Thursday, January 3, 2013

Just Finished Reading - A Wicked War

A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico was without a doubt one of the top five books I read in 2012. Author, Amy S. Greenberg, a professor of History and Women's Studies at Penn State University has put together a book that I think will be popular to both those that enjoy a thoroughly researched work and those that enjoy a well told story.

To complete the narrative, Greenberg weaves together the stories of the men listed in the subtitle, but also involves other historical players that are well known - and some not so well known.

For example, one of those that comes in for major discussion, and that I enjoyed learning about, is John J. Hardin.  Hardin was born in Frankfort, Kentucky, educated at Transylvania in Lexington, and moved to Illinois where he became a Whig congressman from Springfield. Hardin did not seek reelection the year Abraham Lincoln was elected. He instead raised a regiment and went off to fight Mexicans. He was tragically killed at the Battle of Buena Vista.

Another individual that Greenberg gives us a look at is Sarah Polk, the president's wife. She apparently was the charmer, which helped offset the president's dour nature. She was driven and ambitious, much like Mary Todd Lincoln, and totally committed to her husband, his position, and his legacy.

Nicholas Trist, too, comes in for coverage. He was sent to Mexico by Polk to secure a peace agreement, with an eye toward taking advantage of the seemingly easy military victory, yet realized the wrongs that had led to the war and the many depredations that were committed during the conflict and thus negotiated what the thought was a fair peace.

One of the things I most appreciated about A Wicked War was Greenberg's explanation of how Americans were so driven to expand their country in the name of Manifest Destiny, but yet also, how many were so opposed to the war with their neighbor country to the south.

Obviously the main story in A Wicked War is politics, and, while military history is not the focus of the book, it gets proper and necessary coverage to help with the context of the era. Greenberg looks at many political angles. For example, Polk's rise from seeming obscurity to Democratic presidential nominee and then president was largely due to Andrew Jackson's influence before he died. Also fascinating was Clay's opposition to the annexation of Texas and national expansion in favor of internal improvements, which cost him a shoe-in for the presidency in 1844. And, finally, how Clay's speech in Lexington in 1847, with Lincoln listening in the audience, influenced the congressman from Illinois when he arrived in Washington.

A Wicked War is, in my opinion, the way narrative history should be written. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give it a full 5. I certainly don't think you will be disappointed with this book and I heartily recommend it.  

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