Customer Reviews

43
3.7 out of 5 stars
Your rating(Clear)Rate this item


There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on April 27, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
The American Presidents series, conceived in part by the late Arthur Schlesinger, is a series (now mostly complete) of short biographies of the U.S. Presidents. Michael Holt has given us the latest in that series...a biography of our fourteenth president, Franklin Pierce.

Pierce's life and career seemed to have been beset by tragedy and ill fortune. Little known outside New England, Pierce, nonetheless, became the famous dark horse candidate in 1852, much like James K. Polk had been eight years earlier. Holt is particularly good at describing the politics of Pierce's ascendancy to the presidency (one of Pierce's few strokes of "luck") and he's equally good at setting up the president's downfall. Since there is little of an actual written nature of the Pierce years in the White House (he never wrote an autobiography) much has to be sewn together by others' accounts.

The author spends a fair amount of time on the Kansas-Nebraska Act... the downhill turning point of the Pierce presidency... but offers as much that while Pierce made major mistakes during his time in office it seems unlikely that any person who ran the country in the 1850s could have done much to calm the seething factions before the outbreak of the Civil War. I enjoyed Holt's offering up Pierce's feelings about future presidents. It seems he despised his successor, James Buchanan, and hadn't much use for Abraham Lincoln. Pierce was content when Andrew Johnson was acquitted during the latter's impeachment trial of 1868.

President Pierce's unhappy and unsuccessful administration might only have been matched by the unhappiness of his personal life....three children dying very young, a sickly wife and his own heavy drinking. One wonders what Franklin Pierce might have been remembered for had he remained in other branches of government or lived at another time. Michael Holt has written a good basic "introductory" biography to those who haven't known much about Franklin Pierce and I recommend it.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 16, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I have read a handful of the books from this American Presidents Series, and three of the four have been exactly what I was looking for -- a clear, concise biography that covers the major aspects of the subject's life, particularly his presidency. None is better than this one, though.

While I've read a fair amount about the antebellum period in general, I didn't know much about Franklin Pierce, other than that he signed into law the Kansas-Nebraska Act and that he's widely considered to be one of the worst presidents we've ever had. But I was interested to find out that along with his negative qualities -- a destructive loyalty to the Democratic Party being the most significant, according to Holt -- he was also a superb public speaker, a loyal and extremely well-liked individual, and a prominent and influential Democrat in one of the rare northern states that consistently voted Democrat.

This book provides a broad overview of Pierce's early life and career, three strong chapters on his presidency, and a wrap-up chapter on his retirement, which, to my surprise, included several attempts by some Democrats to convince him to run for president again, even though he was very unpopular at the close of his term and wasn't even renominated by his party. When I was done reading, I retained my disapproval of Pierce's endorsement of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and his unwillingness to take a stand against slavery or the South's determination to compile slave states. However, I felt that Pierce was a likable person; he made some costly miscalculations, but he was inherently a decent and honest man.

If there is a criticism of this book -- and the fact that it's too short is an unfair criticism since that's what was intended -- it's that Holt spends large chunks providing historical context in place of more details about Pierce himself, but I'd quickly counter that the context was necessary, in such a turbulent time, to explain what Pierce was dealing with. This book is a great addition to the series.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This is one more addition to the series of brief presidential biographies, "The American Presidents." Original series editor, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. said of the purpose of this series (Page xviii): "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 student, authoritative enough for the scholar." These are ambitious standards, but these books, overall, do pretty well in meeting them. As does the work on Franklin Pierce.

This is a solid biography of Franklin Pierce, often rated as in the bottom tier of American presidents. The book does a nice job of describing Pierce's ascent to political power, from his base in New Hampshire. His father had been a political figure and James followed in his footsteps.

He became president because of a deadlock in the 1852 convention. He emerged as an acceptable candidate to other factions and won. However, his presidency was not successful. In his zeal to hold the fractious Democratic Party together, he ended up presiding over a slow disintegration as the country moved toward the 1856 election. He was denied renomination and led his life out fairly quietly.

A good, solid, brief biography for those who don't want to delve deeply into the subject matter. That brevity is both a strength and a weakness, since various themes cannot be fully developed.
22 commentsWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 30, 2011
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Franklin Pierce, the 14th President of the United States, is certainly is one of the most obscure presidents in American history and considered rather inconsequential to historians.

This book is a rather brief overview of Pierce's life and times he dealt with. We start out with his younger life growing up in New Hampshire and studying law. He finds an interest in politics and gets elected to the New Hampshire State legislature. After serving there, he is elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and then goes to the U.S. Senate. After Democrats ended up as a minority in the Senate, Pierce resigned. During his period away from politics, he enlisted in the Army and served an almost comical stint during the Mexican-American War. He returned to the U.S. after the war ended without serving with much distinction.

When the Democrats looked for a candidate for the 1852 presidential election, they eventually turned to Pierce with his charming and kind personality. He won losing only four states. Tragedy would strike Pierce when he and his wife watched their only surviving son killed in a train accident months before being sworn-in.

The book looks at major events of the Pierce Administration. One of his successes was the Gadsden Purchase from Mexico, giving the contiguous United States its current borders. But Pierce is more often noted for his failures. He seemed more interested in avoiding a split in the Democratic Party, although he ending up fumbling on patronage assignments. And then there was his most famous blunder, the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Pierce took the wrong side in the violence in Kansas that occurred at the time. The book attempts to explain why Pierce went along with such a flawed piece of legislation. By the end of his presidency, Northern Democrats no longer wanted him. He would not even be nominated for a second term, instead being replaced by James Buchanan.

Pierce did some traveling after leaving office and eventually returned to New Hampshire. He became a heavy drinker which no doubt contributed to his death.

The book does a decent job describing Pierce's life and presidency. It is really brief, though. Considering the length of the book, I was disappointed with how often the author goes delving into detail about events not directly related to Pierce. Yes, Pierce is hardly the most interesting president, but I still do not see why there seems to be padding in a book so short.

In conclusion, this book is an okay look at the 14th president, even though this is not a very exhaustive biography.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 12, 2012
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Franklin Pierce is another President that I really knew very little about. After reading this biography, I know a little more about him, but not a lot. I recognize and understand that Pierce accomplished very little in his time as President. However, I felt like there was too much gloss on his presidency given in this book. I felt there could have been more emphasis placed on those four years, as opposed to just what was going on, generally. I would have liked more insight into Pierce, personally.

It was a good book. A little short, and a good read for those wanting to learn more about the American Presidents.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 1, 2014
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I read all the Biographies of the Presidents by way of the Presidential series. If you are going to do it, read John Hancock first because he was the first Continental Congress President. You will find as you read these how the lives of each President intertwined with the next. The job is a lineage.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Michael Holt's biography on Franklin Pierce is a solid work that reveal the obstacles Pierce faced as a president and a man. Holt covers some of the painful trials Pierce faced in his personal life, such as the death of a child in a tragic train accident. His wife Jane was devastated by the deaths of her children. She was a recluse who suffered from mental illness. Her sad condition was another burden that Pierce patiently bore.

Holt focuses on the fact that Pierce was a compromise candidate for the presidency. He was a handsome and likeable man, but he was not a real innovator who generated solutions to pressing national problems. Holt is correct that the Kansas-Nebraska Act was a complete disaster as it made the Compromise of 1850 obsolete. Popular Sovereignty was never a workable solution to the slavery question. The legislation led to the "Bleeding Kansas" debacle and made the Civil War inevitable.

Pierce had an ordinary political mind and he did not come up with many original ideas. He was part of the string of mediocrity where the only exceptional presidents between 1848 and 1876 were Polk and Lincoln. The other presidents were fatally flawed because they lacked the ingenuity to solve pressing problems of the day. Overall, this is a good book by Holt. It does not cover much in terms of new ground. However, it is a solid and well-researched biography.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 18, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Well writen. Provides insight on the period leading up to the Civil War. Franklin Pierce was viewed by historians as one of our worst Presidents. Had the south won historians may have viewed him differently.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 4, 2014
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I have always wanted to know more about the several pre-Civil War Presidents who are generally regarded as failures. Mr. Holt has a theory as to why Pierce, who won election in an absolute landslide despite his "dark horse" status, is ranked among the worst, and much of this book is a brief for his conclusions. It is well-argued, but in order to fully understand it one must know a great deal about the tumultuous and fractious state of political parties during the time. Explaining this does not leave a whole lot of room for other details about Pierce's life and career, which were interesting in their own right. In fairness to the author, it is my understanding that Pierce didn't leave a lot of written records of his life.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 17, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Holt's biography of Franklin Pierce is not only well written but makes his subject and the times come alive. Pierce, a tragic soul, reached the prime of his political stature at the very nexus of change: the rise and demise of the No Nothings; the demise of the Whigs; the split of the Democratic Party between the North and the South; and the rise of the Republican Party. Furthermore, he played a mojor role at a time when forces had built to tear the country apart. Reading this book, short by today's standard biography, will inform not only about an under appreciated president but cast light on the troublesome question as to whether the Civil War was inevitable or could have been avoided.
R. Ernest
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
     
 
Customers who viewed this also viewed

Millard Fillmore: Biography of a President
Millard Fillmore: Biography of a President by Robert J. Rayback (Hardcover - April 1, 1992)
$32.50

President James Buchanan: A Biography
President James Buchanan: A Biography by Philip S. Klein (Hardcover - May 1, 1995)
$35.00
 
     

Send us feedback

How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you?
Let us know here.

Your Recently Viewed Items and Featured Recommendations 
 

After viewing product detail pages, look here to find an easy way to navigate back to pages you are interested in.