cover image A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico

A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico

Amy S. Greenberg. Knopf, $30 (368p) ISBN 978-0-307-59269-9

The seldom-sung Mexican War emerges as one of America’s most morally ambiguous and divisive conflicts in this illuminating history by historian Greenberg (Manifest Manhood and the Antebellum American Empire), who gives sketchy, colorful recaps of the battlefield highlights, but focuses on the war’s politics and shifting ideological currents. Provoked by President James K. Polk to further his expansionist program and silence Whig critics, the war began as a wildly popular vehicle for manifest destiny and American fantasies of martial vigor. But Greenberg demonstrates the rapid spread of public disillusionment and opposition, despite triumphant victories, as casualties and desertion took their toll on war-weary soldiers; press reports of American atrocities tarnished the war’s glamour, and a nationwide antiwar movement condemned the invasion as an unjust landgrab. The author arranges her lucid narrative around vivid profiles of central and marginal figures, including first lady Sarah Polk, an influential adviser to her husband; Abraham Lincoln, whose politics were galvanized by the war; and envoy Nicholas Trist, who was so ashamed of the war that he disobeyed Polk’s orders and negotiated a relatively lenient peace treaty. Greenberg’s probing account of this war reveals its drama—and its very modern complexity. Photos, illus., maps. Agents: Sydelle Kramer and Susan Rabiner, Susan Rabiner Literary Agency. (Nov. 8)