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Buchanan Dying : A Play Hardcover – July 1, 2000


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Stackpole Books; 1st Stackpole Books ed edition (July 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0811702383
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811702386
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,699,234 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Updike was born in 1932, in Shillington, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Harvard College in 1954, and spent a year in Oxford, England, at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art. From 1955 to 1957 he was a member of the staff of The New Yorker, and since 1957 lived in Massachusetts. He was the father of four children and the author of more than fifty books, including collections of short stories, poems, essays, and criticism. His novels won the Pulitzer Prize (twice), the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Rosenthal Award, and the Howells Medal. A previous collection of essays, Hugging the Shore, received the 1983 National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism. John Updike died on January 27, 2009, at the age of 76.

Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By James Yerkes on August 29, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This Stackpole Books edition is virtually a photocopy facsimile of the first Knopf edition in 1974, dust jacket and all. Updike's new Foreword recounts the two productions of the play, in abbreviated form, by Franklin and Marshall College (April 28-May 8, 1976) and San Diego State University (March 1977) and reminds us of the fact that "Leadership of any country but one in a comic operetta involves some decisions whose consequences are bloody" and that this book is his attempt was "to extend sympathy to politicians, as they make their way among imperfect alternatives toward a hidden future" (p. ix). Once again there, as in his memoir Self-Consciousness, he observes how for him this sympathy applied to Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War.
He also observes from this writing experience how "history" is constructed in the fragility of the writer's judgment in weighing and interrogating the disparate data forms from which descriptive writing emerges. A wise scholar named Van Harvey in his book, The Historian and the Believer, once observed that what we call "history" is a field-encompassing field and requires from the historian the skillful interpretation and weaving together of information from many disciplines--psychology, sociology, anthropology, economics, geography, religion, and politics, including some awareness of their important sub-disciplines. Such difficulties notwithstanding, Updike warns that "the effort to delve into history left me convinced of the unconscionable amount of bluff, fraud, and elision that any allegedly historical account, labeled fiction or not, entails." This is precisely the sort of wizened sensitivity which we have come to expect and appreciate in Updike's work.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Kevin M. Derby VINE VOICE on July 20, 2006
Format: Hardcover
For a major American writer to focus on a major American political figure is not unique. Gore Vidal offered us some interesting looks at Burr, Lincoln, Wilson, Harding and FDR in his various works of historical fiction. Caleb Carr presents a fun Teddy Roosevelt in "The Alienist". In "Buchanan Dying" and "Memoirs of the Ford Administration," John Updike offers an excellent portrait of the enigmatic James Buchanan whose administration presided over the shattering of the Union. While part of Updike's focus on an obscure president remains an homage to their native state of Pennsylvania, "Buchanan Dying" also retains an interesting, and important, political message.

Updike's historical research is solid. His excellent afterword goes through the Buchanan Papers that were edited by James R. Moore as well as the standard biographies and histories of the coming of the Civil War. From Kenneth Stampp to Avery Craven to Allan Nevins to Roy Franklin Nichols, Updike is familiar with the leading works of the impending crisis. This reflects well as he incorporates real figures and conversations along with fictional conversations.

The familiar pattern of events unfolds in Buchanan's mind. The death of Anne Coleman; the tense relationships with Jackson and Polk; Buchanan's ambitions and his tortured path to the presidency; the Dred Scott decision; the feud with Stephen Douglas over Lecompton; the secession of the South, all this plays out in the dying Buchanan's mind. Updike refers to this work as a "play meant to be read" and it probably would not be well adapted on the stage yet it is worth reading. While Buchanan remains a passive character (much like Rabbit?), Updike is fair to his historical memory.
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4 of 8 people found the following review helpful By J. Carroll VINE VOICE on June 21, 2006
Format: Hardcover
John Updike's one attempt at playwriting, BUCHANAN DYING is one of those mistakes that only a great writer can make. Looking at the rather poor legacy of Buchanan, Lincoln's ineffectual predecessor, Updike gives us a dying man, gazing back at his life and trying to find some comfort in his accomplishments, but instead he is haunted by his failures. Filled with historical figures that history itself has condemned to anonymity; Updike's play fails for the worst of all reasons; it's boring. Well-researched with an earnest attempt at finding an emotional center to one of history's ciphers, but still boring.Occasionally a scene grabs your interest, but they are few and far between. I can't even imagine sitting through a staging of this work without wanting to escape.
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