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

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  425 Ratings  ·  45 Reviews
James K. Polk (The American Presidents Series)
Hardcover, 188 pages
Published January 4th 2004 by Times Books (first published February 1st 2003)
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Jennifer Nelson
May 10, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 19, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Doreen Petersen
Jun 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: presidents
Although I didn't really think much of Polk as a president this book was extremely well written and I would recommend it to all.
Debbie Jacob
Feb 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Once again an author in the American Presidents series manages to dig deep and find some semblance of character in a basically boring, mean-spirited person, who is arguably a successful president. He was on Hoover's short list because he set four clear goals and achieved them. The author's vivid descriptions and light writing style save this president from oblivion.
Susan Newark
May 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
One president who accomplished everything he promised to get done!
Robin Friedman
Nov 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
America's First Dark Horse President

The American Presidents series, edited by the late Arthur Schlesinger Jr. is performing an outstanding service in its short biographical volumes, written by scholars, about each of the Presidents of the United States. This volume of the series, by John Seigenthaler, the founding editorial director of USA today, is devoted to the 11th President, James K. Polk, (1795 -- 1849). Seigenthaler's book does not measure up to some others in the series due to its failur
Michael Walker
Oct 11, 2016 rated it liked it
Part of "The American Presidents Series" of short (156 pages!) biographies, this one by John Seigenthaler. Polk, who served as House Speaker before he became our 11th Commander-in-Chief (1845-1849), was the first dark-horse candidate to win the presidential nomination, by reason of a fortuitously-timed rise in public sentiment calling for Texas' entry into the Union, which he supported. Polk ran against Henry Clay; both were Southern plantation owners and slave-holders, and of course influenced ...more
Feb 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: all readers
Recommended to Brent by: this fine author
Shelves: war
This is a great little book in this great series. Siegenthaler has a real Tennessee connection to Polk, and is a friendly guide to this humorless, intentionally one-term president. Polk led the USA into Mexican War, a war for territory lasting two bloody years, a story told in brief here. Siegenthaler makes the fair comparison to both Vietnam and Iraq, while dwelling more on the rest of Polk's career than this capstone. Polk died immediately after leaving the presidency.
Polk was Andrew Jackson'
Zach Koenig
Feb 24, 2017 rated it it was ok
After reading the books in this series dealing with Presidents Van Buren and Tyler, I was really fired up to keep going onto James K. Polk. Unfortunately, much in the vein of the earlier books about Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, author John Siegenthaler fails to maintain that excitement.

The main problem is that the actual presidency of Polk is relegated to the "back forty" pages of the text. That should have been the real "meat" of the book, but instead it gets the short shrift in favor of
Steven Peterson
Aug 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 25, 2013 rated it did not like it
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
Sep 23, 2016 rated it liked it
Despite the short size, this general biography on James Polk, the 11th President of the United States is packed with a lot of information. The large amount of information does not bog down the pace of the work, which stays interesting from beginning to end.
The other John
Jan 08, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: borrowed, history
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
Jul 06, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
James K Polk is the most important President you don't care about. No Polk, no West Coast of the United States, simple as that. You may think we would have been better off without California, but you can't deny its importance. James K Polk also lowered tariffs, established a public treasury that lasted until World War I, and annexed Texas, all in one term since he vowed not to run for re-election. How come James K Polk isn't lauded as one of our most consequential chief executives? Because James ...more
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
Feb 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 08, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Ian Hastings
Feb 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
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.
Aug 30, 2014 rated it it was ok
The weakest of the bunch so far -- war could not break out fast enough for me. One will slog through a lot of banking and tariff talk before we take California. An interesting approach, though, is noting that Polk the President set 4 goals for his administration, and met all 4. They may, in retrospect, not be very popular goals, but it does spark some discussion about the definition of Successful Presidencies.
Feb 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
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!"

Feb 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-project
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.
May 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
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!
Drew Dickson
Jun 05, 2009 rated it did not like it
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.
Aug 14, 2007 rated it liked it
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.
Jul 20, 2012 rated it liked it
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.
May 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
I liked it, it was exactly the broad overview in a tight package that I was looking for. My issue was with the structure of the book, that stayed on one topic at the expense of jumping around in the timeline. I was left confused by the order in which everything was taking place.
Apr 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
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.
Jeremy Maddux
Nov 30, 2016 rated it it was ok
I'm sure there are books out there that succeed in making Polk's story an intriguing one, but this one was tedious. I really tried to like it. I'll chalk it up to being a member of a weaker generation that can't fully appreciate the sacrifices made in Polk's days.
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Goodreads Librari...: Merging author names: Seigenthaler 5 17 Mar 20, 2013 04:03PM  
  • John Tyler (The American Presidents, #10)
  • Andrew Jackson (The American Presidents, #7)
  • Martin Van Buren
  • James A. Garfield (The American Presidents, #20)
  • Chester Alan Arthur (The American Presidents, #21)
  • John Quincy Adams
  • James Buchanan (The American Presidents, #15)
  • Zachary Taylor
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  • Benjamin Harrison (The American Presidents, #23)
  • Grover Cleveland (The American Presidents, #22, #24)
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower (The American Presidents, #34)
  • Calvin Coolidge (The American Presidents, #30)
  • Warren G. Harding (The American Presidents, #29)
  • Herbert Hoover (The American Presidents, #31)
  • Woodrow Wilson (The American Presidents, #28)
  • Rutherford B. Hayes (The American Presidents, #19)
  • James Madison
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 about John Seigenthaler...

Other Books in the Series

The American Presidents (1 - 10 of 41 books)
  • George Washington
  • John Adams
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • James Madison
  • James Monroe
  • John Quincy Adams
  • Andrew Jackson (The American Presidents, #7)
  • Martin Van Buren
  • William Henry Harrison (The American Presidents, #9)
  • John Tyler (The American Presidents, #10)

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