Martin Van Buren : The Romantic Age of American Politics (Signature Series)
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"The Little Magician has at last found a biographer worthy of his stature and significance in American history. This is a masterful study of a much underestimated statesman. It is meticulously researched and beautifully crafted."--Robert V. Remini, University of Illinois
"The rich tapestry woven by John Niven...adds fresh dimensions to the political history of the United States for the half-century ending with the Civil War." --Harold M. Hyman, Rice University
- Publisher : American Political Biography Press (June 1, 2000)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 715 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0945707258
- ISBN-13 : 978-0945707257
- Item Weight : 2.5 pounds
- Dimensions : 6 x 2 x 9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #381,742 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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I only recommend this book for the avid history lover. Niven's style is very dry, which can make reading 600+ pages excruciating at times. However, you will learn a lot. There is a lot of information about New York's history that was completely new to me. A variety of new characters were introduced. MVB's relationship with Clay and Calhoun are absolutely fascinating. Niven, unfortuantely, spends very little time on MVB as a man. I'm leaving this read with more questions than answer.
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.