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John C. Calhoun: American Portrait

Written by: Margaret L. Coit
Narrated by: Charlton Griffin
Length: 29 hrs and 4 mins
Categories: History, Americas

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Publisher's Summary

Author Margaret Coit's Pulitzer Prize winning biography of John C. Calhoun is a towering accomplishment in the writing of American history, powerful in the fullest sense of the word. This is no bland recital of dates and events. It is a searing, blinding, cascading roller coaster of emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and above all, human, history. The listener lives through hot, sleepy days on the South Carolina frontier of Calhoun's youth; goes with him to Yale in 1802 where the scent of the sea wafted in through his rooms; to the stern, New England town of Litchfield, Connecticut and its law school to study under Federalist mentors, and where students were expected to wear buckled breeches and ruffled stocks.

Muddy, primitive Washington, D.C. comes to life in the terrible years when our national tragedy of disunion was unfolding, with Jackson, Benton, Randolph, Webster, Clay, and Calhoun each struggling in his own way to avert catastrophe. When you have known the great South Carolinian at all the stages of his life; when you have lived through the events which determined his views; and when you have followed the path of his relentless logic - then you will finally understand our Civil War as few of us have ever been able to understand it before. In Miss Coit's brilliant story of Calhoun's personal life we discover a man of human frailties and human magnificence, much different from the image in those brooding photographs. And for the first time we understand how John C. Calhoun held the passionate loyalty of his people.

©1950 Estate of Margaret L. Coit (P)2014 Audio Connoisseur

Critic Reviews

"Provides far and away the most detailed, vivid, and convincing personal characterization of Calhoun we have." (Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Nation)

What members say

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • T Duff
  • 03-03-15

Wonderful subject, beautifully told and narrated

What made the experience of listening to John C. Calhoun: American Portrait the most enjoyable?

I knew little of John C. Calhoun and only had a superficial understanding of the old deep antebellum South apart from the lone issue of slavery. I found the subject extremely interesting and exotic. This is an excellent personal and cultural history. The writing style, which at first strikes one as archaic, takes on a life and character of its own and adds greatly to the experience. One of the finest political biographies I have encountered in years.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Damian
  • 12-12-16

What a magnificent and illuminating...

Biography on a well-known but little understood American statesman. The content of this lyrical work was only exceeded by the performance of the narrator whose resonate delivery augmented a truly monumental work. Politicians today could learn much from the statesman who was John C Calhoun and the eulogy of his opponent, Dan'l Webster who said: "Whatever his aspirations, they were high honorable and Noble. There was nothing mean, nor low, nor grovelingly selfish that came near the head or heart of John C Calhoun."

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • loganb
  • 07-11-17

Great biography of one member of the Triumverate

This book does a great job of explaining Calhoun's Scottish-Irish background.

We then are told about how Calhoun went to Yale (1802). During his time at Yale he was exposed to the New England view that if the United States started a war with Britain that negatively affected New England's trade relationship with them that they (New England) could secede from the union of states.

The book explains how the strong will of his wife could possibly have been the cause that Calhoun never became president. His wife, Floride, was responsible for ostracizing Peggy Eaton for an alleged adulterous affair with her 2nd husband while her 1st husband was still alive (before he committed suicide).

We then learn about the 1832 Tariff, a protectionist tariff that benefitted New England diversified merchants more than southern cotton farmers. This tariff leads to the nullification crisis and tensions from the crisis lead to Calhoun's resignation of the Vice Presidency.

Overall, it's a great read!

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • George Bailey
  • 14-09-17

A portrait of the man and the politician

Would you consider the audio edition of John C. Calhoun: American Portrait to be better than the print version?

No

Who was your favorite character and why?

Calhoun

What does Charlton Griffin bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

A voice

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

The last chapter.

Any additional comments?

This is a masterpiece. It is a shame Calhoun has been forgotten (deliberately) by mainstream American culture. He embodied true and authentic American character - something you rarely see in government anymore.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Andrew
  • 28-10-17

Buyer beware! poor narration and more...

The book has many flaws, and I find it extraordinary how it could possibly have won a Pulitzer. It is surprisingly lacking in historical context, and seems more like hagiography than biography. I continue to listen i hopes that I would better understand why Calhoun is cited as the father of modern american right-wing thought.

but it is the narration that is truly baffling. it seeks to imbue calhoun with heroism while breaking lines at strange places. It is more like a sermon than a narration. Where the producer was during the production I have no clue - it is not just sonorous but silly.

Buyer beware!

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Brandon R.
  • 07-05-19

The author misses slavery.

Of the countless half truths in this book I believe my favorite is that northern abolitionists were responsible for starting the Civil War because they agitated against the South’s right to keep slaves. Very bias southern slaveholder defenses throughout. Enough that it made this hard for me to finish and this isn’t the first book by a southern pride author that I have read.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • F. X. Guldi
  • 06-05-19

Needs to be abridged

If a picture is worth a thousand words this author has dtawn at least a hundred. Every home, school, farm, and office. Meals include details about preparation and growing the contents described in painfull detail. Ocasionally some details about what Calhoun was doing come up. Every person described includes a description of how much he or she admired Calhoun.
Slow moving. worshiping, and somyimes informative about relashionships with people in government.
The audiobook malfuntioned and kept repeating chapter 26 and 27. I was able to force 28 but never got 29 or 30 to play.

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  • chris calabrese
  • 14-04-19

An instant classic

Really enjoyed this older book the point of view and sound is different from now. Highly recommended if you are interested about Calhoun and the times.

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  • J. Hoover
  • 08-09-18

Definitely a biography for its times, - the pre-civil rights era

This is definitely a book that has not aged well both in substance and in execution. The book itself gives the impression of a Margaret Mitchell novel. With its generous of adjectives, similes and metaphors it comes across as a love letter to John C. Calhoun.

Because the biography is written in a narrative style that often second guesses it’s characters motives, it Is not a book for those looking for a solid historical record of John C Calhoun. Biographer, Margaret Coit looks at Calhoun‘s life through the now defunct lens of the “Southern Lost Cause”.
However, the book is still worth a read/listen to understand the view points and biases of the time and and what historical narrative is people used to defend misguided viewpoints today. Similar to the way one would approach viewing DW Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” or “Intolerance.”

In his defense of slavery and arguing the repeal of trade tariffs, Calhoun was the Architect of “States Rights” and “Nullification” which has been picked up and used by the current right wing political movement. Reading Calhoun would be a good way to understand this movement better by tracing its roots, however there are better books on Calhoun out there.

The narration was good and fit of the character of the novel. However, at times it was edited abruptly and could be echoey.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Leigh R. Bartram
  • 28-04-17

Hidden Treasure

Would you consider the audio edition of John C. Calhoun: American Portrait to be better than the print version?

I haven't read the print version.

Who was your favorite character and why?

John C. Calhoun, modern history has overlooked this amazing constitutionalist.

Which character – as performed by Charlton Griffin – was your favorite?

John C. Calhoun

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Toward the end of Calhoun's life, he seemed to be clairvoyant & able to predict the future. His desire to keep the Union together gave him his daily breath.

Any additional comments?

This book was really in-depth & layered, it loved it.