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A Country of Vast Designs
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Merry, president and editor-in-chief of Congressional Quarterly Inc., offers a wide-ranging, provocative analysis of the controversial presidency of James K. Polk. Using a broad spectrum of published and archival sources, Merry depicts Polk as an unabashed expansionist. His political career was devoted to extending American power across the continent. Polk saw the fulfillment of manifest destiny as transcending even the festering issue of slavery. Elected president in 1844, he pursued confrontational diplomacy with Britain, structured a war with Mexico and enlarged the U.S. by over a third, essentially to its present boundaries, in a single term of office. Polk's achievements were correspondingly controversial across the political spectrum. Merry uses congressional debates and newspaper quotations to depict the genesis of a fundamental, enduring debate on America's nature and role. Conceding Polk's "personal lapses and his least impressive traits." Merry makes a strong case that Polk's America embraced a sweeping vision of national destiny that he fulfilled. Merry's conclusion that history turns not on morality but on power, energy and will may be uncomfortable, but he successfully illustrates it. 16 pages of b&w photos; 1 map. (Nov.) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

Merry (publisher, Congressional Quarterly; Sands of Empire) presents his view of James Knox Polk's presidency, describing how Polk turned his vice presidential ambitions into presidential ambitions as the first "dark horse" candidate, and then was able to accomplish his four major objectives: tariffs for revenue only, an independent federal treasury, no national debt, and expansion of the nation's boundaries to the Pacific. Drawing on Polk's correspondence, secondary sources, and records of Congressional debates, Merry focuses on the politics behind the events, showing how Polk was a master of political strategy and tactics. Merry also considers Polk's negative traits-drabness, lack of leadership qualities, tendency to micromanage-and how these led to dissension within his own party and at times jeopardized his program. VERDICT This well-written book complements Walter Borneman's Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America by providing a detailed look into the Washington politics of the 1840s, making it a good starting point for general readers and undergraduates desiring to understand that era.-Stephen H. Peters, Northern Michigan Univ. Lib., Marquette Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

"Polk was our most underrated President. He made the United States into a continental nation. Bob Merry captures the controversial and the visionary aspects of his presidency in a colorful narrative tale populated by great characters such as Jackson, Clay, and Can Buren." -Walter Isaacson, author of Einstein: His Life and Universe "Filled with intricate stories of personal conflict, psychological gamesmanship, and unintended consequences. . . one of the most astute and informative historical accounts yet written about national politics, and especially Washington politics, during the decisive 1840s." --The New York Times Book Review "Robert Merry's authoritative biography of James K. Polk. . . provides a compelling, perceptive portrait. . . Merry joins his skill at portraiture to thorough scholarship and a shrewd grasp of human nature." -The Wall Street Journal "[Merry] brings a historian's perspective, a journalist's nose for the story and a novelist's eye to one of our country's most dramatic and defining moments. In strong, precise and elegant prose, Mr. Merry brings the key players of the day to life in terms of both personal characteristics and the causes they personified." --Washingtonian

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