- Series: Signature Series
- Hardcover: 715 pages
- Publisher: American Political Biography Press (June 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0945707258
- ISBN-13: 978-0945707257
- Product Dimensions: 2 x 6 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 20 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #917,120 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Martin Van Buren : The Romantic Age of American Politics (Signature Series)
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In Niven's biography, we follow Van Buren from his impoverished roots through his rise in New York state government. Although not perfect, Van Buren had enough political astuteness and the right sort of temperment to help create and lead a party machine and elevate New York's prominence on a national level. Becoming a trusted advisor to Andrew Jackson and a member of his cabinet eventually led to his Vice Presidency and then the Presidency. With a major financial crash occurring right as he got into office, Van Buren was struggling right off the bat, and wound up serving only a single term; nonetheless, in an era of one-term presidents (from 1837 to 1861, no president was re-elected), Van Buren was hardly thrown into ignonimy after his defeat; instead, he remained a powerful member of the Democratic party for the next two decades.
Niven's biography is generally favorable although he doesn't hide Van Buren's flaws. We learn of a man who was not a great ideologue but was one of the most masterful politicians of his era, holding his own with the often more prominent figures such as Jackson, Calhoun, Clay and Webster. He also wound up being a prominent figure in the anti-slavery movement, even running on the Free-Soil ticket at one point.
At times, however, this biography is a bit ponderous and often focuses so much on the political part of Van Buren's life that the personal part is pushed aside. Thus, although this may be the best Van Buren biography available (it may also be the only one), I cannot give it a full five stars. Nonetheless, this is overall a very good book and worth reading if you are interested in this period of history.
Unfortunately, either the author or perhaps the editor of this edition (having not read previous editions, I'm unable to assess the source of the problem) has created a rather sloppily-written book; in addition to the occasional poor choice of words ("pouring over a labored digression", rather than "poring", for instance) there are numerous (at a guess, I'd say over a dozen, and possibly many more) instances in which a comma is completely misplaced, at such an odd point in a sentence that it becomes seriously distracting. ("...Van Buren wrote out in his sprawling, hand a brief, arguing specifically against the project.") Some might consider this a quibble that is truly picking at nits, but I expect better of a professional, scholarly work. This is the kind of thing that I might be willing to overlook in a mass-market paperback, and I would certainly shrug off if it happened once or twice even in a tome of this sort, but a dozen or more times in a book is not a slip of the typing finger, it is a matter of sloppy writing and proofreading. If I were to ignore the sloppinesses, I would rate this book five stars; it is a first-rate history but I do wish that it had been better edited.