In his day, William McKendree Gwin (1805-1885), California's first Senator, was an outstanding but controversial figure in American life. He was admired for his accomplishments and his style but his motives seemed always to be suspect. The historian Bancroft considered him a scoundrel but in the hands of Lately Thomas, biographer and social historian, Gwin receives more favorable treatment. He emerges as a lively and remarkable character whose political service to the state he represented and to the nation was genuine. (He was the architect of California's political construction and he was instrumental in establishing mail service across the continent.) His capacity for intrigue, however, which was also a characteristic of his career, reached its most fanciful in his endeavor to establish a mining colony in northern Mexico under the ""protection"" of Napoleon III and Maximilian. Though he failed here notoriously and was imprisoned twice as a Southern sympathizer, Gwin rose from his own political ashes to recoup his fortune in San Francisco. He died one month short of 80, having ""lived under 20 presidents almost all of whom he knew personally."" It's an absorbing story and Thomas does a very commendable job.