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Posted December 22, 2005
Fascinating, well written and researched. Brilliant study of the messiest election of the gilded age and of the conceited power of major political bosses including Roscoe Conkling. Garfield emerges as a tragic hero, a good man who might have been one of our better presidents.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 19, 2005
I'm glad to see at least one other person singing the high praises of this terrific book. And I agree with the other reviewer, that this should have won a major prize of some kind, if not the Pulitzer. As a Canadian I knew next to nothing about American politics during this particular period. Not only was I educated, but highly entertained and also deeply saddened by Garfield's final tragic days. If only all non-fiction authors could write this well....Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 12, 2003
I enjoyed this book so much, I sent this letter to the author. Dear Mr. Ackerman, I recently read and thoroughly enjoyed your fantastic book, Dark Horse: The Surprise Election and Political Murder of President James A. Garfield. I feel it is worthy of a Pulitzer Prize for History. I found your writing style to be engrossing as, even though I knew much of the history you recounted, I read each page of the book most eagerly. I had just finished Roy Morris' Fraud of the Century and, as much as I enjoyed it, I found your book to be a more compelling tale. Your character development is superb and I love how you tied the thread of the Conkling/Blaine feud of 1866 to events throughout the book. The final weaving together of the tale in Chapter 15 is a beautiful closure to a moving story that, as you accurately captured, impacted and captivated large numbers of Americans. Your research and documentation were extremely thorough and quite logically incorporated into the chronological flow of events. Your footnotes are pure joy for a politics and history buff (like me). I didn't really feel I had finished the book until I read the endnotes, as they added to my deeper understanding and appreciation of the events. Having lived through the Kennedy assassination, the comparisons with Garfield's demise are most intriguing and the distinctions also profound. Both were younger presidents who had won narrow victories to gain the White House. Both were succeeded by vice presidents who were clearly 'ticket balancers.' But Kennedy's assassination has forever been plagued with conspiracy theories, while Garfield's had no doubt as to the assassin. Alas, to pursue this line of thought would invite rambling on my part, but these ideas do cross my mind. I think your book would make a great movie, except for the sad reality that Hollywood would inevitably destroy a great story. Also, most likely, it isn't the kind of story that would capture much interest among our populace, at least in my judgment (keeping in mind the kinds of movies that seem to proliferate theater complexes these days). If only I were wrong about this! Your recapitulations of future developments of each of the prime players in the book (Chapter 15) are tailor made for the closing of a great film. I found particularly touching the telling of Mollie Garfield having married Joe Stanley Brown. Some minor observations, suggestions, and thoughts I have are as follows: - A table of the results of the 1880 Presidential Election and a national map of the results (as I have attached) might have been a good addition to the book. I did thoroughly enjoy your tables of the key convention ballots. (Obviously, my bias as a mathematician and cartographer is showing.) - I am working on a book (well, it is really more of a tutorial) of the History of Partisan Representation in the United States Congress. As you are well aware, the story of the evenly divided 47th Senate, in and of itself, is a fascinating one and your accounting of the battle for control of the Senate is most illuminating. Your description of the tie-breaking (precedent setting) votes of Chester Arthur is great drama. -- In this vein, while you point out that one of Arthur's first actions as President was to call the Senate into special session to choose a President Pro Tempore, you never related who they selected for this position. My research indicates that Thomas F. Bayard (D-DE) served from October 10 to 13, 1881, David Davis (Independent-IL) from October 13, 1881 to March 3, 1883, and George F. Edmunds (R-VT) from March 3 to December 2, 1883. Perhaps with the Senate evenly split, this particular tale was too complex and off the focus of your storyline to include. - Not to nit-pick, but in case your book is ever reprinted, some minor points: -- on page 205, last line of paragraph two, the spelling of 'ungentlemanly' missed the editors gaze, -- on page 234, end of line 15 should probably read 'Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.