James K. Polk deals with one of the most unique men in American political history: a president who deliberately chose to serve a single term. Written by fellow Tennessean and longtime journalist John Seigenthaler, this book examines the world that formed Polk's character and shows how he faced issues, or in the case of slavery avoided them. Seigenthaler traces Polk's growth into a fiercely partisan Democrat and protege of Andrew Jackson, an allegiance which produced his surprise selection as the Democratic "dark horse" candidate of 1844. Polk's candidacy had led his Whig opponents to ask the satirical question, "Who is James Polk?" Seigenthaler offers an excellent answer, with insights into Polk's beliefs, administrative style and the strengths and flaws that led to his successes, yet diminished his reputation in history. (One fascinating element is the comparison of Polk's handling of a controversial, yet successful, war, to the issues facing our current political leadership.) Contrasting personality with actions and the judgments of contemporaries with the results of history, Seigenthaler crafts a compelling argument for greatness in a man often overlooked by history.
Howard Shirley is a writer in Nashville.