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Showing posts from 2010

New Year Meander

Happy New Year everyone! If the new year is on its way, then spring can't be far behind.

The American Stage

I really like the directions the Library of America is taking.  Many new fine additions such as this collection of critics on The American Stage.  You will soon be able to get the Collected Plays of Tennessee Williams in a boxed set as well.

The Gift of the Magi

One of my favorite Christmas stories is O Henry's classic.  Here's the story as seen in Full House.  Hope everyone is enjoying the holidays.  Thanks so much for making this forum possible.  Merry Christmas!

Happy Solstice Meander

Happy Solstice everyone! It only gets sunnier here on out.

The Civil War: The First Year Told by Those Who Lived It

This new series by Library of America looks very promising.  The first volume is due out in February.

Taibbi takes on Wall Street ... again

Taibbi has become one of the most recognizable voices in the assault on Wall Street.  Also, one of the more entertaining ones.  Here is an excerpt from his recent book, Griftopia, from the Rolling Stone, and a review from Businessweek.

Galbraith in Library of America

The writings of John Kenneth Galbraith are a long deserved addition to the Library of America.  The edition binds American Capitalism, The Great Crash, The Affluent Society and The New Industrial State all into one volume.  You can find most of his writings on the Internet but still it is nice to have a volume like this to leaf through and absorb his writings.

The Rum(sfeld) Diary

In between quoting Churchill and reminiscing on his childhood days, Rummy apparently promises some good fodder from his days in the White House in his upcoming memoirs.  It should provide some amusing barbs if nothing else.  But, what is it about this guy that reminds me of Adolf Eichmann?

Remembering Pinckney Pinchback

You don't see this name come up very often, so it was nice to see Pinckney Pinchback recalled in This Day in History.  One can only imagine the unrest that swirled around Louisiana in 1872. He didn't hold office for very long, one month.  Nice to see that Pinchback stood up for Charles Sumner when a motion was made to condemn all Republicans who voted against U.S. Grant.

The World of Lynd Ward

If you haven't noticed, I have a thing for graphic novels. The Library of America has really outdone itself this time, collecting Six Novels in Woodcuts by Lynd Ward.  He is widely credited as the father of the modern graphic novel and the first to do a novel entirely in woodcuts.  Here is a sample of his work from Gods' Man, 1929.

Race and Reunion

In Race and Reunion, David Blight demonstrates that as soon the guns fell silent debate over how to remember the Civil War began. In recent years, the study of historical memory has become something of a scholarly cottage industry. The memory of World War I reflected in monuments, novels, and popular culture has been examined by numerous European historians. A book on how New Englanders remembered King Philip's War against local Indians won the Bancroft prize a few years ago.

What unites these studies is the conviction that memory is a product of history. Rather than being straightforward and unproblematic, it is “constructed,” battled over, and in many ways political. Moreover, forgetting some aspects of the past is as much a part of historical understanding as remembering others. Blight's study of how Americans remembered the Civil War in the fifty years after Appomattox exemplifies these themes. “Race and Reunion” is the most comprehensive and insightful study…


Now with Colonel Roosevelt, the magnum opus is complete. And it deserves to stand as the definitive study of its restless, mutable, ever-boyish, erudite and tirelessly energetic subject. Mr. Morris has addressed the toughest and most frustrating part of Roosevelt’s life with the same care and precision that he brought to the two earlier installments. And if this story of a lifetime is his own life’s work, he has reason to be immensely proud.  -- Janet Maslin -- NY Times.

Let the discussion begin!

West Florida

This looks like a good book on West Florida, 1785-1810, entitled Atlantic Loyalties, leading up to the 1810 rebellion.  Maps and illustrations have been withheld by the publisher but it appears the text is all there.

The Progressive Book Club

Apparently, the Progressive Book Club was the brain child of Howard Dean last year.  It is an attempt to counter the long standing Conservative Book Club, which dates back to 1964, ironically the year Goldwater ran for president.  The PLC has yet to gain much traction, but one hopes that it actually might grow into something.  My guess is that it will be another political casualty as progressive reading tastes are far too diffused to be as neatly packaged as the stuff they peddle at the CBC.

Happy Thanksgiving

I was going to post something about the right-wing theories about the Puritans being failed socialists -- what will they think of next?! -- but this is a much nicer way to contemplate the holiday. Link to the Times story above.

Hampton Sides' Americana

I'm a sucker for a good American travel book, whether it be Steinbeck's classic Travels with Charley or William Least Heat Moon's Blue Highways or Hampton Sides' relatively recent Americana, which somehow bypassed my attention when it was first released in 2004.  Hope to correct that over the holidays.

Wishing everyone a happy Thanksgiving Day weekend!

Undersea Meander

Not exactly American history but this year marks the centenary of Jacques Cousteau's birth, and it is being celebrated around the world.  No person did more to bring us closer to the sea, from his seminal undersea film The Silent World to his amazing Odyssey that became a major part of American television in the 70s.  Wes Anderson paid a fun homage to Cousteau and all things aquatic in The Life Aquatic.

Anarchism in America

Here is a copy of Anarchist Voices, an oral history of Anarchism in America, by Paul Avrich.

Avrich's most recent work is a compilation of 180 interviews he conducted over a period of nearly thirty years. Those interviewed were mostly former anarchists, many of whom professed to having kept the faith, though few were politically active at the time of the interviews (approximately 1963 to 1991). Most of the respondents were foreign-born, Jews and Italians dominating the list, with lesser representation from Spanish, French, German, Russian, and Chinese-born activists. Most had participated in radical activities between the 1880's and the 1930's, and, naturally, most were in their senior years when Avrich interviewed them (in fact, many had died by the date of publication). There are also a number of interviews with relatives and friends of anarchists, most of whom were not themselves politically active.
There is no attempt at comprehensive history, elaborate …

Faking It

I stumbled across this memoir, Lost in the Meritocracy, while looking for other titles on scholastic aptitude testing.  Walter Kirn retells how he managed to cheat the system,

... the young Walter Kirn quickly learned that achievement could be precisely quantified, but also that the system for arriving at that quantification could be gamed. “I was the system’s pure product,” he writes, “sly and flexible, not so much educated as wised up.” He figured out how to turn a teacher’s question inside out and parrot it back in a simulation of thoughtfulness. If asked, “How does racial prejudice contribute to inner-city hopelessness?” he’d reply, “Is our conception of ‘inner-city hopelessness’ perhaps in itself a form of prejudice?” A maestro of multiple choice, he managed to ace his SATs despite having cracked only three “serious novels” by the age of 16: “Frankenstein,” “Moby-Dick” and “The Great Gatsby.”

One more.... and then I'll quit!

I started this book in the a.m. and haven't been able to put it down. I read Alter's book on FDR, and wasn't at all impressed. But then I read that after we all read Schlesinger and he's a tough act to follow.

Alter's not a historian but rather a reporter, so he sees this book as the second draft of history -- enough removed to consider it "history," but still relying on his reporting skills to get the story down.

It's tough reading about how amazingly smart and capable this new administration is (or at least was starting out), knowing what we know now.

Or.... How About This One?

Just arrived in the mail..... I'm really looking forward to reading this one.

For Something Truly American, How About This.....

World that Never Was

The opening for this book is fascinating. This is the English edition (review linked above) -- the American edition is much more sedate. Surprisingly large amount of the text is available online:

Measuring Up to the Big Test

Scholastic testing has long come under fire.  It was interesting to see that Nicholas Lemann had written a book on The Big Test, in which he questions the meritocracy the tests were supposed to inspire.   Lemann apparently stretches his argument a bit thin as he links the early attempts at Harvard to establish an entrance exam with the 1996 fight over Proposition 209 in California.

There are other books written on the subject of testing, including Daniel Koretz' Measuring Up: What Educational Testing Really Tells Us, which has received very favorable reviews.

Interesting topic for discussion, since standardized scholastic testing has become the chief instrument for admissions into universities, sometimes making it difficult to establish the diversity most universities are looking for in their student body.

40 Years and Counting

The 40th anniversary of Doonesbury passed me by.  Here's a nice write up in the Guardian.  Not much interest in American political cartoons over here.  This looks like a fabulous collection from Andrews McMeel Publishing.  I loved what they did with Calvin & Hobbes and The Far Side.  Both collections sit proudly in my attic office.  Actually read through the entire C&H with my daughter, who absolutely loved it.

To me Doonesbury is an indelible part of contemporary America.  Trudeau has been able to stir a few hornets' nests over the years and his characters have aged wonderfully.  I can't think of any political cartoon that has left such a stamp on the American imagination.

Mark Twain Redux

A review is linked above. Apparently, the official release date is November 30 -- Twain's 175th birthday -- which may be why the reviews have taken so long on this one (I thought it was maybe because the author was dead).

The Pity of War

Thinking of Armistice Day, this book came to mind.  I believe it was the subject of one of the NYT reading groups way back when, but I didn't read it at the time.  Here is an interview with Margaret MacMillan from 2002.  Another book is Niall Ferguson's The Pity of War, which explores the economic as well as military impact of the war, focusing more on the origins of the war than its aftermath.  Looks like he explores the war more from the British perspective.

World War I has pretty much faded into the background, but in reading The Warrior and the Priest I find my interest renewed and look forward to any other suggestions for reading material.

Happy Armistice Day

Wilson's War Speeches

Here is the full text of the book, Why We Are At War, which is a collection of Wilson's "war speeches," most of which were directed to Congress.  There is also a speech calling for "A World League of Peace."

Jump Jim Crow

I find myself now reading Trouble in Mind, by Leon Litwack, which deals expressly with the Jim Crow Era in the South.  This was one of the books Chartres had recommended years ago. 

The first chapter entitled Baptisms is a collection of oral histories which describe the cruel and often dehumanizing treatment Blacks suffered in the South.  Some very appalling stories.  There are recollections by Louis Armstrong, Ralph Ellison, Rosa Parks, Richard Wright, among others.  What makes these stories deeply unsettling is that the Federal government did nothing to stop the disenfranchisement of Blacks in the South.  Surprising, when you consider that Rutherford B. Hayes relied on Black Republican votes to win key Southern states in the hotly disputed 1876 election.

Subsequent Presidents played lip service to Blacks, but no President was willing to step out on the limb and enforce the new Constitutional amendments, essentially allowing the Southern states to roll back all the hard-earned gain…

Warmth of Other Suns

The Morning After

It was a rough fight with no clear winner, except John Boehner who can finally claim the throne of Speaker of the House, bringing his buddy Eric Cantor in as Majority Leader.  An ugly combination that will ruthlessly fight Obama the next two years.  But, the consolation for the Democrats is retaining the Senate, so there isn't much the House can do except make a big stink.

The Tea Party managed to win a few key seats as Republicans, but Palin's "Grizzly Moms" didn't fair so well, which I think is a repudiation of Palin's influence over the GOP.  In the end, the election shook out pretty much along traditional party lines, with the GOP regaining seats throughout the South and West, and picking up a few in the Midwest, while the Democrats held their ground in key Blue States.   The same old intractable politics.

Lincoln and Slavery

Just when you thought nothing more could be written on Lincoln, Eric Foner comes out with a new book that tackles Lincoln as the Great Emancipator.  By focusing on Lincoln's political background, Foner hopes to resolve some of the inconsistencies that surrounded his views on slavery and emancipation.  I thought that William Lee Miller did a pretty good job of exploring Lincoln's texts in Lincoln's Virtues, so it would be interesting to see what more Foner finds in probing Lincoln's records.

Mark Twain unexpurgated

Received my copy the other day and it weighs a ton.  This is the first in a proposed three-volume edition put out by the University of California Press and the Mark Twain Project, where you can view the text on-line.

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter

In the Halloween spirit, albeit a day late, there is this fun title that has received some very positive reviews.  Apparently, it will soon be made into a movie.

Fighting the Civil War all over again

It is the Civil War's 150 anniversary, so the NY Times is providing a blow-by-blow account of the war (linked above). This might be a fun series to follow.

Washington weekend meander

Robert: While we wait for Gintaras' return, here's an area to discuss your thoughts about the new Washington biography. I've also linked the NY Times review in the title above.

A little late weekend meander

I'm not sure where I read about this book, but just picked it up this a.m. and have found it hard to put down. So far it's very well written and provocative.

Each chapter focuses on individuals who have promoted American empire, from Benjamin Franklin and John Quincy Adams to William Henry Seward to Henry Cabot Lodge and John Foster Dulles. And then of course the ultimate empire proponent, Paul Wolfowitz.

Here's the only review I could easily find online, which suggests the individuals combined do not make a strong enough case -- I guess time will tell. All three of these books sound interesting:

The New Nationalism

Both Morris and Cooper attach much importance to the 1910 speech Roosevelt made on The New Nationalism while stumping for Republican candidates in Osawatomie, Kansas.  He had lifted the title from a book by Herbert Croly.  He would later combine this speech with other speeches in a book of his own.  But, this speech contained the germ of his idealistic vision of a more vigorous America.  Essentially, an America modeled upon himself.

What he wanted most was for Americans to rise above materialistic persuits and understand their unique role in shaping America's course.  He pushed for greater regulations of industry, but at the same time recognized the value of industry.  He wanted Americans to forgo their sense of isolationism and become more aware of America's growing dominance on the world's stage.  It was almost like he was conferring a sense of noblesse oblige on all Americans.

Cooper notes that the subsequent 1912 election, which pitted Roosevelt against Wilson, lifte…

Cabinet Government in the United States

Cooper points to Wilson's early writings in his book The Warrior and the Priest, noting Cabinet Government as his first foray into political writing.  Wilson established himself as a "Federalist," believing in a strong central government, which would be the basis for his later text, Constitutional Government in the United States.  The interesting part is that he never attended a session of Congress in writing either of these books, preferring to maintain his intellectual distance.  Cooper said that both of these texts stand out in their study of government and went a long way toward establishing Wilson as a leading "political scientist."

The Warrior and the Priest

As primer or possible alternative there is John Milton Cooper's much shorter The Warrior and the Priest.  This appears to be the full text.  Cooper compared and contrasted the approaches of  Roosevelt and Wilson, which he regarded as the forefathers of modern politics.  Not since Jefferson and Hamilton, he noted in his Preface, had there been such a vociferous debate over the direction of the country and the character of the nation.  Far from backing down, Wilson held his ground, as sure in his "rightness" as Roosevelt was in his.

The first part deals with their political paths, humorously entitled "The Dude and the Professor."  Cooper noted that Roosevelt consciously re-invented himself in personally heroic terms, while Wilson also overcame adversities but in a more quiet, unassuming way.  Apparently, Wilson suffered from dyslexia, which is why he was so late in enjoying books.  Whereas Roosevelt devoured books with the same gusto as he did his meals, Wilson …

Roosevelt in December?

Tentatively we have Colonel Roosevelt scheduled for December.  The book is due out November 23.  Would like to take a quick survey of those interested in Edmund Morris' final installment of his TR trilogy, or if there are other books persons would like to suggest.

Having just about finished an advance copy of the book, I can heartily recommend it, as Morris covers a lot of ground in the tumultuous last 10 years of Roosevelt's life (1909-1919) from his big game hunt in Africa, to the formation of the Progressive Party in 1912 to his Journey through the Brazilian Wilderness to his infamous battles with Wilson over American neutrality in WWI and the revolution taking place in Mexico.  Enough here to capture just about anyone's attention.  The book weighs in at a little under 600 pages.

But, this forum always remains open to suggestions, so please comment or post your opinions.

Awake, My Soul

Sacred Harp Singing is still alive and well with organizations like Fasola that rely on shape notes, which Wilentz mentioned in his book.  Shape notes arose in the early 19th century as a way of transcribing music so that it was simple to read and allowed congregations to more easily follow along.

Hymnals like The Sacred Harp (first published in 1844) became widespread throughout the South and other regions of the country as well, spreading standard hymns far and wide.  There is a documentary, Awake, My Soul, on Sacred Harp Singing.

Here is a copy of an 1859 edition by Asa Hull, which uses standard musical notations.

The fab four of the folk revolution

Positively Fourth Streetis an evocative account of four remarkable people at a remarkable point in postwar musical history, by a writer whose first book was the award-winning biography of Billy Strayhorn. Critical yet fair, it is a reminder that idols don't have feet of clay so much as of flesh. Joan and Bob and Richard and Mimi trod on one another's toes and occasionally landed a well-aimed kick. But when all is sung and done, separately and together, they made some wonderful music. -- Liz Thomson

Sounds like another fascinating look into the early years of Dylan and co. with a focus on their interrelationships.

Through the Brazilian Wilderness

In two chapters Edmund Morris managed to size up the incredible Expedicao Scientifica Roosevelt- Rondon (some incredible footage in the site) better than Candice Millard did in a whole book.  For starters, Morris explained why the mission was initially so heavily laden with foods and supplies.  Roosevelt had never planned such a mission.  Instead,  Father Zahm had imagined a much less formidable collecting trip along the Orinoco providing more stuffed animals for the Smithsonian.  Roosevelt had been intent on bagging a jaguar, a dream since childhood.  But, the Brazilian government saw a golden opportunity in Roosevelt to advertise its interior lands to the highest bidder, by tempting him into an exploration mission with Colonel Rondon, mapping out a relatively unknown river.

Morris also describes how Rondon and his officers similarly had a large haul of tents and chairs and other paraphenilia which was even more weighty than all the tins of food, jars of spices, candies and other de…

Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues

It seems there is some connection between the John Birch Society and the Tea Party, as I see the JBS was pitching the Teabaggers' Ball back in February.  Seems that Dylan had the Birchers pretty well sized up,

Now we all agree with Hitler’s views
Although he killed six million Jews
It don’t matter too much that he was a Fascist
At least you can’t say he was a Communist!
That’s to say like if you got a cold you take a shot of malaria

As you can see Dylan reworked the lyrics a little.

Blind Willie McTell

Blind Willie McTell has long been one of the most revered Bluesmen, and his Statesboro Blues is one of the classic standards.  Dylan opted for songs like Broke Down Engine Blues, which probably fit his mood at the time, eventually shaping a song around Blind Willie that has become a classic in itself, sung by many, including the surviving members of the Allman Brothers, who probably did the most to call attention to McTell with their unparalled version of Statesboro Blues.  Here is one of their recent versions of the song, performed live at the Beacon Theater in 2003.  The classic recording can be found on their quintessential album, At Filmore East (1971).  McTell is also featured in R. Crumb's Heroes of the Blues, which was originally conceived as a set of collectable cards.  Here is McTell singing Statesboro Blues.

Roosevelt's European Tour

I started reading an advance copy of Colonel Roosevelt and am enjoying Edmund Morris' descriptions of Roosevelt's time in Europe, where he was feted by virtually every head of state, including Kaiser Wilhelm, who invited him to see German maneuvers, which apparently left Roosevelt deeply troubled about the state of military affairs in Europe, as Germany was all too obviously the best organized force on the continent.  Seems the Kaiser wanted Roosevelt to take this impression home with him, especially after the run-ins they had over Venezuela while he was President.

Kunstler on Dylan

Here is a book review of Chronicles, Volume 1, which James Kunstler wrote.  You can pick up inexpensive copies at abebooks, if interested in reading Dylan in his own words.  In the later chapters, Wilentz pours over Chronicles in deciphering some of his songs.  It really was fascinating to learn Dylan had such a big range of literary interests, and a passion for the Civil War, that was infused into many of his songs.  Dylan was apparently an avid reader those early days in the Village, checking out numerous books at the New York Public Library as he searched for something deeper in his lyrics.