James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851) was America’s first novelist, celebrated for his masterpiece, The Last of the Mohicans. Over a prolific career he created a national mythology that endures to this day. According to Daniel Webster, “We may read the nation’s history in his life.”
Yet Cooper was also a provocative figure, ultimately disillusioned with American democracy. He spent his boyhood in the wilds of the frontier, served as a merchant sailor and naval officer, traveled the courts of Europe in an age of upheaval and returned home to scandal and controversy. He conquered the literary world only to fall victim to his own fame. In the first popular biography of Cooper in a generation, historian Nick Louras brings the man and his age vividly to life.
REVIEWS & ENDORSEMENTS
This is a fascinating look at America's first novelist. A man who brought us the western genre as well as the genre of sea sagas. He is probably best know for his series The Leatherstocking Tales which included some of his most famous works that have become enduring classics, The Pioneers, The Last of the Mohicans, The Prairie, The Pathfinders and The Deerslayer. Cooper was a prolific writer often drawing on the early years he spent in the vast frontier of what would become upstate New York during his childhood. His sea tales seem to draw on his times as a merchant sailor and during a stint in the U.S. Navy.
While he had success with some of his works he was not always appreciated. He often courted controversy both at home and abroad, where his family spent seven years during the mid 1800's. Cooper appears to have been an extremely prickly man, if not with his family then certainly with his critics. In some ways he appears to have been his own worst enemy as he found it extremely hard to let bygones be bygones. He was nevertheless, an important American figure and this work is a thorough examination not only of his life but the history of the time and the role he played in it. The book is good at capturing the vast changes that occurred during his lifetime. Despite the changes around him he seemed continually drawn to an early America landscape, one where the frontier hadn't quite given way to civilization.
The author does a good job portraying Cooper as a complex man of his time. It's well written, thoroughly covering Cooper's fictional works, political writings and views in a lively way that will be appreciated by both scholars and layman alike. And while it doesn't necessarily distract from the work itself, it would have been nice to have an author profile at either the beginning or end of the book.
~ S C Miller, www.susannesbooklist.blogspot.com
James Fenimore Cooper is known to most Americans as the author of "The Last of the Mohicans." That novel of the American frontier is a literature class staple. But there is more to the man and his work than many realize. Not only did Cooper write about the tumultuous early days of the country, he lived through them. Born in 1789, when George Washington was president, Cooper was one of the nation's original celebrities. He grew up in the wilderness of upstate New York, was kicked out of Yale University for setting off a dynamite explosion on campus, dined with presidents and princes, became a prolific novelist, largely on a dare from his wife, and ended his days a controversial figure locked in a war of words with the American press.
Cooper's life (and the historical epoch with which it coincided) is well handled in this new biography. Nick Louras is a first-rate historian and writer. He weaves together the close-up details of a human life with the sweeping drama of history and politics, drawing intelligent, provocative and often unexpected conclusions. This book is recommended to readers with an interest in American history.
Small Press Bookwatch: April 2016
James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief
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