'd gone with The American Presidents series for Taylor, but I usually opt for something meatier when I can. This book focuses on the soldier part of his career without the interesting anecdotes associated with it. I felt like I was missing out on other aspects of his life and don't know if that's because many of his papers were lost in the Civil War or Bauer didn't care to write about them.
Jerry Landry
I've held off for a few days from writing this review. It's obvious that it was a well-researched book. However, it just didn't flow. Some chapters would be entertaining and informative, while others were very dry and a chore to get through. I think with more editing and revising, it could have been a really good biography, but as it stands, it had lots of information but wasn't that easy to read.
There's not a ton of scholarship on our twelfth president; he only served 16 months. The writer is clearly a military historian and much of the book focuses on Taylor's military career (more sizzle than steak) and not enough on the period 1849-1850 when two seminal events leading to the Cicil War took place - The Wilmot Proviso and the Compromise of 1850. Both deserved more ink in my opinion to understand Tavylor.
Tom Rowe
Sep 27, 2015 rated it liked it
This was an average presidential biography. It seems that Taylor's personal paper trail, if there was much of it, was destroyed during the War of the Rebellion. That said, you get a nice overview of his battles from 1812 to the Mexican war. I wish the maps were clearer and that the book contained more of them as well as some pictures. This is the ugliest book cover of any presidential book I've seen. Still, it's worth a read if you want to learn about Z. Taylor.
Ian Hastings
Feb 03, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
Thought the book spent way too much time talking about arcane battle strategy and not enough time on the person, especially during the Mexican-American War.

still amazes me how much more connected the leaders of the day were compared to now. Also interesting to see names like Jefferson Davis and US Grant start to pop up as smaller characters in these biographies.
Mark Hruska
Sep 01, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: us-presidents
While the information of his life is there, it was unfortunately poorly written. Granted his life was mostly uneventful. His presidency extremely short. So it doesn't leave a lot for an author to work with. However, at times it reads more like a text book rather than a biography. And the author had a negitive predisposed opinion of Taylor which came through loud and clear in his writing.
Anna Fennell
Jun 01, 2016 rated it it was ok
In my quest to read biographies on all the presidents, I encountered this one on Zachary Taylor. It was the recommended biography on him. It was dull and boring and that simply might be because he was dull and boring. He should have never been president but circumstances led him to hold the office.
Robert Jones
Oct 21, 2014 rated it it was ok
This was such a slow read. Bauer trots out fact after fact in what starts to feel like an aggressively boring fashion. It certainly doesn't help that Zachary Taylor himself was an incredibly mediocre man, but there's no excuse for me to be bored when I'm reading about the battles of the Mexican War.
Mike Fournier
Feb 18, 2016 rated it liked it
My mind is awash with names and dates. Much like "Old Rough and Ready" himself, this book was tough.

Moral of this story? Don't eat fruits and cheeses left out in the sun on a hot DC summer day whilst politicians ramble on.
Nov 04, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: owned
There could not have been a person less qualified or less deserving of the presidency. Bauer does his best, but Taylor is a dull subject, lacking any of the appealing or interesting qualities of a worthwhile biographical subject.
Mark Roth
Jun 19, 2009 rated it did not like it
Not very well-written - I had to force myself to finish it. Admittedly, Taylor is perhaps not the most interesting or well-known president, but the author could have done much more to bring the subject to life in an engaging way.
Mar 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Good biography, especially his time in the Mexican-American War.
Sep 23, 2007 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: History Buffs
This godawful bio sucked, but thankfully because Taylor died in office, I wasn't obligated to finish it.
I really want to give this one and a half...I feel sorry for the author, though. He clearly did a lot of research and KNOWS a lot, but it's just not compelling storytelling.
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