Stormy Ben Butler

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by Robert S. Holzman. The Macmillan Company. 297 pp. $5.

Nobody ever felt neutral about Ben Butler. He was a great hero to some, and an unmitigated scoundrel to others, but he was always impressive. His career extended from 1818 to 1893, and while he devoted himself chiefly to the personal advancement of Ben Butler he did play an important role, in war and in peace, during some of the most eventful years of American history. You can do everything with him but ignore him.

He was a lawyer—one of the best; a soldier—one of the worst; and a politician, in which field he was at least one of the most active. Controversy hangs over almost everything he did, and much of it still unresolved. A modern life of Butler has been greatly overdue.

There are weaknesses in this book. Parts of Butler’s career—especially his early years—are brushed over lightly, while other parts are minutely examined; the result is a feeling of imbalance. Some basic questions (was Butler really as dishonest as he often seems to have been?) are not answered at all. There are lapses in historical technique, here and there, and this unfortunately is not the definitive life of Butler.

However, the book makes very interesting reading. Professional historians might take note that one more gifted amateur has entered the field and has laid a valid claim to a share of their audience’s attention.