Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Country of Vast Designs


Looks like a very interesting new book on the vast territorial expansion that took place during Polk's term.  The link is to a NYTimes book review by Sean Wilentz,

Robert W. Merry’s book is a refreshing challenge to the new conventional wisdom. Polk, in Merry’s view, certainly was an ambitious expansionist, but in this he merely reflected the electorate’s passionate desire to push the country ever westward. Enlarging and then consolidating the United States as a transcontinental nation would, by the lights of Polk and his supporters, greatly enhance the wealth, power and legitimacy of what was still, in 1845, the lone democratic republic in a world ruled by monarchs, despots and aristocrats. 

Mexico, far from being a passive, innocent victim of America’s lust for power and land, was ruled by a succession of corrupt, conservative, autocratic and truculent governments that administered a republic in name only, one that was distorted by centuries of domination by the Spanish crown and the Roman Catholic Church.  Polk was not blameless, Merry writes, especially in owning up to his ­larger territorial ambitions, “but the critics of Polk’s war consistently ignore the role of Mexico in these momentous events.” And, Merry argues persuasively, the anti­war charges that Polk was a tool of the Slave Power were simply false.

18 comments:

  1. One of my reading goals (thanks to Robert Whelan's influence) is to read a history of all the presidents in order. If I ever do this, maybe this one can work for Polk since he's another President I know nothing about. And it was a formative time.

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  2. There's also a new book on Monroe, who doesn't get much print either,

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0306818086/ref=s9_simp_gw_s0_p14_t1?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=center-3&pf_rd_r=06CR1ER9GY9GPMDXX47R&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=470938811&pf_rd_i=507846

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  3. Interesting....

    I am also really interested in Madison.

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  4. I picked up one of The American President Series books on Madison, written by Garry Wills. Quick way to acquaint oneself with the presidents,

    http://www.amazon.com/James-Madison-American-Presidents-Garry/dp/0805069054/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1262705834&sr=1-1

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  5. Yes, I read that one and a couple others in the series. In fact, it was this series that got me thinking about reading biographies all in order. Plus, I think there are two of these mini-bio series out there to choose from.

    Maybe I'll pick up one on Washington and start there and see how I like it. As I recall, it only takes one sitting to read these.

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  6. Washington _still_ hasn't made it out of the garage (where is Robert when I need him!), but I do have a "three pack" I picked up somewhere of the Harper Collins series -- Washington by Paul Johnson, which should be interesting. Grant by Michael Korda, even more so.

    And my favorite .... Thomas Jefferson by Christopher Hitchens which is why I bought the three packaged together in the first place. I can hardly wait to read Hitchens after reading Reed. But I'll wait until I get to him... I think I also have one of these small bios on Adams too.

    I actually like Hitchens about half of the time, but my guess is he'll be way off the mark on this one.

    This might be a fun reading project for this group.

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  7. I'm reading via audio book a bio on our actual first 'president' John Hancock:


    John Hancock: Merchant king & American Patriot

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  8. Err, I forgot to include the author:

    Harlow Giles Unger

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  9. Unger also wrote the recent book on Monroe I noted above, as well as one on Lafayette.

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  10. Anybody for Madison? It appears to be a quick and interesting read.

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  11. You mean the Garry Wills book? If so, I'm game.

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  12. GREAT! I will order it right ... now ...

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  13. OK. I expect to have it by Saturday. It should be fun.

    I'm not the type who prays but just this once there's a small prayer from me in the hope that we may be joined by Bob Whelan in this endeavor ...

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  14. I'll second that idea, too!

    Trippler, if you have the time you may enjoy that interview with Zinn. It's a bit dated, since it was done during the Bush Jr. years, but it covers a lot of ground including the war, but also Zinn's involvement in SNCC, and the early anti Vietnam war involvement of people like Bob Moses, which I didn't know.

    Harrelson takes some getting used to but his heart is in the right place.

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  15. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1BydZv9ykJU


    OK. Just watched this one. Will watch the rest later on ...

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  16. Cool. Interesting overview of the People's History in that first segment, with the book being xeroxed and slipped into the high school classroom as if it were an underground text like in Russia. I'm sure that's totally accurate. I'm sure I have the book around here somewhere.

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  17. I'll put up a new post on Madison.

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