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  • Mike Martinez

New Book Published: Scoundrels: Political Scandals in American History

I am pleased to announce the publication of my 17th book, Scoundrels: Political Scandals in American History, on June 15, 2023. Here is the summary prepared by my publisher, Rowman & Littlefield: "Political scandals have become an indelible feature of the American political system since the creation of the republic more than two centuries ago. In his previous book, Libertines: American Political Sex Scandals from Alexander Hamilton to Donald Trump, Michael Martinez explored why public figures sometimes take extraordinary risks, sullying their good names, humiliating their families, placing themselves in legal jeopardy, and potentially destroying their political careers as they seek to gratify their sexual desires. In Scoundrels, Martinez examines thirteen of the most famous (or infamous) and not-so-famous political scandals of other sorts in American history, including the Teapot Dome case from the 1920s, the Watergate break-in and cover-up in the 1970s, the Iran-Contra affair of the 1980s, and Russian interference in the 2016 elections. Combining riveting storytelling with insights into 200 years of American political corruption, Martinez has once again written a book that will enlighten all readers interested in human nature and political history."

Here are reviews from several sources:

Political scientist Martinez examines in this solid survey the long history of greed, corruption, and deceit in American politics. Ranging from the Yazoo Land Fraud of 1795, in which private land companies bribed a group of Georgia state legislators into enacting a law that allowed them to sell lands from the state’s western border for ‘scandalously attractive prices,’ to Donald Trump’s efforts to stymie investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, Martinez offers brisk and insightful accounts of 13 different scandals. Some are well-known—Watergate, the Iran-Contra affair, Abscam—while others are less familiar, including former vice president Aaron Burr’s 1805 scheme to ‘lead a private army into Spanish territory to grab as much land as he could’ and North Dakota governor William ‘Wild Bill’ Langer’s 1934 trial for soliciting political contributions from state and federal employees. Throughout, Martinez makes clear the lasting damage that even a whiff of scandal can do to citizens’ faith in democracy, analyzes the factors that allowed some politicians to withstand allegations of corruption while others didn’t, and sheds light on the ‘powerful, corrosive effect of money in American politics.’ American history buffs will savor this detailed yet accessible roundup of political imbroglios.

— Publishers Weekly

The U.S. has a long, colorful history of political scandals, from the time of the founders up to the present day. Martinez has gone through our history and examined some of the most (in)famous episodes, and he explains what they were all about, what made them so scandalous, and how they impacted political discourse in this country, for better or for worse. He also clarifies the facts; for instance, Ulysses Grant’s administration was legendarily corrupt, but Martinez makes clear that Grant himself was never implicated. And Martinez casts a very wide net, ranging from top dogs (Nixon, Reagan, Trump) to small fry (the Abscam congressional-bribery sting) to regional scandals (the Teapot Dome affair). Martinez’s histories are entertaining, enlightening, and often depressing, showing how rife with corruption America has always been. But in showing how that corruption is rooted out and punished, these histories give us cause for hope as well.

— Booklist

Martinez's Scoundrels is an extremely well-written account of famous and lesser-known scandals. In covering the misdeeds of our political leaders from the earliest days of our democracy, Martinez reveals that today's scandal-ridden polity is, unfortunately, nothing new. It is an excellent resource for those interested in learning about the scandalous political history of the United States

— David R. Dewberry, Professor and author of The American Political Scandal: Free Speech, Public Discourse, and Democracy

J. Michael Martinez has done it again. He brings a wonderfully engaging narrative style to describing political scandals and the politicians in the middle of them. Scoundrels works well as an adjunct reading for courses in American History and American Politics and provides enough detail to make readers well-informed about each of these scandals, but is succinct enough to cover a sufficient number of them to give readers the broad history of political scandals in America. If you don't assign it, read it for pleasure.

— Jim Twombly, professor of political science, Elmira College

The book can be ordered from these fine retailers:

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