American Scoundrel: Love, War and Politics in 19th Century America

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9780099285991: American Scoundrel: Love, War and Politics in 19th Century America

On the last, cold Sunday of February 1859, Daniel Sickles shot his wife's lover in Washington's Lafayette Square, just across from the White House. This is the story of that killing and its repercussions. Charming and ambitious, Dan Sickles literally got away with murder. His protector was none other than the President himself, James Buchanan; his political friends quickly gathered around; and, Sickles was acquitted. His trial is described with all Thomas Keneally's powers of dash and drama, against a backdrop of double-dealing, intrigue and slavery. Enslaved, in her turn, by the hypocrisy of nineteenth-century society, his wife was shunned and thereafter banned from public life. Sickles, meanwhile, was free to accept favours and patronage. He raised a regiment for the Union, and went on to become a general in the army, rising to the rank of brigadier-general and commanding a flak at the Battle of Gettysburg - at which he lost a leg, which he put into the military museum in Washington where he would take friends to visit it. Thomas Keneally brilliantly recreates an extraordinary period, when women were punished for violating codes of society that did not bind men. And the caddish, good-looking Dan Sickles personifies the extremes of the era: as a womaniser, he introduced his favourite madam to Queen Victoria while his wife stayed at home, and he installed his housekeeper as his mistress while his second wife took up residence nearby. "American Scoundrel" is the lens through which the reader can view history at a time when America was being torn apart.

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Review:

Politician, man about town, war hero, and murderer: Dan Sickles led many lives, some of them improbable, turning disaster to advantage. Thomas Keneally, whose novels have been populated by heroes and outlaws alike, vividly captures Sickles's life and times. A Tammany politician, for good and ill, Sickles earned national notoriety for gunning down his friend Philip Barton Key, the son of Francis Scott Key, in what his peers in Congress took to be an excusable crime of passion. Sickles made a glorious comeback with the Civil War, when the regiment he raised distinguished itself time and again under fire at places such as Chancellorsville and Gettysburg--where, defying orders in a bold maneuver, Sickles helped secure the Union victory. "His tendency toward berserk and full- blooded risk was partly characteristic of the city he had grown up in, the age he lived in, and his own soul," writes Keneally. Admired by no less than Mark Twain, Sickles figures only as a footnote in many histories. Ably recounting his triumphs and defeats, Thomas Keneally brings him front and center in a tale that will delight Civil War buffs. --Gregory McNamee

From the Back Cover:

“Spellbinding. . . . Riveting. . . . Mesmerizing.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Brilliant. . . . Rollicking, captivating. . . . Engrossing, entertaining. . . . Keneally brings Sickles back to life in every colorful and scandalous detail.” —Chicago Sun-Times

“Panoramic. . . . For anybody who savors ripely old-fashioned storytelling with a side of modern hindsight.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Lively and evocative. . . . Keneally’s prose, as usual, is vivid and his research is thorough; he displays an impressive command of the minutiae of 19th-century American politics.” —The Washington Post

“Entertaining. . . . Fast-paced.” –The Wall Street Journal

“An especially lively and compelling account of an extraordinary life.” –The Seattle Times

“Provocative. . . . [Keneally] shows himself . . . adept at biography. . . . [He] breathes full and controversial life into a famous military engagement.” –The Economist

“Engaging. . . . Keneally deftly conveys the atmosphere of fervent in pre—civil war Washington. . . . [He] has the advantage of a novelist’s sense of pace, a mellifluous prose style and a profound sympathy for both his main characters.” –Sunday Times (London)

“A fascinating look at a time when powerful men could get away with virtually anything.” –Houston Chronicle

“A memorable account of Sickles’ life, and the political, social and military world in which he lived. Keneally has given us an engaging biography.” –The Oregonian

“Keneally’s writing is flawless. . . . He tells Sickles’ story in a rich voice that is perfectly pitched for this tale of 19th-century excess.” –San Antonio Express-News

“Keneally is joyfully inquisitive. . . . He deserves real praise. He enters naturally and sympathetically into the hearts of his protagonists–his own prose takes on the flavour of the period he invokes.” –The Times Literary Supplement

“Fast-paced, smooth-as-silk. . . . Remarkable and colorful. . . . Keneally is a gifted writer who captures the mood and manner of an age in succinct verbal portraits.” –BookPage

“[An] ambitious work encompassing nearly a full century of American political, financial, cultural and social life. . . . [Sickles’s is] a life Keneally nails with sureness and scholarship.” –Daily News (New York)

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Thomas Keneally
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