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President James Buchanan: A Biography Hardcover – May 1, 1995

ISBN-13: 978-0945707110 ISBN-10: 0945707118 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 506 pages
  • Publisher: American Political Biography Press; 1st edition (May 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0945707118
  • ISBN-13: 978-0945707110
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #218,786 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


The work of a mature scholar who has dug deeply and carefully weighed his evidence. --Washington Post

An excellent biography. --St. Louis, MO Post-Dispatch

Klein has been prodigiously industrious. . . . If the general picture is not altered, proportions are. --Times Literary Supplement

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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See all 18 customer reviews
This is a well written biography.
A well done and comprehensive biography of one of the U.S.' lesser known and more maligned presidents.
Ricardo R. Rodriguiz
Let me make sure you understand, it is very bad.
A. Liguori

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 39 people found the following review helpful By a history buff on January 28, 2004
Format: Hardcover
"President James Buchanan" remains the definitive biography of our 15th President. Instead of simply rehashing the tired and often unfair criticism of Buchanan as "the worst President of the United States", Klein relies upon a wealth of primary source material to present a complex and fascinating man. Instead of being charactered as an inept failure, Buchanan comes across as an accomplished statesman who was dedicated to the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law who was caught in a "no win" situation as President. In seeking a compromise solution to avoid the impending holocaust of the Civil War when a compromise solution was probably no longer possible, Buchanan appear as a tragic figure more thasn as an abysmal failure. Klein's book is extremely well researched and insightful and is highly recommended to all those seeking to gain a greater understanding of our 15th President and the turbulent years before the Civil War.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Thomas A. Wheeler on August 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Over the last several years I've read more than 30 presidential biographies using Amazon reviewers as my guide to picking out the best book. Klein's biography of Buchanan is one of the better biographies of one of our most unsuccessful presidents (Francis Russell's biography of Warren G. Harding definitely takes the prize in this category).

Politics were the major American sport of 19th century, and Pennsylvania was one of the most grueling states to play the political game. James Buchanan (or Martin Van Buren) was the quintessential 19th century politician, and the Civil War was the culmination of 50 years of America playing politics, rather than seriously attempting to address national issues.

Buchanan is an interesting subject because of the longevity of his career and his ability to master the game of politics. He managed to finesse every issue in a way that helped him rise in the national consciousness and avoid being tarnished with actually standing for or against much of anything. He spent 35 years in elective and appointed offices constantly battling to build his power. For at least 20 years he worked towards the goal of becoming president. While this political savvy helped him gain the presidency, it certainly did not prepare him (or seemingly any politician in the 1850's) to work constructively in a way that might have prevented the Civil War from occurring.

Klein's book is well written, nicely organized, and for the most part a balanced portrayal of a political animal. He does a good job of blending Buchanan's public and private lives. Klein tends to defend Buchanan's efforts in politics while having some fun with Buchanan's increasingly crusty personality .
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43 of 52 people found the following review helpful By L. Bruno on April 14, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Philip Klein's biography finally places the presidency of James Buchanan in the favorable light it deserves. Buchanan was discredited and vilified by politicians who put their party ahead of the nation. Power was more important to them than preserving the Union. First they obstructed his peace efforts and then scapegoated him for the Civil War when it began. "Buchanan assumed leadership of the United States when an unprecedented wave of angry passion was sweeping the nation. That he held the hostile sections in check during these revolutionary times was in itself a remarkable achievment. His weaknesses in the stormy years of his presidency were magnified by enraged partisans of the North and the South. His many talents, which in a quieter era might have gained for him a place among the great presidents of his country, were quickly overshadowed by the cataclysmic events of civil war and by the towering personality of Abraham Lincoln. Of Buchanan it might be said, as it was of another, 'He staked his reputation on the supremacy of reason, and lost.' "
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34 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Steve Fast on June 3, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Writing a biography of man who was a very public failure cannot be an easy task--after spending so much time researching the man, you have to admire him, yet he may be deserving of little admiration. This is the trap into which Klein falls in this book.

The book provides a detailed and fairly interesting look at Buchanan's early and mid-career in Pennsylvania politics. Klein sketches the state political battles that took Buchanan to Washington as a congressman and eventually to the presidency and has clearly read the correspondence by and about Buchanan well. This strength prevented me from giving the book only a single star.

Yet Klein has a vendetta against the "Black" Republicans, as he calls them; abolitionists; and Abraham Lincoln. He defends Buchanan's every action in Bleeding Kansas, although he exacerbated a situation that Franklin Pierce had helped to create. Every Pennsylvania politician who opposed Buchanan comes across as deceitful, while Buchanan is a paragon of honesty and principle. But worst of all, Klein accepts Buchanan's every excuse for inaction during the four months after Lincoln's election and blames Lincoln, Seward, and others for the whole debacle instead of admitting that Buchanan was simply a weak and vacillating man in a situation that demanded decisive action and courage.

Buchanan has probably gotten a bum rap for causing the Civil War, but he also was not the wonderful politician and president Klein makes him out to be. However, the portrayal is so transparent that you can see the flaws in Buchanan despite the author's intentions.
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