From Publishers Weekly
Eisenhower (So Far from God: The U.S. War with Mexico
), a military historian and retired army general, has a secure mastery of his subject and his era in this addition to the American Presidents series of nutshell biographies. Taylor's career, in Eisenhower's retelling, had two principal foci. First, he was a general in the American incursion into Mexico in 1846, and his campaign, crisply recounted here, was perceived as a success by the American populace, catapulting Taylor (1784–1850) to national prominence. Second, Eisenhower spotlights Taylor's equivocal relationship to slavery. A lifelong slave owner himself, he opposed abolishing slavery where it existed to preserve the Union. Yet Taylor claimed to oppose slavery on principle as well as its spread to California, New Mexico and other new states. Taylor lived only 16 uneventful months after his inauguration in March 1849, so Eisenhower's treatment of his presidency necessarily deals more with congressional debates on slavery than with Taylor himself. Eisenhower takes a nuanced view of the 12th president, finding Taylor gentle in civilian life, something of a disappointment as a soldier, but most fundamentally a man who aimed to preserve the Union. 1 map. (June)
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Eisenhower puts his subject’s best foot forward by recalling a remark to the effect that Taylor (1784–1850), a slaveholder who opposed extending slavery into new states, might have prevented the Civil War. A career army officer until mere weeks before his inauguration, Taylor also owned extensive plantations. He was wealthy but not haughty. Willingness to share his soldiers’ discomforts and, while maintaining military discipline, dressing informally endeared him to the troops. He served without great distinction until the Mexican War, which President Polk gave him discretion to start. By winning the war’s first great battle at the right time to attract the attention of Whig Party kingmakers looking for a winner in 1848, he wound up in the White House, intending to be a president for all the people—vainly, Eisenhower thinks. He died rather suddenly, in the wake of the Compromise of 1850, one constituent of which, the Fugitive Slave Act, he despised. Eisenhower doesn’t venture a guess, but would Taylor have vetoed it? The piquancy of such a question makes Taylor’s biography curiously ponderable. --Ray Olson