James Fenimore Cooper grew up in a frontier town named after his father, went to sea on a merchant ship at the age of sixteen and later was commissioned as midshipman in the United States Navy. When he turned to writing at the age of thirty, his first book failed because he had not drawn on his own wide knowledge of land and sea, city and country.
His next book, marked the beginning of the 'Leatherstocking' era, The Spy, was a great success and he continued his stories of the frontier and also drew on his experiences at sea for The Pilot, The Sea, etc. His best books, those we still read today, are the Leatherstocking Tales—The Spy, The Prairie, The Pathfinder, The Deerslayer and The Last of the Mohicans. The story of his life, told here, shows why these books still live. They are the way he found to carry out the dreams of his childhood. "It must be wonderful to live out here in the forest," he said to his father, seeing himself wearing leather leggings instead of stockings, spending his days hunting and fishing, and never going to the village "excepting for powder."
His life was active and varied, with a great part of it spent in Europe. Here he developed a critical attitude toward America, and his later books brought harsh criticism in return, and when he came home he was involved in several suits for libel. Cooper was tactless and aggressive, and his lack of self-confidence and poise made him very defensive. But, because he was an American patriot first, he campaigned ardently for freedom of speech, and, after many years, he re-won his public and his last popularity.
The story of his life is human and true. Mrs. Proudfit presents a writer who, knowing little of literature, yet wrote so convincingly of his times and his people that his books are a part of America’s literary heritage.
—from the book
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