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A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War and the Conquest of the American Continent (Simon & Schuster America Collection) Kindle Edition
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–The Wall Street Journal
“Filled with intricate stories of personal conflict, psychological gamesmanship, and unintended consequences. . . one of the most astute and informative historical accounts yet written about national politics, and especially Washington politics, during the decisive 1840s.”
--The New York Times Book Review
“Polk was our most underrated President. He made the United States into a continental nation. Bob Merry captures the controversial and the visionary aspects of his presidency in a colorful narrative tale populated by great characters such as Jackson, Clay, and Can Buren.”
–Walter Isaacson, author of Einstein: His Life and Universe
“[Merry] brings a historian's perspective, a journalist's nose for the story and a novelist's eye to one of our country's most dramatic and defining moments. In strong, precise and elegant prose, Mr. Merry brings the key players of the day to life in terms of both personal characteristics and the causes they personified.”
About the Author
- ASIN : B002SRL3EU
- Publisher : Simon & Schuster; Illustrated edition (October 14, 2009)
- Publication date : October 14, 2009
- Language : English
- File size : 4343 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 612 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #463,332 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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He, with votes from a fractious Congress, changed the structure of the tariff, in the end leading to greater revenue for the treasury. He desired to change how the government handled its money, after the death of the National Bank. Both of these accomplishments were hard fought, against multiple factions within both parties in Congress. He also wanted to expand the geographical scope of the United States, with designs on Oregon, California, and Texas (at that point an "independent" country).
This book explores his laborious political efforts to bend Congress his way. In the process of his discussion of such matters, the author also introduces to the reader many of the key figures in the politics of the day--Andrew Jackson, Martin van Buren, John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay, and on and on. Understanding the lineup of key actors allows one to get a better sense of the political dynamics of the time.
The greater part of discussion is on the Mexican War. Here, Polk was essentially trying to coax the Mexican army to strike the first blow, which would justify an American military response. There is a nice description of the war and the ultimate American victory over Mexican forces. The end result--with Oregon and California and Texas and other bits of the southwest added to the United States of America--was a major extension of the country.
Polk had stated that he would serve only one term when he became the first "Dark House" to win the presidency. In that term, he achieved a great deal. His efforts also increased regional tensions as there was heated debate about admission of new territories/states as either slave or free.
At any rate, this is a fine biography of a President with personal limitations but one who had a major effect on the country's history. . . .
Merry does a good job of covering Polk's presidency, though I was not too taken with his narrative. At times it was flowing, at other times it seemed to bog down. The best parts of this book are recounting Polk's surprising rise to the presidency and the sectional politics that dictated the make-up of his cabinet, as well as the events leading up to the Mexican War. This was certainly a controversial event and one that drew significant criticism of Polk. Merry also fully addresses Polk's attitude towards slavery, which was clearly a nuisance he wished to avoid.
Overall, this is a good telling of Polk's presidency and the Mexican-War-as-viewed-from-Washington. As I said, the narrative could be better in spots, but this is still a worthwhile read.
Top reviews from other countries
James K. Polk's presidency (1845-1849) saw the United States' territory greatly increased with the finalisation of the annexation of Texas in 1845, the acquisition of the Oregon Territory in 1846, and the acquisition of [Upper] California and New Mexico in 1848 after a two-year war with Mexico. It also saw some developments over the issue of slavery in the South that would bring the country one step closer to civil war, and knowing that the civil war was almost around the corner, it was interesting to read about some of the key players & events at this period in time.
Robert W. Merry keeps a good pace and explains histories and issues adequately, ensuring that his readership understand the context of the events and the behaviour of the protagonists. He also treats President Polk fairly, in my opinion, by neither demolishing him nor putting him on a pedestal. This even-handedness for me is important, as the lack of bias usually indicates that the information (as presented) is presented fairly.
Like all good history books, it has sparked my interest in other historical figures (e.g. John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson) and events (the Louisiana purchase of 1803), and I will be looking into these very soon.
Thank you, Mr. Merry, for a great book!