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Donn Piatt

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Donn Piatt: Gadfly of the Gilded Age

“Told through the life of an extraordinary character, Peter Bridges’s book has given us a fascinating and carefully documented picture of nineteenth century America, warts and all. Sadly, the warts persist to this day.”

THOMAS M. T. NILES, former U.S. assistant secretary of state for European Affairs and ambassador

Donn Piatt (1819–1891) was a celebrated diplomat, historian, journalist, judge, lawyer, legislator, lobbyist, novelist, playwright, poet, well-known humorist, and
consummate Washington insider. Having served as an American diplomat in France in the 1850s, he had a strong and influential interest in foreign affairs. After the Civil War, Piatt became famous nationwide as a Washington editor. In his newspaper, The Capital, he fearlessly attacked President Grant and Congress, defended workers, and mocked all parties –– Catholics, Protestants, Democrats, Republicans, and millionaires. Papers across the country carried his witticisms and criticisms, which helped to shape the public’s views on the nation’s agenda. Early reviewers summed it up best.

ERNEST B. “PAT” FURGURSON, author of Freedom Rising: Washington in the Civil War: “Exploring the history of America before, during, and after the Civil War, I repeatedly crossed the tracks of Donn Piatt –– at home, abroad, in politics, in journalism. He seemed omnipresent, and the way he took on some of the nation’s most powerful men made me wonder why I couldn’t find a full study of his varied life. Now Peter Bridges has done it, in an eminently readable work that not only brings forward one remarkable man but examines the feet of clay beneath some of the holiest heroes of his era.”

PETER BRIDGES is a retired Foreign Service officer who served as ambassador to Somalia (1984–1986), with earlier postings in Panama, Moscow, Prague, Rome, and Washington over three decades. His post–Foreign Service career has included the Una Chapman Cox Foundation, Shell Oil Company, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. His other books include Safirka: An American Envoy, about his time as ambassador in Mogadishu, and Pen of Fire: John Moncure Daniel, 1825–1865, a biography of the most influential Confederate editor during the Civil War. Bridges holds degrees from Dartmouth College and Columbia University and has published more than seventy articles and essays, chiefly on history and foreign affairs.