The host of NPR's Morning Edition tells the story of John and Jessie Frémont, the husband and wife team who in the 1800s were instrumental in the westward expansion of the United States and thus became America's first great political couple.
Throughout this volume are vivid descriptions of the American landscape ... But Inskeep’s most powerful descriptions are of the man at the center of his story ... astute ... Steve Inskeep has performed a great service—to the Frémonts, and to history.
... absorbing ... Inskeep...deftly traces how the marriage mirrored the era’s ferment ... Vibrant and propulsive, Imperfect Union is by far Inskeep’s strongest book, reminiscent of work by Doris Kearns Goodwin and Jon Meacham. Inskeep re-creates the darker currents beneath Manifest Destiny while rescuing John and Jessie from the margins of history, seeing them as precursors to the epic struggles ahead ... a pure delight to read, but beneath Inskeep’s stylish sentences lurk astute insights, illuminating the outsized role celebrity plays in our culture, the outward triumphs and quiet pain it inflicted on two lives that left an indelible, if neglected, mark on our politics.
Certainly, [John Frémont] presents an awkward, and anticlimactic, subject for a biographer—a failure as a Civil War commander, after contesting Lincoln’s 1864 re-election, the balance of his life was a fortune-draining diminuendo of failed business ventures that left him and Jessie destitute. Rather than vilifying or lionizing John, Inskeep smartly situates him in his context. And here he yields his true significance: as a cipher for the forces at large in U.S. society ... Inskeep emphasizes (and perhaps belabors) parallels between the mid-19th century and today ... But some of his most arresting and affecting passages capture the deep strangeness of the period from a contemporary standpoint ... In skillfully telling the story of John and Jessie’s messy, flawed lives, Imperfect Union enriches our understanding of the messy, flawed nation they helped create.