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Andrew Johnson: A Biography Paperback – December 17, 1997

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Known for his Carl Schurz: A Biography (LJ 2/15/82), Trefousse delivers the first Johnson study in years, a definitive assessment of his career and presidency. Johnson's papers and other sources reveal his fatal idealization of the agrarian utopia, his fierce advocacy of strict Constitutional constructionism, and his imprudent insistence upon the Republican party's adoption of his views on race. Trefousse demonstrates that Johnson, because of his upbringing, was out of step with the great changes emerging at the end of the Civil War. His stubborn attachment to his increasingly archaic views was responsible for his political and military success, but also for his impeachment. A brilliant, compassionate portrait of a dynamic era of social change and national healing, and of the tragic failure of an American leader. Not to be missed.
- Susan E. Parker, Harvard Law Sch. Lib.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


A readable new biography of the 17th president that fills in many of the hidden corners of his life story. . . . The story of the man and the times that led to his impeachment is told with great authority. (Herbert Mitgang - New York Times)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reissue edition (December 17, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393317420
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393317428
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.3 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #154,267 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 36 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 30, 1999
Format: Paperback
While the "personal" Johnson is given adequate attention, this book works so well because it concentrates on the political realm, a rarity in these days of social history and psychoanalytical treatises. Of course, the impeachment trial is of primary interest, but the focus on Johnson's overwhelming ambition was appreciated as well. Despite his stubborn attitude, inflexibility, and undeniable racism, Johnson was a committed Jacksonian and sought throughout his political life to promote policies friendly to his agrarian philosophy. Because his presidency represented a key transition in American history (a definite weakening of the Executive until TR as well as a regrettable loss of Reconstruction opportunities), Johnson is, with Polk, Lincoln, and Jackson, one of the key figures of the 19th century. Overall, a solid book worthy of a wide readership.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Sean Claycamp on October 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read this book in my ongoing project to read a biography of each President. The best part of this book in my opinion was the length. A lot of biographers lengthen their book to a point where it becomes too detailed and hard to read. That was not the case here.

Johnson was not a great president, nor was he a great person. And, other than the Civil War and Reconstruction he didn't have a key stake in American History. Why go overboard? And the author didn't.

I've read many very wonderful presidential biographies. Truman was fantastic and was 900 pages because it shouldn've been. The 3-part bio on Nixon was 1800 pages and should've been because a lot went on during Nixon's life in politics.

This bio, much like the Andrew Jackson bio I read, was between 300 and 400 pages.... detailed enough to tell the story but not detailed to the point where I got lost or just flat lost interest.

I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to read about Andrew Johnson but if you are looking to make a life out of studying the man it is probably not the book for you because it is not overly detailed.

It was exactly what I was looking for though, well-written, well-researched and gave me a good overview of a President that I have always wanted to know more about. He definitely was not of high moral character and definitely played to his southern base with his actions surrounding reconstruction. That said, I did find it interesting that he was demonized at times by both his colleagues and the press.

Sounds like aside from his thinking in regards to blacks and slavery he was a good and honest man that tried to do what was right most of the time. That was something the author did a very good job detailing and I appreciated it.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 9, 1999
Format: Paperback
Hans Louis Trefousse's biography of Andrew Johnson paints a balanced portrait of this unique political figure. After completing the work I walked away with a feeling that Trefousse was neither a cheerleader for the president nor out to condemn Andrew Johnson. The book gives good detail on his rise to power and his continual fight for the homestead act and against government intervention. It also shows that Johnson was far from a perfect figure and never could overcome his own prejudices against the former slaves. The book also has good detail on the impeachment of Andrew Johnson but does not make it the sole focus of the book. In general it is a good read, but at times becomes cumbersome in its detail. Overall, I would recommend the book to anyone looking for a more complete picture of the country's first impeached president.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Lehigh History Student VINE VOICE on August 26, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
For those looking for a thorough and fair book on Andrew Johnson this is the place to start. His tumultuous career from building himself from nothing to achieving the presidency proves to be a fascinating story. The look at rural Tennessee politics through the state machines of centered in Nashville provides a fascinating contradiction of times to today. Quick thinking and stump speaking were the tools of the politicians and Andrew Johnson proved to be a master.

Johnson may have been on of the most conservative presidents in our history favoring the reduction in government and keeping government out of all aspects of life and trade. His viewpoints provided a strong counter to the internal improvements crowd of the time and he went so far as to even oppose government funded roads. His strong sense of union left him in a position to be an obvious candidate for the vice presidency despite his previous breaking with party lines. As Lincolns vice president he would serve a function of representing the south's interest. Before his ascension to that position he had been the military governor of Tennessee and worked tirelessly to bring the state back into the union and ensure that it would be loyal afterwards despite accusations of his forming a dictatorship.

Johnson served as president between two strong factions that Lincoln had kept balanced out. Johnson did not have Lincoln's political savvy and it led to his impeachment but not conviction. While he was unable to run again for the presidency he was able to stay active in politics and served his party well. Andrew Johnson is a great political enigma and one that is often ignored. This is a highly recommended biography to learn more about a man who is not studied often.
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