American Phoenix, by Jane Hampton Cook, is a large, heavy, and laborious book. Sixty-one chapters and over 400 pages of reading makes it a large book. It’s hardback and that makes it heavy. The reading of it is the laborious part.
This is not a complete chronicle of their lives, or even John Q’s presidency. It specifically deals with the War of 1812 and the “exile that saved American Independence”. The greater part of the book deals with their life in St. Petersburg, Russia in the early 1800s when John Q. was the first American diplomat to Russia. It details their life there in almost every minute detail.
I might have mentioned I did not find this an easy book to read. That is due in part to the author‘s use of actual journal entries and letters from both John Q. and Louisa. We just simply don’t talk that way anymore.
It is also due in part to the author’s jumping around historically. At one point you might be reading of Louisa’s solo trip to join John in Paris in the winter of 1815. She is leaving St. Petersburg, Russia with just a few people. Travel is difficult and they have to deal with the almost constant threat of highwaymen. The very next moment, with no advance warning, you’re thrust either forward or backward in time. I found that made following the story very difficult.
I could have used with much less of the author’s conjecture and judgment on history. John Q. and Louisa lived in a very different time and a very different world than we enjoy today. We can not take our life and lifestyle today and judge those living in history by it. I felt the author thought everyone was out to hurt and ruin Louisa. I hope I am wrong in feeling that way.
If you love history as I do, and if you don’t mind an author’s commentary on history, you might really love this book. I do give it 4 turning pages.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of review.