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07.01.24 James K. Polk, a biography by Walter R. Borneman, subtitled The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America, published in 2008

Notes Concerning the Author

Many writers, whose work is endorsed by The Society of Independent Southern Historians, are not of the academic community and in Walter R. Borneman, we again find that attribute worthy.  Far too many in academia, at least since 1940, are handicapped by perceived needs to please their peers and appear “politically correct” and “relevant.”  Borneman is known in Colorado’s mountains as the co-author of A Climbing Guide to Colorado’s Fourteeners, the history and standard routes of Colorado’s 54 peaks above 14,000 feet, which was in-print for twenty-five years.  His goal in writing is summarized as follows:  “My overriding goal in writing history has been to get the facts straight and then present them in a readable fashion.”  His personal education is rather straightforward: “Walt has undergraduate and graduate degrees in history from Western State College of Colorado (1974, 1975) and wrote his master’s thesis on a town characteristic of the western mining frontier.  Borneman received his law degree from the University of Denver (1981).  Prior to writing the Polk biography, he wrote 1812: the War that Forged a Nation, and The French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America.

Our Review

Although this reviewer has not read other Polk biographies, he has checked them out from afar and suspect they do not measure up to Borneman’s work.  Furthermore, Borneman’s work delivers all that a student of “truthful history” would want.  The inside flap states:

“In Polk, Walter R. Borneman gives us the complete and authoritative biography of a president often overshadowed in image but seldom outdone in accomplishment.  James K. Polk occupied the White House for only four years, from 1845 to 1849 . . .  [In that short span of time] Polk plotted and attained a formidable agenda: He fought for and won tariff reductions, reestablished an independent Treasury, and, most notably, brought Texas into the Union, bluffed Great Britain out of the lion’s share of Oregon, and wrested California and much of the Southwest from Mexico.  On reflection, these successes seem even more impressive, given the contentious political environment of the time.”

This is also to a great extent the history of Middle Tennessee and its most noteworthy political leaders (Polk, Houston, Jackson, etc.).  This reviewer, born and raised in Nashville, sees great importance in that aspect.  In Borneman’s work the reader is able to understand the importance of Tennessee and the southern states in building our nation, “from sea to shining sea.”

Availability of this book

Used print copies can be obtained at minimal cost on-line.