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American Scoundrel: The Life of the Notorious Civil War General Dan Sickles

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  450 ratings  ·  59 reviews
Hero, adulterer, bon vivant, murderer and rogue, Dan Sickles led the kind of existence that was indeed stranger than fiction. Throughout his life he exhibited the kind of exuberant charm and lack of scruple that wins friends, seduces women, and gets people killed. In American Scoundrel Thomas Keneally, the acclaimed author of Schindlers List, creates a biography that is as ...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published May 13th 2003 by Anchor (first published April 25th 2002)
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Average rating 3.67  · 
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Tom
Mar 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american-history
In a previous life I used to teach college level American History. Often, when applying for new jobs, the interviewers would ask me who was my favorite American. I would reply, with as much a straight face as possible, that Dan Sickles (pre Civil War) and Warren G Harding (after CW) were my favorite Americans. We will not dwell on Warren(though a President who drank, played poker and chased women can not be all bad).

Here is Dan in all his glory. Shooting his wife's lover, and getting away with
...more
Josie
Sep 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The truth is often stranger than fiction, and the life of Dan Sickles is no exception to this rule. He is as interesting an American as you are likely to find. Diplomat, playboy, lousy husband, beloved general, congressman, leader, murderer, good old boy....all these things describe Sickles.
I became interested in him during a recent trip to Gettysburg. I picked up this book in the Visitor Center book store and I am glad I did. Interesting, easy to read, well written, this book is well worth
...more
J.S. Dunn
Sep 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fascinating nonfic portrait of an American raconteur who stumbled into a role as a Yankee general despite little or no military training. His relationship with his wife, and numerous other women, gets grimly detailed. Keneally's warm voice and grasp of both quotidian and large-scale history make this, as ever, enormously fine reading.
CJ
Apr 10, 2009 rated it liked it
This book is a fascinating look at a person who could either be considered a national hero or an irredeemable asshole.

This is the story of Dan Sickles, a native New Yorker who was brought up through the Tammany system. Although not well-remembered today, Sickles was a dynamic, popular, and very gossip-worthy figure of his time. His connections to Tammany Hall were definitely not entirely honest, but he often used them to accomplish good things, like the establishment of Central Park, and many
...more
Theo Logos
Dan Sickles, the notorious scoundrel of this book's title, appears to have gotten away with so many of his sins because he was colorful, resourceful, and charming. Unfortunately for the reader, the same cannot be said of Thomas Keneally's writing. Keneally tells us what a colorful character Sickles was, but never really shows us or makes us feel it. One is left with the thought that Sickles must have been a fascinating and complex man, and the hope that someone will someday write a decent ...more
Dergrossest
Dec 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
A surprisingly delightful book about pre-Civil War New York, the politics which led to the Civil War, the war itself and the aftermath of same, all told through the unbelievably colorful life and loves of Daniel Sickles. While undeniably self-aggrandizing, selfish, corrupt and of questionable personal ethics, he was nevertheless simultaneously brave, loyal, patriotic and extremely enterprising. An attorney, a Congressman, a serial adulterer, a murderer, a General and an Ambassador, Sickles' ...more
George
Feb 27, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Civil War, American political history
One of the great self-promoters in US history. There's very little likeable about this fellow but it's a very interesting book. Supposedly a hero of Gettysburg and winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, but he came very close to throwing away the battle and his award was approved well after the war by his many political allies. The temporary insanity plea was invented by the attorney for this man at his murder trial for his wife's lover, although he was himself a notorious philanderer. But ...more
Florence
Mar 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Dan Sickles, the Scoundrel of the title, was either an American Civil War Hero or an infamous criminal and insubordinate military commander. It's not easy to decide which. His modest fame has not survived the years. Early in Dan's life he was appointed to represent the United States at the court of St. James in London, serving with his friend, James Buchanan, who would later become fifteenth President of the United States. Leaving his teenage wife and infant daughter at home, he was accompanied ...more
Amber Ray
Aug 19, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2018
Not a quickly paced book, this book seemed to drag a bit. Oddly it rushed through the battlefield sequence at the round tops where he is accused of leaving the high ground in a foolish maneuver. I took a tour of Gettysburg before reading this in which our guide talked about Sickles and the bad maneuvers he made in that battle as well as apparent attempts he made later to improve his reputation at the cost of others'.
I felt direly sorry for his first wife and daughter, but their personalities
...more
Joan Michalcik Fox
Feb 26, 2020 rated it it was ok
It seemed that a lot more pages were devoted to the juicy Teresa-Key affair than Dans military and political efforts. Overall, this book just dragged for me, and I had to force myself to finish it. By todays standards, Sickles doesnt seem so bad (really, I know he was awful, but... ).I gave it two * instead of one out of respect for the author. ...more
Johnny
Jul 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A detailed look at the civilian, military and political life of a civil war general, Congressman, ladies man, diplomat. He is an oddly unknown Medal of Honor winner who serves at the highest levels in the US and socialized with presidents, queens and other notables.
Jamie Keltner
Aug 17, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2019
Dan Sickles seems like an interesting character. I liked the information but wasnt crazy about the way it was conveyed. Much of the time, I was lost in the detail. Additionally, many of the details didnt seem to make sense due in large part to the paragraph and sentence structures. ...more
Dennis Phillips
Sep 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: civil-war
I loved this book but please know that it does not focus on Gettysburg or the Civil War. The name says it all. The focus is on Sickles, the scoundrel, more specifically the axis that this very enjoyable and well written work revolves around is Sickles' murder trial before the war.
DD
Mar 09, 2019 rated it did not like it
Bored me, read about 40 pages. Not my thing.
Sarah
Jul 16, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: not-finished
Abandoned on page 7 of 356. Hated the writing style.
Greg Giles
Jan 05, 2020 rated it did not like it
How can a fascinating subject make for such a dreadful book? The writing here is breathless to the point of ADHD, and Keneally's envious admiration for Sickels is nauseating.
Bryan Alkire
Apr 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Interesting character if a bit light in detail
Francene Carroll
May 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
I got off to a shaky start with this book and almost didn't get back to it but I'm so glad I persevered. I admire the way Keneally traces the fascinating history of Dan Sickles while at the same time giving voice to his tragic wife Teresa who was despised and forgotten in her own time.

Sickles is a complex man with a seemingly boundless appetitie for both politics and women. His story is chequered and contains extreme highs and lows. I couldn't help admiring his energy while at the same time
...more
Philip
Sep 02, 2012 rated it liked it
The title of Thomas Keneallys American Scoundrel leaves little to the imagination. The only unknown is to whom the label might be attached. Before we begin the title tells us that the declared subject, one Daniel Sickles, is charged, sentenced and already committed. The fact that in reality he was charged but also acquitted leaves enough space of doubt to generate sufficient interest to prompt a reading.

Daniel Sickles, in short, was a cad and a bounder, but perhaps might not have appeared so by
...more
George Nap
Aug 17, 2014 rated it it was ok
Disappointing. I had expected a deeper examination of Sickles. I am sure he left letters, they all did, but rarely do we hear from Sickles himself. I felt I could have garnered the same knowledge by sifting through the newspapers of the time and reading the stories contained therein, which the author probably did.

What the author failed to do was bring Dan Sickles to life for me. I still do not know Dan Sickles after reading this book, only what people said about him. There are many times when
...more
Damon Lively
Scoundrel that pretty much hit the nail on the head. Sickles was all that and more. I knew some of his erratic behavior prior to reading this book but it really opens the door to his entire life (and not in an always positive manner). The book overview is focused on the act of murder predominately but the book allows us to see more about Sickles and his detachment as a father and husband, his chauvinistic and sexist conduct, and really how politics and name recognition influenced that time ...more
Elizabeth Desole
Jan 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Wow what a swine. The first man to get off a murder charge through "temporary insanity". Also a member of Tammany Hall. And a civil war general. So interesting to realize how rough things were still in Washington DC 150 years ago. This guys takes the cake though for a king amongst DC scum-and that's really saying something. What one can get away with when well-connected

So this was from before I finished the book. The man was a regular Zelig.
He was a Tammany hall politician, then a US congressman
...more
David
May 08, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: civil-war
I was really looking forward to reading this biography. Sickles has done so much that it should make for an interesting read. Sickles was a corrupt politician, a womanizer, a political appointed General who disobeyed orders and murderer who used the "temporary insanity" defense for the first time.

I was already predisposed to dislike Sickles for his many, many failings. But, this author's writing I really did not enjoy. After spending almost half of the book on Sickles' life before the Civil War
...more
Joshua Horn
This biography of Dan Sickles, general, politician and scoundrel, adapt paints a picture of the wickedness and corruption of a certain section of 19th century American society. However, the story is told in a bit of a salacious way, just like it was in the 1800s.

Some parts, especially at the beginning were not well written. The author's non-American heritage demonstrates itself in some awkward language - such as saying Sickles "stood for" instead of "running for" office.

In his handling of
...more
Debra
Nov 20, 2010 rated it liked it
I finished listening to this 11 disc unabridged reading of an American Scoundrel: Dan Sickles. The time period is 1858 through the civil war. Dan Sickles is a pampered, narsistic, upper class New Yorker. He thought nothing of bedding anything in skirts. His wife, 17 years younger, has an affair and Dan Sickles kills the adulter,is tried for murder, and is found not guilty. Women were property and his wife is disowned. Dan lives a long life considering the times. TB is common place and is known ...more
Matt
Aug 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
Scoundrel is the perfect word for Dan Sickles. The book shows how much of a scoundrel he was to his wife. The book seeemed to be about their marriage because after her death in 1867 it takes Keneally around forty pages to cover the final forty seven years of Sickles life. Sickles was a very interesting man and worthy of more study in some aspects the reader might gain respect for Sickles on one page and find themselves shaking their head on the next. Sickles was a complicated man worthy of study ...more
Jonathan
Oct 16, 2012 rated it liked it
Interesting bio on a Union civil war general I knew nothing about (I'm no civil war buff). Sickles led a very colorful life and knew a lot of the larger than life characters of his time. By the end of the book, i concluded i really didn't like the man nor find him particularly admirable. While that doesn't necessarily make a book unreadable or uninteresting (especially in this case), his lack of caring for women was a bit offputting. However, seeing Sickles' life intersect with so many momentous ...more
Sinead
Apr 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
After hearing about General Sickles during a trip to Gettysburg and Washington, DC I knew I had to read this book. Seeing where he murdered his wife's lover left me in awe. I found his story very intriguing.

The book itself took me a long time to read. I consider myself to be a very fast reader, but it was very wordy and long-winded. This isn't a bad thing, but just different from the books I typically read.

I am so fascinated by General Sickles and this book helped to satisfy my intrigue.
Lee
This book tells the story of Tammany Hall politician who murdered his wifes lover and was found innocent by reason of temporary insanity and then later was a controversial Civil War General and several other notorious events after the war including an affair with the deposed Queen of Spain. The book mainly deals with his wives affair and the murder trial but it does deal with his actions during the Civil War and his life after the war. Pretty good read. ...more
Les Wolf
Jul 13, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the story of one of the most controversial figures of the Civil War Era - General Dan Sickles.
Thomas Keneally is the author of The Great Shame and Schindler's List and is an excellent writer. I learned a few things that I did not know and those little surprises are what make for a really good history book.
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Thomas Michael Keneally, AO (born 7 October 1935) is an Australian novelist, playwright and author of non-fiction. He is best known for writing Schindler's Ark, the Booker Prize-winning novel of 1982, which was inspired by the efforts of Poldek Pfefferberg, a Holocaust survivor. The book would later be adapted to Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List (1993), which won the Academy Award for Best ...more

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