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Agent of Destiny: The Life and Times of General Winfield Scott Paperback – March 15, 1999

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

It's about time somebody wrote a biography of Winfield Scott, and reading this fascinating account by accomplished military historian John S. D. Eisenhower, you'll wonder why nobody did it sooner. Scott's career spanned an astonishing 54 years and he spent most of it as a general. He was one of the few American heroes to emerge from the War of 1812; he launched a daring and successful invasion of Mexico in 1847; and he defended a vulnerable Washington, D.C., during the first months of the Lincoln administration in 1861. Scott was a profoundly courageous man with a flair for the organizational side of military life. Yet an unseemly amount of ambition and vanity marred his character, even as these qualities help make him an interesting subject for Eisenhower (who is, you guessed it, the son of Ike). Agent of Destiny is a skilled portrait of a man who is often overshadowed by the generation of Civil War leaders following him. Eisenhower deserves our thanks for writing this magnificent book about a vital figure. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

A great but frequently overlooked figure in America during the early decades of the 19th century now gets his due. Military historian Eisenhower (son of the late president, and author of Intervention! The United States and the Mexican Revolution, 1993, etc.) describes a natural leader of imposing stature, overweening pride, exceptional courage, and wide learning, who possessed considerable organizational and diplomatic skills along with outstanding martial instincts. Descended from a Scottish warrior who followed ``Bonnie Prince Charlie'' and escaped from bloody Culloden Moor, Scott was educated at William and Mary College and trained as a lawyer. But he was a born soldier: He loved the glamour of the military life. He raised a ragtag national army to professional levels and boldly recruited social outcasts like Irish and German immigrants, offering advancement to ambitious ethnic men when other professions did not. As the nation's youngest general, Scott distinguished himself in the War of 1812, and he was a hero of the Mexican War in the 1840s. After a brilliant campaign fought entirely on foreign soil, he stormed and captured Mexico City despite considerable political maneuvering on the battlefield and the homefront by a variety of influential enemies. In peacetime, he served successfully as a diplomat to the Canadians, the British, the Seminoles, and the Cherokees. Eisenhower argues that the outspoken Scott's military exploits vastly overshadowed those of Zachary Taylor in the Mexican War--but Taylor, who became president in 1850, was an astute politician and Scott, who lost his bid for the presidency in 1852, was not. Scott served 15 presidents, from Jefferson to Andrew Johnson, retiring as general- in-chief. In an afflicted old age, he organized the defense of Washington and started to build the Union Army in 1861. While Eisenhower largely skirts Scott's personal life, he offers a vivid portrait of Scott's times and accomplishments, and of the violent young nation in which he came to prominence. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press; Second Edition edition (March 15, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0806131284
  • ISBN-13: 978-0806131283
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,652,382 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 3, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Outstanding biography about one of the most important figures in early U.S. military history by one of the finest military historians writing today. General Scott's engaging humanity in all its noblest -- and sometimes ignoble -- forms comes through very clearly in this much-needed biography. Author Eisenhower's wry comments, exemplary writing quality, and impeccable research make reading the story of Scott's life a pleasure from cover to cover. "So Far From God," Eisenhower's history of the Mexican War, 1846-48 (and Gen. Scott's triumphal campaign through Mexico), is currently out of print. This state of affairs should be instantly rectified, if for no other reason than to give this paramount moment in Winfield Scott's military career its proper place on the bookshelf next to John S.D. Eisenhower's wonderful biography of his life.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By R. A Forczyk VINE VOICE on March 11, 2001
Format: Paperback
This biography of General Winfield Scott is lacking from a number of perspectives. First, there is a total lack of military analysis - the author merely states what Scott did but never in much depth and without an assessment of his strategy or tactical abilities. We never learn how Scott evolved from a lawyer into a soldier - what was his military education, how did he evolve as a soldier over a 40 year career. How did he view new technologies like railroads and rifled artillery? Second, Scott appears as a cardboard character here with little or no personal depth. What were his views on subjects such as slavery, tariffs, the Indians? His family relations are virtually ignored - why did his wife spend so much time in Europe? Instead, the author spends far too much time on Scott's political ambitions and his intra-service rivalries and bickering. This is not what he is remembered for and should not be the primary focus for a military biography. Scott was probably one of the best generals the United States has ever produced, particularly in light of the superb Mexico City campaign, and his generalship should be center stage in a biography, not low-level barracks intrigue. Finally, the notion that Scott was the agent of manifest destiny is unsupported; he was a dutiful soldier, not an imperialist. Maps were inadequate to follow Scott's battles.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 23, 1998
Format: Hardcover
In a climate where even the most obscure historical characters have been chronicled many(sometimes too many) times, it's incredible that not more has been written about Winfield Scott. This man's career in uniform spanned over 50 years, it's the equivalent of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs today having entered the armed forces in World War II as a private. A lesson for all of us who tend to read mainly about the "big' events of our nation's history; there were so many smaller conflicts and events that eventually lead up to the Civil War, border conflicts with the Canadians and British,the Seminole Wars, etc., and Scott was there for all of it.<P>John Eisenhower doesn't quite have his son's flair for the written word, but he is a meticulous researcher, and the chapters flow seamlessly together. He has not just written a fine book on a facinating character, but has also written about an under reported, turbulent time in our nation's history.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Ronald K. Hinkle on August 10, 2003
Format: Paperback
Eisenhower's attempt at a biography of General Winfield Scott misses its mark somewhat. He provides the reader with an excellent insight to the political manueverings and sentiments of the era, but we miss the details of Scott's personality that led him to the decisions he made.
I also agree with one of the previous reviewers that the lack of discussion of Scott's tactics and the mindset behind these tactics was a great disappointment. I picked up this book thinking it would delve into Scott's masterful use of tactics and was left disappointed.
This book is a good read for an overall review of the antebellum era and the events that shaped the country prior to the Civil War, but it lacks the depth of inquiry I was hoping to find in regards to General Scott.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By sbruns on January 14, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Eisenhower has made an important contribution to American historical biography in this overdue story of the life of Winfield Scott. It was astounding to read about the wide range of events in which Scott played a major role from 1812 through the Civil War. Whatever the justification for the Mexican War, his campaign from Vera Cruz to Mexico City, after severing his lines of supply and communication and with a force the fraction of the size of the opposition, was one of the great feat of arms of any era. Eisenhower is succinct and exciting in his description of that campaign.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Aussie Reader on March 30, 1998
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I still haven't finished reading this page turning book. I have 2 chapters left and so far I have not been disappointed. Winfield Scott served his country well and I would hope that he has not been lost to history. This book brings to life this mans place in history. I enjoyed the chapters concerning his role in the American-Mexican War and I would like to read this authors book on that conflict, a shame it's no longer available. Buy this book and enjoy, recommended reading!
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By David K. Taggart on April 4, 2004
Format: Paperback
"Old Fuss and Feathers", Winfield Scott, is one of the most important soldiers in American history. He was breveted a Brigadier General during the War of 1812, his shadow passes across all of the American Army's actions during the first half of the 19th Century, and before retiring he came up with "The Anaconda Plan" as a strategy to win the Civil War.
But there is no decent biography of this great historic figure. And AGENT OF DESTINY falls far short of the mark.
Sure, it is meticulously researched. In fact, it is more researched than written. Eisenhower wrote SO FAR FROM GOD about the Mexican War; AGENT OF DESTINY seems to be an expansion of that research project.
The presentation is very episodic. They read like they were all written separately, and no real cohesive thread runs through the book.
There is just no real sense of proportion. A Scott court martial is covered in little more than a page, with the juicy details buried in footnotes, and then it goes on forever with the intriguing and fueding for positions.
And a critism that applies to much modern military history -- there are way too few maps.
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