The Last American President

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It is a historical reality that successful societies, nations and the like eventually reach a point of maturity, and then proceed to transition into something else, burn out, or become the victims of conquest. It is this premise that lies behind Richard Engle’s new book, The Last American President. His idea is a good one; examine the phenomenon as it might occur to the USA in the near future. However, as an informative work, it falls short. This is unfortunate, as a thorough read of the entire book shows that Mr. Engle is a thoughtful man with an understanding of the historical context and all that it rests upon. And because of this, the reviewer tries to do him justice, while perhaps, being a bit hard on the book because it, unfortunately, requires it.

 

I undertook to review this work primarily because as a political historian the subject of declining empires or great nations in transition is one that holds a level of fascination for me. I frequently refer back to Adrian Goldsworthy’s How Rome Fell because I am interested in applying what he concluded to modern America. While not all of what happened to Rome applies here and now, there are points of correspondence. Thus, I believed that Richard Engle’s work could be significant. The cover illustration also leads one in that direction, showing a man walking through a lighted doorway, but casting the shadow of a chess pawn; suitable for a person unable to control his own destiny.

 

Mr. Engle has a respected background in the field of politics and public policy. He should be able to provide us with a share of that knowledge, through his portrayal of a man, elected to series of public offices culminating in the Presidency. That man is then overcome by events and eventually is relegated to a position of virtual anonymity when the events run their course.

 

The premise is an excellent one. Mr. Engle creates his characters as a vehicle through which to portray the events and realities of a political career. Unfortunately, two things get in the way. First, the characters become more important than the lessons and because of this, altogether too much time is spent on their lives than on the lessons of a life in politics and the events related to a potential American restructuring.

 

The protagonist, a man with ideals and all the right intentions ends up at the center of controversial events that go beyond his ability to control. This should be understood as a possibility in any political context. However, the average reader may not be able to easily comprehend exactly how such things happen. It is probably the most important portion of the book, aside from the author’s afterword, but instead of having an intensive examination of how this can happen; instead, the author spends all too little time on it, making the subject appear glossed over. The majority of the book is spent on setting the stage, which could have been reduced in size substantially. The climax could well have been drawn out with greater examination of how the events came to occur and why there was no simple solution. While Mr. Engle does deal with this, again, it is too short and lacking in detail.

 

Two other items that stuck out during my read. The first was his reference to Barack Obama as a man who pulled himself up from poverty to high office. Any serious student of modern political history is aware that this man did not pull himself up from anything, and was raised in virtual luxury in Hawaii, while attending a prestigious and expensive private school. His political path appears orchestrated, which leaves some wondering if it wasn’t all masterminded by some puppet master working behind the scenes.

 

Second is his use of a Democrat as the man who oversees the political reconstruction. Again, serious study of the present state of the Democrat Party shows little likelihood of that party doing any such thing. Rather, it would attempt to make war on any breakaway factions, simply as a matter of the present partisan obsession with absolute power. It is possible that the party had changed in Engle’s fictional setting, but he fails to deliver that information to us, which is a concerning matter of detail unaddressed.

 

It is possible that the author’s talents are better suited to factual analysis than to fiction, for which I give him the benefit of the doubt here. His afterward is simple, to the point, and delivers serious information in a short, concise package. It would have been nice to see more of that information woven into the story, making it more informative and less like a soap opera where everything goes well until a tragic climax takes everything out from under the characters were have come to, at least, like during the majority of the story. I’m quite sure he had and has a better book in him to cover the same subject matter in better detail and more instructive writing.

 

For those who may be interested, Mr. Engle’s book may be obtained from his web site, or from Amazon.com.

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