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Martin Van Buren: The American Presidents Series: The 8th President, 1837-1841 Hardcover – December 9, 2004

ISBN-13: 978-0805069228 ISBN-10: 0805069224 Edition: 1st

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Martin Van Buren: The American Presidents Series: The 8th President, 1837-1841 + William Henry Harrison: The American Presidents Series: The 9th President,1841 + John Tyler (The American Presidents Series: The 10th President, 1841-1845)
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Product Details

  • Series: The American Presidents
  • Hardcover: 189 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books; 1st edition (December 9, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805069224
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805069228
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #102,687 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In the latest volume of Arthur Schlesinger's American Presidents series, Widmer (Young America) paints a brief but elegant portrait of our eighth president, who, Widmer says, created the modern political party system, for which he deserves our "grudging respect." Andrew Jackson's successor, Martin Van Buren (1782–1862) was also at various times Jackson's secretary of state, ambassador to the Court of St. James's and vice president. As Widmer relates, some newspapermen called the New York Democrat "the little magician" because of his diminutive frame and his deftness at political sleight of hand. Others—who criticized his response when the American economy ground to a halt shortly after his election in 1836—called him "Martin Van Ruin." Despite the collapse of financial markets in 1837, Van Buren held fast to his belief in the Jacksonian principles of limited federal government, states' rights and protection of the "people" from the "powerful." This led him to reject calls for a national bank and an independent treasury. Throughout his term, Van Buren effectively took no federal action to alleviate the economic crisis. Thus it was not surprising when, despite building the Democratic Party into a well-oiled machine, he went down to defeat after just one term, beaten by William Henry Harrison, the Virginian Whig of aristocratic background who posed as a simple rustic. All this Widmer relates powerfully, engagingly and efficiently.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Clinton administration speechwriter Widmer sparks his assessment of the eighth president with the contemporary allusions, color, and humor of a good speech. Van Buren had a tough, undistinguished single term (1837-41). The first great U.S. depression hit days after he succeeded his mentor, Andrew Jackson, and he declined to deal with slavery, which became an elephant-in-the-bedroom issue during his administration. His finest achievements preceded and followed his presidency. After John Quincy Adams' 1824 selection as president by the House of Representatives despite Jackson's winning a plurality of the vote, Van Buren, a consummate schmoozer and deal maker, built the Democratic Party, mollifying the slave-holding South to do so. In 1848, however, he led the antislavery Free Soil ticket, at the risk of destroying the party he had created. Further endearing him, Van Buren was the first rags-to-riches president and the first (of two; the other is Kennedy) lacking Anglo-Saxon forebears. Contra Widmer, however, he didn't enjoy the third-longest postpresidency, after Hoover and Carter, but the fifth, after Adams I and Ford, as well. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

The writing was not engaging and, in fact, often wordy and awkward.
Brit Suttell
If you are going to do it, read John Hancock first because he was the first Continental Congress President.
Frank Anderson
This book is a good read for the regular reader, one who does not normally read non-fiction or biographies.
B. Pfeil

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By C. Hutton on February 27, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Martin van Buren is one of those forgotten one term American Presidents, trapped between Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln. As the political boss of New York, he worked himself into the presidency with an impressive resume: secretary of state, ambassador to England, senator, vice president. Then his career came to a screeching halt.

As a conservative who believed in the supremacy of states' rights over federal intervention, President Van Buren played a minimum role in the depression of 1837 or the disputes over slavery. He was a politician who did not led and lost the 1840 election as a result.

This brief book (200+ pages) has the refreshing advantage of being written by a political operative (Mr. Widmer was a member of the Clinton Admnistration) who understands the practice of politics. It is well-written and to the point. However this is not the definitive biography of Martin Van Buren -- for that honor, the reader is directed to the 700+ pages biography by John Niven (1983).
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41 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Yankee Dame on November 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I've read probably more than my share of presidential biographies and this book is probably the worst (as in "unprofessionally written") bio I have ever come across. Period.

It's not the subject. It's Mr. Widmer's flippant, "terminally hip", straight-out-of-People-Magaine, style of writing.

What do I mean? Well, the first thing that struck me was that though the book is not very long -- which given the fairly obscure subject matter is understandable -- the rambling intro to this work IS long. We're talking someting like twenty+ pages!

I kept reading page after page after page of the intro and found myself wondering "Ok. So where's the actually book??" I mean, was the author getting paid by the word or something?

And the work itself...again, "flippant" is the work that pretty much sums it up. Ex-president Bill Clinton was mentioned more than once, as well as BC and his intern Monica L. were also mention (in a book about Martin Van Buren?), The sainted (to Mr. Widmer) FDR is also mentioned several times, likewise Hollywood's Steven Spielburg and TV-producer Aaron Spelling... yeah, I know. In about about Martin Van Buren?? But then, I just said these folks were mentioned in Mr. Widmer's book. I didn't say that had any thing to DO with the subject of the book.

In addition, there were terrible gaps/unresolved events in VB life that the writer skipped over. For example: The young VB, an up and coming legal eagle, goes to NYC and there hones his legal skills + moves in very lofty circles + became close friends of titans like Aaron Burr, etc., and then, we are told, that after 6 years of this that VB up and left NYC to become a law partner with this step-brother in some little town in upstate NY. The end. Huh??
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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful By J. Shick Jr. on November 18, 2005
Format: Hardcover
If you want a book about the highlights (and only the highlights) of Martin Van Buren's public service career then buy this book.

This book had alot of gaps in it. It kept saying that he was an up and coming star and that he was a political mastermind, but it never once said why he was a star and what manuevers he made to make him a mastermind.

I agree with the other reviewer about Bill Clinton. This was supposed to be a book about the 8th president not the 42nd. I found the constant refrences to Bill Clinton to be out of place. I guess that the author was drawing on his own experience with a president.

The only reason that I bought this book is that it is a short and concise biography of Van Buren. I am trying to read a biography of each of the presidents and did not want to spend alot of time reading a 500-600+ page book on one of the lesser known presidents. I think that the book could have been longer (say about 300 to 350 pages)in order to further detail the career of Van Buren.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Steven A. Peterson TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is one of the books in "The American Presidents" series, focusing on Martin Van Buren. The overall series editor, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., speaks of what is at stake with the presidency, in his series introduction (Page xv): "But a system based on the tripartite separation of powers [executive, legislative, and judiciary] has an inherent tendency toward inertia and stalemate. One of the three branches must take the initiative if the system is to move. The executive branch alone is structurally capable of taking that initiative."

In this book, we learn of the presidency of Martin Van Buren, sometimes called the Red Fox of Kinderhook, after his home town. He began in extremely modest circumstances to work his way up to the top position in American politics.

In the process, he masterminded some major political inventions, such as the party caucus, the national presidential nominating convention, the patronage system, a publicity network, and the Democratic Party itself. Obviously, he did not do these things alone, but he was a key figure in the development of a new political structure and framework, far different from that of the early years of the republic. Indeed, as the book points out, he helped p[popularize the term "OK."

The book describes his rise in politics and his clever political machinations. He hitched his wagon to the political star of Andrew Jackson, and that helped propel his rise. He was also a successful elected politicians, from his years in the New York state political scene. There, he helped form the "Albany Regency," one of the earliest stable political organizations.

He was a Democrat, and also favored a more democratic process.
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