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The Remarkable Millard Fillmore: The Unbelievable Life of a Forgotten President
By George Pendle (Three Rivers Press, $10)

In real life, Millard Fillmore served as the 13th president of the United States. Today Fillmore is thought of mostly as a joke, if he is thought of at all. Part of the reason is his name - it sounds funny in 2007.

Another part of the reason is that Fillmore was affiliated with the Whig political party, which expired soon after his presidency ended (1853).

Other reasons for his lack of popularity include: (1) Fillmore is usually evaluated in the shadow of President Zachary Taylor, who died in office during 1850, nearly halfway through his term. Elected as Taylor's vice president, Fillmore, a Buffalo, New York, politician-lawyer, became president via the president's death, not through the ballot box. (2) Although personally opposed to slavery, Fillmore tolerated it politically because he feared a civil war if Northerners forced abolition on Southerners. As a result, he is viewed, in retrospect, as something of an unprincipled politician. (3) He ran for United States president in 1856 on the American Party ticket, a movement unfortunately nicknamed the Know-Nothing Party. He lost.

George Pendle uses the facts of Fillmore's life to write an imagined biography, turning the dead president into a hero of American history. Although Pendle's motivation for writing the send-up is unclear, his book is a scathing satire of revisionist history in general, and of presidential biography in particular. Some readers are quite likely to chuckle or even to laugh out loud. Others, who take American history and presidential biography at face value, might puzzle about why an author would prick either. In any case, the satire might have the effect - unintended or intended - of driving readers to learn more about the real-life career of Fillmore.

-- Steve Weinberg