- Paperback: 432 pages
- Publisher: McFarland (May 13, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0786443405
- ISBN-13: 978-0786443406
- Product Dimensions: 6.9 x 1 x 9.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 11 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,026,451 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Scarry rescues Fillmore from relative obscurity with this meticulously researched review of the life of the thirteenth president of the U.S. Long underrated by scholars and unappreciated by presidential buffs, Fillmore is usually remembered for his advocacy of the Compromise of 1850 and his involvement in the controversial Know-Nothing Party. Utilizing Fillmore's personal papers and correspondence as the foundation for his investigation, the author paints a full-bodied portrait of a man and a president who was much more complex, energetic, and successful than most conventional histories would lead us to believe. This definitive life story will round out often-incomplete collections of presidential biographies. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Meticulously researched.... This definitive life story will round out often-incomplete collections of presidential biographies" --Booklist/RBB.
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The greatest value of the work is the light it shines into "sectionalism" and the demise of the Whig party as civil war threatened the United States through the 1850s. In particular, it deflates the hagiography frequently associated with Auburn's William Seward. Readers who don't believe that defending the Constitution as a document that means what it says will be sorely disappointed by the book.
Five stars for amount of information. Three stars for the writing itself. So four stars. In the end I learned a lot and was glad I had read the book.
Detail in a biography is nice, but this book reads more like a giant pamphlet, with endless recitation of one tidbit after another, than a coherent, analytical biography. The paragraphs often seem to have nothing to do with each other; the author states a single fact, cites his source, and then moves on. The facts being stated sometimes seem to be more than the reader really needs:
"Fillmore wrote home about accidents. In 1838, a head-on collision of locomotives occurred on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad which prevented a passenger train arriving with mail. In 1841, a flood on the Susquehanna River carried away a steamboat to Chesapeake Bay. A rescue boat was sent for relief." (p. 123)
What usefulness such information serves in understanding Fillmore (other than the fact that he wrote letters to his family) is beyond me. Unfortunately, the book is full of such paragraphs.
When he is not inundating the reader with minutiae, Scarry tends to sound like a character witness in Fillmore's trial. He clearly reacts personally to what he perceives as negative attacks on Fillmores character, and indignantly leaps to Fillmore's defense. Since I don't find Fillmore to be a particularly controversial historical figure, I find this passion to be somewhat misplaced. It tends to detract from a sense of objectivity on the author's part.
When all is said and done, I guess you can say that this is informative a biography on Fillmore as the reader can expect to find. Being informative does not necessarily equate with being a good biography. For example, one could read Robert Remini's biography of Daniel Webster to get a contrast on how one can write about this time period. Fillmore is important to a certain degree, but I really don't think his importance merits a biography as exhaustive as this.
This is not a terrible biography, and it does fill a void regarding Fillmore. However, the author would be well-advised to remove much of the minutiae, which would cut the book's length in half. The tedious nature of the book means many readers may lose interest halfway through.
The author argues that Fillmore based his presidency on nationalism, Constitutional principles, and laissez-faire economy. Although opposed to slavery, Fillmore supported the Fugitive Slave Law as a compromise to avert Civil War. He supported the Compromise of 1850 that submitted California as a free state. To promote economic growth, he endorsed a moderate 20% tariff. He also appealed for the Transcontinental Railroad. According to the author, he strongly handled the Texas-New Mexico dispute. Fillmore advocated neutrality in foreign affairs with moderate diplomacy.
This book adroitly recognizes Millard Fillmore's accomplishments in an intelligent manner. The book has many interesting anecdotes and quotes that greatly embellish the narrative. For example, Fillmore's writings demonstrate an adherence to Constitutional principles, nationalism, and favorite foods, stand on slavery, and political ideology.
This book includes illustrations and thorough footnoting. The chronological format adds to my reading enjoyment. The appendix includes letters and notes at the end to supplement the text. An excellent bibliography gives the reader a list of books for further exploration. The book also includes a useful Millard Fillmore chronology about important dates and events. The lucid prose adds cogency in perhaps a too sympathetic biography.