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Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America Hardcover – Apr 8 2008

5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; Reprint edition (April 8 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400065607
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400065608
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3.3 x 24.2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 726 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #712,972 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Tennessee Democrat James K. Polk is generally ranked among the nation's most effective chief executives. In this straightforward, unnuanced biography, Borneman (1812: The War That Forged a Nation) relates why. Coming into office determined to annex Texas, gain the Oregon Territory from Britain, lower the tariff and reform the national banking system, Polk achieved all four aims in his single term in office (1845–1849). But Borneman overlooks that in more or less completing the nation's lower continental territory, Polk bequeathed a fateful legacy to the nation-not so much transforming the U.S. (as the subtitle overstates) as setting it on the road to civil war. With the annexation of Texas came war with Mexico, which stripped that nation of half its lands while gaining the U.S. the southwest and California. It also unloosed the mad genie of slavery's possible further spread westward. Polk left the nation larger but politically crippled and morally weakened. But Borneman sticks to the narrative and doesn't place his subject in a larger historical context. 'Tis a pity, for Polk's administration ought to be a lesson to all candidates and all presidents at all times. 16 maps. (Apr. 8)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“A terrific portrait of a man and his times.”—Jon Meacham, author of American Lion and Franklin and Winston

“For quite a while we’ve needed a new biography of James K. Polk–America’s great underrated president. Now, at last, Walter R. Borneman has delivered the goods. This book is both well written and diligently researched. Highly recommended!” –Douglas Brinkley, professor of history at Rice University, author of The Great Deluge

“Borneman gives us a book that is full of interest and insight and is a pleasure to read.”—Robert Middlekauff, Bancroft Prize-winning author of The Glorious Cause

“[An] informed and readable biography.” —Wall Street Journal

“Borneman is a trailblazer in the mold of his subject [and has produced] a volume that can stand with all but the very best presidential biographies.”—Louisville Courier-Journal

“With impressive exuberance . . . Borneman rightly describes his subject as America’s greatest expansionist president.”—Austin American Statesman

“Borneman manages to pull [many] threads together into a comprehensible and entertaining narrative. . . . [His] biography gives Polk his due.”—Rocky Mountain News

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a brilliantly written biography of one of history's lesser-known presidents. It is the first Polk biography I've read that really gives the reader an understanding of what transpired in the major political fights of Polk's life. These include not only his congressional elections and the election for speaker of the house, but his three elections for Governor of Tennessee (one successful, two not). It also gives a very vivid picture of what transpired at the convention where Polk was hoping to be nominated for Vice-President and came out of it at the Presidential nominee. It's almost like watching CNN coverage of it, without the panels of talking heads.) The book gives an especially good account of the election of 1844 and how Henry Clay blundered away what should have been a slam dunk election for him. (It reminded me of Hillary Clinton in some ways).

The account of how he lost two elections for Governor to a skinny opponent (6'2" and 125 pounds) named James Chamberlain Jones (or "Lean Jimmy" as he was called) is especially delightful reading.

The book also describes one of the best accounts I've ever read (make that THE best) of the relationship between Andrew Jackson and Polk, and also gives more insight into the kind of person that Sarah Polk must have been.

The book just doesn't focus on Polk, it also tells the reader much about the background of the people in his life and times (such as Henry Clay, Cave Johnson, Aaron Brown, Sam Houston, Martin Van Buren, to name a few) and into the pertinent issues of his time (such as Texas, expansionism, slavery/abolition, the national bank).
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars 129 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hidden in the past, a story with many lessons for today Aug. 5 2016
By Jeff - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The excellent biography really has two big themes; the expansion of Presidential power and the relentless expansion of the United States westward in the mid 19th century. Walter Borneman has done a cracking good job of describing both and he brings many marginally familiar names from American history to vivid life. I cam away with a much better understanding of how the me3xican-American War came to be and how it was fought. This is a story more citizens need to understand.

One of the fascinating side stories is how the long duration it took communications from faraway events completely interfered with executive orders. In fact, the war's end was negotiated by a diplomat who had been recalled by Polk and who simply ignored his orders and negotiated a treaty sufficiently close to his original instructions that Polk had no choice but to submit it for Senate approval.

This is a story where the pages of the book turn themselves. The book has many helpful maps and one has only to compare the map of the US before Polk took office to the one when he left office to see that this might have been the third greatest president of the 19th century.
4.0 out of 5 stars A great book Oct. 1 2016
By Kirk Fitzgerald - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Really enjoyed this book, a intense look at a very interesting President. A little heavy on military interaction at points, but I understand the importance and interest to many readers. Loved the comforting writing style of the author.
4.0 out of 5 stars Overlooked July 25 2016
By JT - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Polk is grossly overlooked American president. The book expands your understanding of the American west, party politics, and presidency. One of my favorite POTUS biographies.
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars June 18 2016
By Robert C. Cochran - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Surprising story of one of America's Lesser known yet very influential presidents. Enlightening!
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Best Polk Bio but missing some personality Nov. 21 2008
By MG - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you want to read about great or near-great US presidents, you of course should include James Polk on your list, especially since he is the least-known of the group. Polk served just one term - he said he would only serve one term and he never changed his mind - but that one term was packed with an agenda. He nearly doubled the size of the United States. If it hadn't been for Polk, the Pacific Northwest might today be a part of Canada and California might still be a part of Mexico. He was, compared to many presidents during those times, a strong executive. Borneman's book is currently the best biography on Polk, although I wish it had covered more of Polk's character and personal life... Interestingly, I reread what Harry Truman had to say about Polk in an interview from the book, "Plain Speaking." Truman was old and cantankerous at the time but he included Polk as one of five weak presidents leading up to the Civil War. Truman didn't fully specify why he felt Polk was "weak." He acknowledged the expanded territory. He said Mrs. Polk was a very strong-minded woman "who wouldn't allow any dancing or card-playing in the White House, and they say there was times she got it in her head that she herself was President." You don't get this lively perspective from Borneman, for better or for worse.