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William Cooper's Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic

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William Cooper and James Fenimore Cooper, a father and son who embodied the contradictions that divided America in the early years of the Republic, are brought to life in this Pulitzer Prize-winning book. William Cooper rose from humble origins to become a wealthy land speculator and U.S. congressman in what had until lately been the wilderness of upstate New York, but his William Cooper and James Fenimore Cooper, a father and son who embodied the contradictions that divided America in the early years of the Republic, are brought to life in this Pulitzer Prize-winning book. William Cooper rose from humble origins to become a wealthy land speculator and U.S. congressman in what had until lately been the wilderness of upstate New York, but his high-handed style of governing resulted in his fall from power and political disgrace. His son James Fenimore Cooper became one of this country’s first popular novelists with a book, The Pioneers, that tried to come to terms with his father’s failure and imaginatively reclaim the estate he had lost. In William Cooper’s Town, Alan Taylor dramatizes the clash between gentility and democracy that was one of the principal consequences of the American Revolution, a struggle that was waged both at the polls and on the pages of our national literature. Taylor shows how Americans resolved their revolution through the creation of new social reforms and new stories that evolved with the expansion of our frontier.


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William Cooper and James Fenimore Cooper, a father and son who embodied the contradictions that divided America in the early years of the Republic, are brought to life in this Pulitzer Prize-winning book. William Cooper rose from humble origins to become a wealthy land speculator and U.S. congressman in what had until lately been the wilderness of upstate New York, but his William Cooper and James Fenimore Cooper, a father and son who embodied the contradictions that divided America in the early years of the Republic, are brought to life in this Pulitzer Prize-winning book. William Cooper rose from humble origins to become a wealthy land speculator and U.S. congressman in what had until lately been the wilderness of upstate New York, but his high-handed style of governing resulted in his fall from power and political disgrace. His son James Fenimore Cooper became one of this country’s first popular novelists with a book, The Pioneers, that tried to come to terms with his father’s failure and imaginatively reclaim the estate he had lost. In William Cooper’s Town, Alan Taylor dramatizes the clash between gentility and democracy that was one of the principal consequences of the American Revolution, a struggle that was waged both at the polls and on the pages of our national literature. Taylor shows how Americans resolved their revolution through the creation of new social reforms and new stories that evolved with the expansion of our frontier.

30 review for William Cooper's Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic

  1. 4 out of 5

    Manray9

    William Cooper's Town certainly deserved recognition with the 1996 Pulitzer Prize. It is an intriguing look at the development of a frontier community in the earliest days of the republic. The story of parvenu William Cooper's rise and eventual decline from political and social prominence in Upstate New York is well-told with keen insight into the fractiousness of early U.S. politics. James Fenimore Cooper's first great success in the literary world was a fictionalized account of his father's li William Cooper's Town certainly deserved recognition with the 1996 Pulitzer Prize. It is an intriguing look at the development of a frontier community in the earliest days of the republic. The story of parvenu William Cooper's rise and eventual decline from political and social prominence in Upstate New York is well-told with keen insight into the fractiousness of early U.S. politics. James Fenimore Cooper's first great success in the literary world was a fictionalized account of his father's life. While there are many valuable histories of early American life, Taylor's book is particularly fascinating due to the parallel between William Cooper's life story and his son's novel, The Pioneers. William Cooper's Town is an unusual combination of political history, social analysis and biography linked to a study on James Fenimore Cooper's literary effort to vindicate his father's struggle for wealth, social prominence and prestige. Taylor's book is an interesting new twist on the old story of a rising man on America's frontier. I recommend it highly. It is well worth your reading time.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kirsten Mortensen

    What is interesting about this book is that while it is nominally a history, it is interlaced with a delicious helping of literary criticism. The William Cooper of the title is the father of James Fenimore Cooper, and as Taylor shows, Cooper's novels were more than Revolutionary era romances. They also romanticized the Cooper family's personal history. "The Pioneers," in particular, functioned as a retelling of William's life story -- only with an ending more to James Fenimore's liking than what What is interesting about this book is that while it is nominally a history, it is interlaced with a delicious helping of literary criticism. The William Cooper of the title is the father of James Fenimore Cooper, and as Taylor shows, Cooper's novels were more than Revolutionary era romances. They also romanticized the Cooper family's personal history. "The Pioneers," in particular, functioned as a retelling of William's life story -- only with an ending more to James Fenimore's liking than what happened in real life. I grew up in Central New York, not that far from Cooperstown, and I've read quite a few histories of this part of the country. "William Cooper's Town" (which won a Pulitzer) ranks as one of the best. I particularly appreciated Taylor's description of how the Revolutionary War disrupted the Colonial-era status quo both socially and economically. I've known for some time, for instance, that many New York State Loyalists fled to Canada or England after the war. Taylor pulls back the curtain on this story: when the Loyalists left, rogues and opportunists took advantage of the ensuing chaos to make claims (often of dubious legal standing) on "abandoned" property. William Cooper was one of those rogues. From a start as a barely-literate wheelwright, he became one of the era's prominent land speculators -- and, by the standards of the time, enormously rich. And Cooperstown, New York, was the eponymous capital of his primary holding (the Otsego Patent). There William presided over his land leases and mortgages and related business concerns, and built a mansion and ran for political office -- and also tried to re-fashion himself as an aristocrat. The latter effort failed, ultimately -- partly because he simply didn't know how to conduct himself in society, and partly because he was actually a terrible business manager. When he died, his children lived the high life for a few years, but all too soon the his entire estate was bankrupt, auctioned off to pay creditors. James Fenimore was protected from abject poverty because he'd married wealth. And then he got the idea to write a novel set in Revolutionary Era New York State . . . I should add one other thing. Most people today probably know Cooperstown for the Baseball Hall of Fame, but it's also home to the Fenimore Art Museum, which has incredible collections American Folk Art, North American Indian art, Hudson River School art, and 19th-century genre paintings. Cooperstown has one of the coolest craft breweries in the country as well (Ommegang), the highly regarded Leatherstocking Golf Course (resort course -- I've never played it but I'd love to!), and a vibrant performing arts scene, including the internationally acclaimed Glimmerglass Opera. After William's death -- in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the town struggled economically. Today, it's a jewel of a community, and well worth the trip if you are looking for a summer vacation spot in the Northeastern United States. Maybe I'll even see you there? ;-)

  3. 5 out of 5

    Porter Broyles

    Sometimes the difference between a good book and a bad book is a good hook. Give the reader a solid reason to embrace the book and they are yours. So let me give you two very good reasons to embrace this book: First, the William Cooper’s Town is a microcosm of early America. It starts out as a small village and becomes home of Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame! However, much of that occurs after this book. This book focuses on the County of Otsego, New York. Otsego was a strong Federalist com Sometimes the difference between a good book and a bad book is a good hook. Give the reader a solid reason to embrace the book and they are yours. So let me give you two very good reasons to embrace this book: First, the William Cooper’s Town is a microcosm of early America. It starts out as a small village and becomes home of Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame! However, much of that occurs after this book. This book focuses on the County of Otsego, New York. Otsego was a strong Federalist community (e.g. think Alexander Hamilton and a strong centralized government.) Early on in its existence William Cooper become one of the predominant figures in the community and rises from obscurity to become a recognized name on a national level. His success follows that of the Federalist. In the 1790s, he achieved a level of success he never expected. As the nation shifted, so too did his prospects. The Federalist and Republicans are at each other’s throat. Congress passes the Sedition Act to curtail the division, but this does not work. In 1795, Supreme Court Justice John Jay resigns from the Court to run for Governor. He would have won, except for the fact that ALL of the votes from Otsego County were ruled invalid due to a technicality. DeWitt Clinton is elected Governor. By 1800, the Country is on the verge of a civil war---will it follow a Republican (not related to modern Republicans) plan or a Federalist plan? Will the will of the people or the elite rule? Are states’ rights/responsibilities or federal rights/responsibilities supreme? In this regard, this book has some answers. The second hook centers around James Fennimore Cooper. You may not know whom he is, but you might have heard of some of his books. His most famous was made into a movie starring Mel Gibson, “The Last of the Mohicans”. James was one of William Cooper’s sons and became the first American to succeed at a literary career. His books were proof that American’s could write great novels. A large portion of this book shows how the historic realities in Cooper’s Town mirrored the fantasy in James’ books. Those were the hooks. Unfortunately, the book ultimately failed for several reasons: 1) Physically, the books is unappealing. It is sad to say this about a Pulitzer Prize Winner, but the layout stinks. The margins are non-existent and the font stunk. This made the book hard to read or embrace. 2) Too many sections focused on trivial details. Costs of supplies, land, goods, the number of books checked out, etc. all bogged the good sections out. 3) The lack of a solid hook. There are some good things to say about this book. Unfortunately, whose things are lost when the book does not feel like it really knows what its purpose is. The book tells a story (sometimes in too much detail) without giving the reader a reason to appreciate it. This is my third or fourth Alan Taylor book. I have enjoyed his other books, but this one I struggled. It had moment of the brilliance I associate with Taylor, but overall it was a disappointment.

  4. 4 out of 5

    John

    This is a really great work of history- very well crafted. Taylor blends literary analysis and social history and biography to examine in detail the changes that occurred in American society in the early republic period. William Cooper, a relatively uneducated wheelwright, took advantage of the changes brought by the Revolution to reinvent himself as a great proprietor/landholder. He tried his best to assume a new position among the genteel elite. He and the other elites believed that the Revolu This is a really great work of history- very well crafted. Taylor blends literary analysis and social history and biography to examine in detail the changes that occurred in American society in the early republic period. William Cooper, a relatively uneducated wheelwright, took advantage of the changes brought by the Revolution to reinvent himself as a great proprietor/landholder. He tried his best to assume a new position among the genteel elite. He and the other elites believed that the Revolution should not be allowed to go too far, that America's new society should not change all that much from the old colonial society...the United States would be simply be ruled by American elites, rather than British elites. But they couldn't control the government they had created, and democracy overtook the land. The antics and mayhem of the American experiment ensued. Later, after the Cooper family had basically lost the frontier empire William built, his son James Fenimore built a career for himself as a novelist, creatively re-writing the history of the frontier the way he wished it had transpired. I really admire Taylor's work. He goes so far as to analyze the records of the library in William Cooper's hometown, to see which books Cooper was checking out compared to other patrons, and to show that he was giving himself a crash course in how to be a gentleman. Taylor also does a great job explaining why Cooper's first major venture- founding Cooperstown- worked out, and why his subsequent ventures fell into such difficulty. This book also helped me understand the "Revolution of 1800" (Jefferson's election) much better than any other book I've read. In places like New York, the politics were much more complicated than simply a question of Jefferson vs. Adams. The Federalists couldn't get themselves together and the Jeffersonian Republicans basically invented the party based campaign. This is a must read for anyone working on early America/early Republic.

  5. 4 out of 5

    James

    This took me a while. Pretty disappointing, though still an important book with some key insights. I just didn’t like the novel/biography aspects nor really understand the point until the final 30 or so pages. So must of the experience could have been more interesting, as it is in the other Taylor books I’ve read.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    An impressive accomplishment. It's too heavy on blow-by-blow political history for my taste, but it certainly does what it tries to do historically. Yet I don't entirely buy into the personal story. Alan Taylor describes how William Cooper (father of novelist James Fenimore Cooper) rose from poor wheelwright to New York land magnate after the Revolution thanks to a long series of fraudulent land deals; how he became an influential but awkward local community leader in the frontier town he built t An impressive accomplishment. It's too heavy on blow-by-blow political history for my taste, but it certainly does what it tries to do historically. Yet I don't entirely buy into the personal story. Alan Taylor describes how William Cooper (father of novelist James Fenimore Cooper) rose from poor wheelwright to New York land magnate after the Revolution thanks to a long series of fraudulent land deals; how he became an influential but awkward local community leader in the frontier town he built to bear his name; and how he provoked a political and social reaction from other common men hoping to rise in the new republic. Taylor presents Cooper's story as a microcosm of the social and cultural transformation of the United States after the Revolution. Cooper was economically a man of the new era of competitive getting-forward, but intellectually a man of a genteel and deferential age. He tried to work his way up into the gentry, not recognizing or not accepting the values of the bourgeois economy he was helping to create. Likewise, he seems to have subscribed only imperfectly to either the old patronage politics or the new spoils-system politics, demanding absolute loyalty from his Cooperstown subordinates while frequently provoking the anger of state politicians and their allies through his own ambition. No aristocrat himself, he tried to become an oligarch through sharp dealing, only to find himself surrounded by democrats. By the end of his life, his county had turned against him politically. Taylor, I think, finds Cooper ultimately a sympathetic though tragic character. I have a harder time finding any value in him. It is hard to see any significant sign of personal integrity in Cooper (willful pride is not the same thing). He came from, but usually didn't subscribe to, a Quaker tradition that taught him plain dealing and personal humility, yet everything he accomplished was built on bad faith and pursued for personal aggrandizement of one kind or another. At his death, he left a large estate hopelessly compromised by debts and faulty title deeds; a neglected and broken wife; and at least two spendthrift sons who had apparently never learned from him how to control their appetites. He was, to be sure, a symptom of his age, but nothing in this book gives me a reason to care about him.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey David

    Immeditaley, following the War for Independence and the Constitution, the U.S. was a very unstable place both politically and econmically. Anyone who thought that "free land" meant "freedom" was mistaken 9at leat that's what I got out of this book.) Taylor teaches at UC-Davis and I've caught many of his lectures. He is very wise to a forgotten p[eriod of AMerican history, the highly-contentions 1790 political battles. This book documents politics on the Amreican forntier in upstate New York, as Immeditaley, following the War for Independence and the Constitution, the U.S. was a very unstable place both politically and econmically. Anyone who thought that "free land" meant "freedom" was mistaken 9at leat that's what I got out of this book.) Taylor teaches at UC-Davis and I've caught many of his lectures. He is very wise to a forgotten p[eriod of AMerican history, the highly-contentions 1790 political battles. This book documents politics on the Amreican forntier in upstate New York, as William Cooper, self-made gentleman of the Republic amassed a fortuen thorugh land specualtion, only to lose it all becasue he failed to navigate the destablizing effects of non-propertied Americans voting and their erosion of traditional social mores. William Cooper's son was none other than james Fennimore Cooper, author of Last of the Mohicans and Leathersotcking and Deerslayer. Cooper examines J.F. Cooper's novels to see how he treid to reddem his father's life and the values of aristocracy on the expanding American frontier.

  8. 5 out of 5

    James

    It helps if you have some ties to the area (I used to live in the county Cooper helped organize), but this remains a sharp, deep dive into a local version of the post-Revolutionary political and social struggles.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    I enjoyed the biographical parts, but the rest was very dry. More about politics than I was expecting.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Million

    An intricate look at the founding and first few decades of Cooperstown, NY immediately after the Revolutionary War, Alan Taylor combines a biography of William Cooper with the history of the American frontier as it was then located in rural NY. While the book certainly covers Cooper from birth to death, and contains much biographical content, I thought this was closer to being considered American history. Cooper himself does not come across well: impatient, scheming, manipulative, intense. He to An intricate look at the founding and first few decades of Cooperstown, NY immediately after the Revolutionary War, Alan Taylor combines a biography of William Cooper with the history of the American frontier as it was then located in rural NY. While the book certainly covers Cooper from birth to death, and contains much biographical content, I thought this was closer to being considered American history. Cooper himself does not come across well: impatient, scheming, manipulative, intense. He took on too much at one time, and more often than not got himself into costly messes that he could not easily disentangle himself from. His founding of the town that he named after himself (modesty was not one of his traits) was his biggest achievement. After that, he got into a series of costly, impetuous adventures that steadily drained his income and ended up causing major headaches for his children after his death on 1809. He was also a judge, and served in Congress as a Federalist. However, Taylor barely touches on Cooper's congressional service other than to note his absences from Cooperstown and his vote in the deadlocked presidential election of 1800. That is not the focus of this book, so I understand why Cooper steers clear of that part of Cooper's life. Cooper had many children, one of which was the famous author James Fenimore Cooper. Throughout the book, Taylor continually makes reference to The Pioneers, the first of the so-called Leather-stocking Tales. I have read some of those works, but this one. Taylor makes references literally throughout the book, so had I known this, I would have read that novel before picking this up. While not required to understand what is going on, the references are non-stop, so having a good understanding of that novel would be helpful. Taylor is very good at describing early American society away from the big cities and Revolutionary fervor that inhabited them. It is a nice change of pace to read a book devoted to looking at a very specific area, rather than reading about the Founding Fathers or war battles as so many books focus on (nothing at all wrong with that). He juxtaposes Cooper's actions with those of others in town, and with how Cooper's many children grow up and then squander his estate. Cooper was an ardent partisan and created many enemies. He also subscribed to a highly elitist view of society, thinking that, once he became wealthy, he belonged to a group of people destined to lead the common folk. But Cooper forgot where he came from, as he was from the working class himself. The final two chapters deal with the fallout from Cooper's death and the misfortunes of his heirs, especially James. Within a decade of his death, all but two of William's children were dead. They had soft lifestyles as Cooper was trying to create some type of elite family dynasty. James was no exception to this. Prior to becoming a successful novelist, he was kicked out of Yale and basically did nothing with his life. The last chapter is basically a literature review of The Pioneers. After being subjected to periodic reviews of the novel, this was not really how I was hoping the book would end. Grade: B-

  11. 5 out of 5

    Tascha Folsoi

    If a detective married a psychobiographer, this book would be their brain child. For the record, I just learned that big boy word, for which Wikipedia provides the following definition, Psychobiography aims to understand historically significant individuals, such as artists or political leaders, through the application of psychological theory and research. This is a pyschobiography of America as much as anything. You read this book, and you get it. You understand the family that is this nation. If If a detective married a psychobiographer, this book would be their brain child. For the record, I just learned that big boy word, for which Wikipedia provides the following definition, Psychobiography aims to understand historically significant individuals, such as artists or political leaders, through the application of psychological theory and research. This is a pyschobiography of America as much as anything. You read this book, and you get it. You understand the family that is this nation. If you're the type of person who's into an unvarnished understanding of how you or the people in your life ended up they way they are, this book is for you. If you prefer a fictionalized arc with yourself as the triumphant climax of your family's legacy, you would probably be happier reading JFC's The Pioneers. Reading this book did feel like doing a deep dive into Ancestry land, in which you find out a lot of things where you think, I never knew that, but I've always known that. This country is so much an extension of the Cooper family and the forces in their world. Whether your ancestors have been here for thousands of years, or they came over on the Mayflower, or you arrived here and are newly wed into this family, it's yours now. Like a detective, Taylor examines every detail to put together a case for what happened.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Zachary

    A beautiful book. Taylor doesn't make much of a new argument in this book, rather illustrates the myriad changes wrought by the Revolution by following the life of NY land speculator William Cooper. As a young man, WC embodies the mobility afforded to white men by the Revolution, as he emerges from modest origins to get enough money to speculate in land in upstate NY, recently taken from the Iroquois. WC tries to makes himself a gentleman in the fashion of the colonial order by educating himself A beautiful book. Taylor doesn't make much of a new argument in this book, rather illustrates the myriad changes wrought by the Revolution by following the life of NY land speculator William Cooper. As a young man, WC embodies the mobility afforded to white men by the Revolution, as he emerges from modest origins to get enough money to speculate in land in upstate NY, recently taken from the Iroquois. WC tries to makes himself a gentleman in the fashion of the colonial order by educating himself. Once in his new town, Cooper embodies Federalist paternalism as he expects the settlers to respect his preponderance of power and social superiority. This doesn't work out, as the rise of Republicanism is NY challenges WC's worldview, and throws him out of power. I really noticed how dirty politics and patronage were back then--NY governor burned votes to get his way. This story was foundation for WC's son James Fenimore Cooper's novel, The Frontiersman?. There are so many connections in this book while making a succinct and powerful point. Truly deserved the Pulitzer.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Zack Pecenak

    This book might be the most interesting book I have read. The way Taylor combines a biography, regional/national history, and a literary criticism of one of America's premier authors is stunning. I found myself flipping page to page as each brought a different aspect of the story. It is a great insight into how the American frontier was formed and transformed, transforming it's people and politics. It is amazing how this book can have enough data to be a textbook but read like a novel. I wish ther This book might be the most interesting book I have read. The way Taylor combines a biography, regional/national history, and a literary criticism of one of America's premier authors is stunning. I found myself flipping page to page as each brought a different aspect of the story. It is a great insight into how the American frontier was formed and transformed, transforming it's people and politics. It is amazing how this book can have enough data to be a textbook but read like a novel. I wish there was 6 stars to give this book.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Meghan

    Read for American history class with that prof with the big red nose

  15. 4 out of 5

    Gary Crippen

    Well researched and written, with materials assembled for a good reading experience. Convincing portrayal of a notable time and place.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Patricia

    Review to come later.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Josh Maddox

    “By treating William Cooper’s career and his son’s most powerful novel as parts of a whole, William Cooper’s Town is a hybrid of three usually distinct genres: biography, social history, and literary analysis. First, it is a biography of Judge William Cooper…Second, this book is a social history-a community study of Cooperstown, New York…Third, I reassess the production and meanings of The Pioneers.” As Alan Taylor explains in his introduction, William Cooper’s Town is a very atypical history b “By treating William Cooper’s career and his son’s most powerful novel as parts of a whole, William Cooper’s Town is a hybrid of three usually distinct genres: biography, social history, and literary analysis. First, it is a biography of Judge William Cooper…Second, this book is a social history-a community study of Cooperstown, New York…Third, I reassess the production and meanings of The Pioneers.” As Alan Taylor explains in his introduction, William Cooper’s Town is a very atypical history book. In form, it is most like a biography; Judge William Cooper’s life provides the skeleton for the story. The other two parts of the book, the social history and the literary analysis, hang from this frame. In all three ways, biography, social history, and literary analysis, the book is a success. The main part of the book, the biography, is the best. The author tells the tale of William Cooper, a wheelwright who rises from manual laborer to speculator, Congressman, Judge, town leader, investor, and preeminent landholder. The book follows Cooper’s life, tracing him throughout his many varied (and often unsuccessful) pursuits. This framework illuminates the book and provides a sound basis for the other two sections. Though the book is of three types, the narrative of William Cooper allows the author to blend them into one personal and easily understandable chronological narrative rather than three separate sections. Another aspect which adds to the book’s worth is the author’s meticulous research. He shows not only a mastery of the common original sources such as diaries, letters, and newspapers, but a thorough knowledge of more obscure sources, such as bills and receipts. It is also quite clear that the author meticulously dug through the store’s records. This is evident in his deep knowledge of Cooper’s store’s records, particularly those related to maple sugar. The ease with which Taylor uses the records and constructs a story from them builds upon the usual sources of letters and journals. The next part of the book, the community history, is told almost without deviation as it related to William Cooper. In this sense, it is less of a community history and more an addition to Cooper’s biography. Nonetheless, it is an interesting and important section of the book. As he chronicles the town’s growth from a tiny backwoods village, to a pretentious town run by ostentatious lawyers, to an older and more realistic city, he also tells of the rise and fall of William Cooper. Because of Cooper’s intimate involvement with the town from its inception to his death, the town both influences and is influenced by his story. Due to Cooper’s political proclivities, much of the book focuses on the political history of the Otsego area. This is another area in which Taylor’s writing excels. Instead of simply barraging the reader with numbers, Taylor references previous statistics and analyzes both sets of data. For example, throughout the book he tracks the political leanings of the residents of Otsego and the surrounding areas and breaks them down by sub-region. Because of his heavy reliance on statistics and numbers, Taylor’s writing is quite convincing. Due to his usage of data and multiple sources, his points and assertions seem less like arguments and more like clear statements of fact which should be readily apparent to any reader. Thus, Taylor comes across as an unbiased historian telling the tale of Cooper’s town, not an ideologue pouring his narrowly disguised opinions into the readers’ minds. Although it is unusual have a community history linked with a biography, in this case, it seems as if it could hardly be any other way. William Cooper and the story of his town are so closely related that it would be impossible to tell their stories separately. The third member of this conglomeration of methods is different. It is much more unusual to incorporate the literature of the son in a biography of the father. Still, the literary analysis is woven in deftly throughout the rest of the book and seems a natural, if inessential, part of Cooper’s biography. James Fenimore Cooper was not only the first great American novelist; he was also William Cooper’s son. In addition to his more famous The Last of the Mohicans he wrote many other books, including Pioneers, a book which closely follows his father’s life in the town he founded. By relating the real stories in Judge William Cooper’s life to the fictionalized account given in the Pioneers, Taylor adds a new level of depth to the story. He writes not only of the events themselves, but of their effect on a future generation. Though unorthodox, Taylor’s blending of genres is effective. He uses the three different types of writing together to produce something greater than the three could have done separately, and in doing so creates a readable, straightforward, well-researched, and ultimately entertaining story.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Steph

    Loved it. Pretty much love everything.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Britnee

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Alan Taylor's William Cooper's Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic is a biography of Judge William Cooper, a social history of Cooperstown, NY from 1786 to 1823, and a literary analysis of James Fenimore Cooper's The Pioneers (1823). Taylor's work is chronological as it follows the life of William Cooper, his founding of Cooperstown, and his youngest son's publication of a novel inspired by his life in Cooperstown. He writes, "By describing in detail a famil Alan Taylor's William Cooper's Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic is a biography of Judge William Cooper, a social history of Cooperstown, NY from 1786 to 1823, and a literary analysis of James Fenimore Cooper's The Pioneers (1823). Taylor's work is chronological as it follows the life of William Cooper, his founding of Cooperstown, and his youngest son's publication of a novel inspired by his life in Cooperstown. He writes, "By describing in detail a family and their place, I mean to reveal the interplay of frontier settlement, political struggles, and narrative making in the early American Republic" and how all three processes (economic, political, and cultural) occurred simultaneously and interdependently (8-9). The biography of William Cooper highlights how the American Revolution offered new economic and political opportunities to some men, but also how volatile the economic and political systems were. For example, William Cooper went from a wheelwright in PA/NJ to a major landowner in NY. Despite his connections to the ideology of the Democratic Republicans (not an inherited gentleman), he became a Federalist. He attempted to follow/create a genteel identity at a time when that was falling out of favor in the Early Republic. He ended up losing his reelection to Congress, losing his status as "Father of the People" in Cooperstown, and his estate was destroyed after he died. Taylor also shows that the idea of William Cooper as an amazing land speculator is false. It is certainly what Cooper wanted people to believe, but historically he failed at most of his land speculations (Military Tract, DeKalb, Beech Woods) except Cooperstown/Otsego. Finally, he refutes the idea that Judge William Cooper was murdered by a political rival in Albany, NY. Taylor also shows how historical events and developments in Cooperstown in the 1790s/early 1800s impacted James Fenimore Cooper's novel. For example, Marmaduke Temple of Templeton as Judge William Cooper of Cooperstown, Elizabeth Temple as Hannah Cooper, Oliver Effingham as Moss Kent Jr. / James Cooper. William Cooper raised his children as members of the genteel class, who would inherit a large land estate. After his death, however, the estate collapsed due to large debts and faulty assets (most of the wealth was in the success of the DeKalb speculations, which failed). Taylor shows how James Fenimore Cooper "reaffirmed his self-worth and reclaimed his legacy by imagining and crafting an improved past, where property and power flow from a well-meaning but flawed patriarch to his perfectly genteel heirs" (418). In his novel, Cooper rewrites history so that the genteel class (political conservatives/Federalists) did not lose to the new democratic ethos of the Revolution of 1800. Taylor used the private and untouched collection of William Cooper's correspondence and business records that were held by his descendant Paul Fenimore Cooper, Jr. They have since been donated to the Hartwick College Archives. I would recommend this work to anyone interested in the politics of the Early Republic, the history of land speculation/frontier life in early NY, and James Fenimore Cooper's novel, The Pioneers. This is the fourth work I have read by Alan Taylor and like the other three (American Colonies, American Revolutions, and The Internal Enemy), this work is well researched, interdisciplinary, and fascinating.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Gwynneth

    It should come as no surprise that disreputable real estate deals and land brokers have not changed all that much since the 18th century. The fashions may be different, but the fast and loose rules are relatively the same. Taylor documents the rise of William Cooper from poverty to genteel landlord and political office holder. This was accomplished by combining aspects of social climbing with sketchy land title grabs and political intrigue (aka special interest lobbying). If there is one point t It should come as no surprise that disreputable real estate deals and land brokers have not changed all that much since the 18th century. The fashions may be different, but the fast and loose rules are relatively the same. Taylor documents the rise of William Cooper from poverty to genteel landlord and political office holder. This was accomplished by combining aspects of social climbing with sketchy land title grabs and political intrigue (aka special interest lobbying). If there is one point that can be learned from this book, it's that property title insurance is well worth its weight in gold. Unfortunately, title insurance was not around in Cooper's time which proved a boon for him and a bane for his customers who were often left to sort out flawed title claims against others who had bought the same piece of property, but from another land agent. Ultimately, Cooper was nothing more than a current day real estate flipper seizing economic opportunities that became available in the post-Revolutionary War frontier expansion. But those coveted social and political positions came at a cost. Cooper falls into a no-man's middle ground fenced in by disdain for his rough, plebian edges from the more genteel leaders and distrust for the put-on aristocratic airs from his rural constituents. Cooper recognizes this insurmountable chasm and attempts to redeem himself through his children's accomplishments, namely, James Fenimore Cooper. Ironically, his past dealings in faulty land claims come back to haunt them on his death as their inherited paper wealth turns into nothing more than the paper it's written on. The last part of the book details James Fenimore attempts to reclaim his heritage and a sense of his own position through such books as The Pioneers and the more commonly known, The Last of The Mohicans (still one of the more gory books to read even today). Overall, an excellent book well written on a topic that most readers mistakenly view as being dry and uneventful. Certainly very deserving of its Pulitzer Prize.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    Fantastic history of the two generation rise and fall of would-be patriarch William Cooper and his dubiously gained Otsego Patent in New York--rising from marginal society thanks to a Revolution he didn't participate in, land chicanery, maple sugar and land development schemes, self-education and a failed attempt to get big city elite to pay him deference, misjudged Federalist politics in 1800 and ultimately the squandering of potential by spoiled heirs raised in privilege and frontier luxury wh Fantastic history of the two generation rise and fall of would-be patriarch William Cooper and his dubiously gained Otsego Patent in New York--rising from marginal society thanks to a Revolution he didn't participate in, land chicanery, maple sugar and land development schemes, self-education and a failed attempt to get big city elite to pay him deference, misjudged Federalist politics in 1800 and ultimately the squandering of potential by spoiled heirs raised in privilege and frontier luxury when the frontier shifted and only James Fenimore Cooper was left to recast the story in a rose-colored novelization with a happy, elitist and Federalist ending.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Collier Brown

    Essential for understanding James Fenimore Cooper's novel, The Pioneers (1823)--but more importantly, essential for understanding post-revolutionary America: the frontier tenacity of settlers; the self-making potential of the ambitious; the erratic speculation of land; the humbling of the Federalists and the subsequent empowering of the populists. Taylor takes us to the brink of a new industrial era and, on the way, shows how the wealthy, genteel patrician (the emblem of money and power in one s Essential for understanding James Fenimore Cooper's novel, The Pioneers (1823)--but more importantly, essential for understanding post-revolutionary America: the frontier tenacity of settlers; the self-making potential of the ambitious; the erratic speculation of land; the humbling of the Federalists and the subsequent empowering of the populists. Taylor takes us to the brink of a new industrial era and, on the way, shows how the wealthy, genteel patrician (the emblem of money and power in one supposedly enlightened body) split into specialized, independent spheres of commerce and political authority--a world we live in still.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Lindsay

    As history books (and I love history) go this one is pretty darn interesting. It's not as all-absorbing as some fiction work, but the people in the story come alive and Taylor does a great job of showing you their whole characters, flaws and all. For anyone who is from or has visited upstate New York, it's a fascinating read about the roots of this town and how different it was back then. Not the fastest or easiest of history books to read, but if you are in the mood for a longer, more challengi As history books (and I love history) go this one is pretty darn interesting. It's not as all-absorbing as some fiction work, but the people in the story come alive and Taylor does a great job of showing you their whole characters, flaws and all. For anyone who is from or has visited upstate New York, it's a fascinating read about the roots of this town and how different it was back then. Not the fastest or easiest of history books to read, but if you are in the mood for a longer, more challenging tale, then definitely give this a try.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Abby

    2.0-2.5 I feel like this would have been much more enjoyable to me if it had been an article in the New Yorker. I just didn't think the subject matter was interesting enough to warrant 425 pages. I don't really care to know the minutae of late 18th century real estate dealings in Western New York. If that kind of thing interests you, this book is a great choice. It is very well written and scholarly, I just didn't find the topic interesting enough to hold my interest. More a personal preference t 2.0-2.5 I feel like this would have been much more enjoyable to me if it had been an article in the New Yorker. I just didn't think the subject matter was interesting enough to warrant 425 pages. I don't really care to know the minutae of late 18th century real estate dealings in Western New York. If that kind of thing interests you, this book is a great choice. It is very well written and scholarly, I just didn't find the topic interesting enough to hold my interest. More a personal preference than anything else.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Vam Norrison

    I picked this up after reading Taylor's "American Colonies" and James Fenimore Cooper's "Pioneers" in school. The depth of Taylor's research and his ability to navigate between real events and their fictions make this book rewarding. This is a wonderful companion to "The Pioneers" and a great model for history research and writing. I picked this up after reading Taylor's "American Colonies" and James Fenimore Cooper's "Pioneers" in school. The depth of Taylor's research and his ability to navigate between real events and their fictions make this book rewarding. This is a wonderful companion to "The Pioneers" and a great model for history research and writing.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Lauren Hopkins

    Reads like a novel. I love the literary analysis when Taylor attempts to connect his biography of William Cooper to James Fenimore Cooper's novel, "The Pioneers." Very unique and very telling in terms of the relationship between this father and son. Also just a great historical analysis of early America. Reads like a novel. I love the literary analysis when Taylor attempts to connect his biography of William Cooper to James Fenimore Cooper's novel, "The Pioneers." Very unique and very telling in terms of the relationship between this father and son. Also just a great historical analysis of early America.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Scott Cox

    There's more to Cooper's Town, New York than the Baseball Hall of Fame! This Pulitzer Prize winning book discusses the struggles of early settlers in the northeastern United States. It is a story that highlights the lives of author James Fenimore Cooper ("Last of the Mohicans") and his father, William Cooper. This was an interesting and educational read. There's more to Cooper's Town, New York than the Baseball Hall of Fame! This Pulitzer Prize winning book discusses the struggles of early settlers in the northeastern United States. It is a story that highlights the lives of author James Fenimore Cooper ("Last of the Mohicans") and his father, William Cooper. This was an interesting and educational read.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    I got to page 84 and decided it wasn't interesting enough to finish. It read more like a history book than a Pulitzer Prize winner. Maybe my expectations were too high and I expected something easier to read like Champlain's Dream. I got to page 84 and decided it wasn't interesting enough to finish. It read more like a history book than a Pulitzer Prize winner. Maybe my expectations were too high and I expected something easier to read like Champlain's Dream.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Roy White

    Taylor is an exemplary historian, combining human empathy with context and erudition. Here is a sort of review: http://lippenheimer.wordpress.com/201... Taylor is an exemplary historian, combining human empathy with context and erudition. Here is a sort of review: http://lippenheimer.wordpress.com/201...

  30. 5 out of 5

    George

    Reads like a Greek tragedy. The rise and fall of land speculator and politician William Cooper, the father of the novelist James Fenimore Cooper. A fascinating picture of American life in the late 18th and early 19th century.

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