Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Review: James Fenimore Cooper: A Life

James Fenimore Cooper: A Life
James Fenimore Cooper
A Life
Nick Louras

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 known 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.

Thanks to Chronos Books for allowing me to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

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