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A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico Paperback – Illustrated, August 13, 2013
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“Amy Greenberg's original and moving narrative of the U.S. invasion of Mexico relates the gradual loss of enthusiasm for waging what began as a popular war of conquest. How peace ultimately prevailed is the most surprising part of her story.” —Daniel Walker Howe, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of What Hath God Wrought
“No less a warrior than Ulysses S. Grant had good reason to decry the war with Mexico as ‘wicked.’ In Amy S. Greenberg’s dramatic and deeply engaging political narrative, the reader gets the grit of the campaign and rich insight into the fascinating historical actors who stage-managed (or resisted) this all-important, under-studied war. In these fast-turning pages, we see clashes among political opportunists, moments of eloquence and pathos-all under the rising sun of American power.” —Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg, authors of Madison and Jefferson
“A Wicked War gives the U.S.-Mexican War a personal dimension and immediacy that has been lacking until now. Amy Greenberg makes us live the war vicariously through the lives of the aging patriarch Henry Clay who lost a son in Mexico, the husband-and-wife presidential team of James K. and Sarah Polk, the lanky and somewhat disheveled Abraham Lincoln still learning about politics, and others. This is a rare melding of great story-telling and analysis of an era that shaped not only the United States but the entire North American continent.” —Andrés Reséndez, author of A Land So Strange
“A Wicked War, with its emphasis on politics rather than military history, does for the Mexican-American war what James McPherson did for the Civil War with Battle Cry of Freedom, greatly broadening our understanding of the war. Certainly Professor Greenberg’s book will immediately become the standard account of the Mexican War, at last giving it an important place in the history of the United States. This book restores my faith in the merits of narrative history.” —Mark E. Neely, Jr., Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Fate of Liberty
“A well-rendered, muscular history of a war whose ramifications are still being carefully calibrated." —Kirkus Reviews
"The seldom-sung Mexican War emerges as one of America's most morally ambiguous and divisive conflicts in this illuminating history." —Publishers Weekly
“Amy S. Greenberg’s new history elegantly unfolds the story of the war through the lives of five politicians . . . [Greenberg] immerse[s] her readers in the early 1840s . . . Gripping.” —Maria Montoya, San Francisco Chronicle
"A provocative main idea in a freshly original narrative." —Booklist
“Greenberg writes taut political history, full of chapter-ending cliffhangers and characters who feel like real people.”
—Zocalo Public Square
“In her absorbing and valuable A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico, Penn State’s Amy S. Greenberg does a splendid job of vivifying this disgraceful episode in American history.” —Bill Kauffman, Reason
About the Author
- Publisher : Vintage; Illustrated edition (August 13, 2013)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 368 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0307475999
- ISBN-13 : 978-0307475992
- Item Weight : 12.2 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.13 x 0.77 x 8.01 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #406,178 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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As both the US's first invasion of a foreign nation, as a lead up to the Civil War, and as a primer to America at war in the Middle East, this is a fascinating look at an important, forgotten, but quit important part of American history.
May I suggest it be read in conjunction with the last chapter of Robt. D. Kaplan's "Geography" and it should become even more interesting.
Many unsubstantiated claims by the author are made. For example, the author claims that if women were allowed to vote in 1844 election, Henry Clay would have won. While it may be true that some women expressed vocal support for Clay, it is conjecture to claim that women overwhelming supported Clay to the point that they could have overturned the election.
The author also claims that Henry Clay made an appeal to his racist supporters by saying that annexing Mexico would requiring giving Mexicans citizenship, and that giving away citizenship to foreigners who are different linguistically, culturally and ethnically would corrupt and destroy the United States. The author's claim that it is racist to be against giving citizenship to foreigners seems to be a belief that comes from the modern progressive movement in the United States. It is also worthy to note that that author claims that the statement was just an appeal to racists, not that Henry Clay was racist himself.
If you are interested in a definitive unbiased book about the Mexican American War, then this is not it. While I disagree with many of claims made by the author, I did find the book interesting and worth giving a chance.
In telling the story of the "wicked war" (a title taken from a description of the conflict contained in the memoirs of Ulysses Grant), the author follows five historical figures who figured prominently in the event. The author has no love for President James Polk, who is portrayed as someone bent on prosecuting an unjust war against a weaker nation in order to take through force what could not be gained through negotiation. While other historians have debated the question of whether or not the southern boundary of Texas was the Rio Grande river (where American troops drew attack from Mexican forces, beginning the conflict), there is no debate in the mind of the author, who is certain that the conflict began with an unjust act of provocation by an invading army. Henry Clay is portrayed as the voice of reason, even though he straddles both sides of the issue in his public oratory. Abraham Lincoln is a young congressman who protests the war and attacks a wartime president, in spite of knowledge that doing so will wound him politically. John Hardin is a politician with a bright future who abandons his rise to power for military glory and becomes a prominent casualty. Nicholas Trist is an unappreciated diplomat who ultimately brokers a peace, to the chagrin of his expansionist president.
This book portrays a side of the Mexican War that is ignored by most historians, who generally play up the nationalistic and patriotic fervor and the tales of glory on the battlefield. Greenburg sets out the conditions leading up to the way and describes how and why she believes the war began. Although she says that her book will not contain a technical military account of the major battles, she actually does an excellent job of describing what happened and why smaller US forces were able to emerge victorious in many of the major battles of the war, in a concise but coherent manner. But where this book excels is in its telling of many of the stories of the war that are left out of most other histories: the undisciplined state militias and the atrocities they committed against the Mexican civilian populace, the problems of communication between the war department and the armies in 1846, the rates of desertion and the reasons for it, and how a popular war became an unpopular one. The author superbly describes the transition of the hearts and minds of the American populace as the war goes from one enjoying popular patriotic support to one that has the public questioning why the country went to war and if all of the tragic loss of life is really worth it. Although the author does not expressly make the comparison, it is easy for readers to see historic parallels to Vietnam and Iraq, as the author shows that decline in public support for foreign wars is not a recent phenomenon,
There are times when the author goes too far in projecting her hypothesis. For example, she vilifies not only James Polk, but also first lady Sarah Polk, referring to the war as "Mr. and Mrs. Polk's War", but fails to make a convincing case as to why the first lady is deserving of such scorn. She also presents Henry Clay as the conscience of the anti-war sentiment, especially in reference to a powerful critical speech Clay gave when wartime dissent was at its highest. But while she acknowledges that Clay has also generated pro-war rhetoric when it suited his political purposes or audiences, this hypocrisy is ignored.
Despite its imperfections, this is an excellent history of an important conflict often overlooked by historians. Its consideration of issues often left out of most wartime histories make it an exceptionally good read. My only criticism is that it would have been even more compelling if the author had let her conclusions follow the evidence, rather than the reverse.