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

3.8 out of 5 stars 60 customer reviews

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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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Product Details

  • Series: The American Presidents
  • Hardcover: 189 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books; 1st edition (January 5, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805069224
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805069228
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #268,780 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful book about a relatively obscure and forgotten President. Martin Van Buren fulfilled a lifelong dream when he became President. However, he instantly inherited a massive economic crises which destroyed his administration as well as his presidential reputation. However, as this fascinating book points out, Van Buren's legacy is largely focused on the work he accomplished before he became President. His creation of the party system and the structure of political parties are his lasting contributions that are still being felt today. The author covers every essential aspect of this forgotten American with candor, balance, insight and thoughtful speculation. He engrosses the reader with tight, straightforward prose. This book goes a long way to restoring Van Buren to his rightful place in American History.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
For fun I have been reading biographies starting with Washington. There are not a lot of books on Van Buren. This is the first one of the American Presidents Series I have tried. It is a quick read for a one term president. It did satisfiy my purposes but I was put off by the continual references and comparisons to modern presidents. By this, I mean it was difficult to lose myself in the Van Buren time period.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The writing in this book flows very well in the sense that it was easy reading. The author does not delve into a lot of detail about Van Buren but gives enough to give one a glimpse of Van Buren's life. Two topics about which I would liked more detail was Van Buren's efforts to build a political party and his presidency. Widmer says in the beginning of the book that there is not a lot of detail preserved about Van Buren and later specifies that even in Van Buren's autobiography he didn't say much about party building. After reading this, I have better knowledge of Van Buren's life, which covers the extent of my interest in the president. If one is interested in greater detail about Van Buren's political career it will be necessary to look elsewhere.
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