Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Virtue of Idiocy


Couldn't resist the cover.  Book sounds pretty good too,

Charles Pierce’s Idiot America is a lively and, dare I say, intelligent study of this ongoing assault on gray matter. “We’ve chosen up sides on everything,” he asserts, “fashioning our public lives as though we were making up a fantasy baseball team.” This new civil war almost always boils down to a clash between intellect and feeling, or what Mr. Pierce labels the Gut. “The Gut is a moron, as anyone who’s ever tossed a golf club, punched a wall, or kicked a lawn mower knows,” he writes. “The Gut is the roiling repository of dark and ancient fears.” The problem is, it currently has a stranglehold on a hefty slice of our major media—talk radio—as well as that traveling circus known as the G.O.P.

It starts with a trip to the Creation Museum in Kentucky.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Remembering the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire


Mark Levin, who produced Triangle: Remembering The Fire, a documentary about the deadly blaze, says the lessons from the fire resonate to this day.

"What’s amazing is that 100 years after the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire we are witnessing a debate about where there’s even a need for labor anymore,” Levin said. “We need to be reminded how we got here. It didn’t come easy. Lives were lost in the struggle."

Here is a review of TRIANGLE -- The Fire That Changed America, written by David Von Drehle, and published in 2003.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Journey Back to the Columbia

 
Another option for a reading group is William Clark.  This earlier post has been getting an inordinate number of hits, so there might be other persons out there interested in reading along, or sharing comments on one of the books on Clark.  The most recent book is William's Clark World, which focuses on his mapmaking skills, but there are other books to consider, which I linked in the post above.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Religious Roots in America



Thomas Kidd has written several books on the Great Awakening and its influence on colonial, revolutionary and post-revolutionary America.  God of Liberty seems to provide the broadest overview of the subject, focusing on the age old question, Was our nation founded on Christian values?


I think it would be interesting to look at religion in colonial and revolutionary America.  Robert noted Making Haste from Babylon which goes back to the Mayflower and explores the very early religious life in America.


There is also Nathan Hatch's The Democratization of American Christianity, which explores the various strains of Protestantism in this country, as they grew out of the Second Great Awakening. 

Feel free to suggest other titles if the topic interests you.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Good Losers?



This looks like a fascinating new book, exploring the plight of Loyalists during the Revolutionary War.  Liberty's Exiles has received rave reviews, including this one in The Guardian.  Gordon Wood has this to say,

Jasanoff, who is professor of history at Harvard and author of a highly regarded work, Edge of Empire, that dealt with the ways in which British and French individuals experienced the culture of empire in India and Egypt, has turned her remarkable historical talents to the experiences of the tens of thousands of loyalists who felt compelled to leave the North American colonies that became the United States and migrated, sometimes moving from place to place, to both near and distant parts of the rapidly expanding British Empire. Jasanoff rightly claims that her book provides “the first global history of the loyalist diaspora.”

in his review for The New York Review of Books.  Note the different subtitles between the American and British edition.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Meander like it's 1776

Tempest in a Tea Pot



Seems an apt book given all this talk about "tea parties" these days.  Breen covered the Boston Tea Party from the point of view of the consumer, it will be interesting to read Unger's view of the event.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Atlas Shrugged: The Movie


Check this out!  Someone actually has the audacity to make a movie of Atlas Shrugged.  I guess you might call it a Libertarians' revenge movie.  It is a well-plotted book and should be relatively easy to make into a movie, but what does one do with all those speeches by John Galt that went on for pages and pages?  It is as tough as trying to read Ron Paul.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Revolution in Favor of Government



I find myself reading this book by Max Edling, which explores the ratification debates and the early Federalist government.  He takes on a more pedantic tone, which can be a bit irritating, but offers a number of valuable insights.  He looks at the Constitution in relation to contemporary views, particularly those held by historians like Bailyn and Wood.  In this sense it is a historiography, exploring the Constitution's "original intent," and how it has been interpreted.  Looks like a complete on-line copy here.

Friday, March 11, 2011

An Empire of Goods


I can't recommend Mr. Breen's The Marketplace of Revolution more heartily.  It is a bit slow going at first as he establishes the consumerist society that had developed in the colonies in the 1760s pointing to a number of fascinating colonial records, including those of thefts.  But, the narrative builds on these necessary elements to illustrate why the consumer boycotts over the Stamp and Townshend Acts were so effective.  The colonies had become Britains' prime outlet for its commercial goods and as Benjamin Franklin articulately pointed out to the British Parliament, Americans could either accept or reject these goods as it suited its growing political conscience.  The colonies gained huge moral victories in the repeal of these notorious acts.

Breen also explores the flipside of this, noting how oppressive the colonial non-importation movements became, especially in small towns.  Vendors, who understandably found their livelihood in great jeopardy, had little ground for appeal as communities banded together against British imports, calling vendors out who broke with the non-importation subscription lists, and tar and feathering them in some cases.  Although he doesn't delve too deeply into the religious roots of these movements, he does say that the strong sense of moral conviction carried with it many Biblical allusions.

What is fascinating to me is how much women became involved in these movements, either directly by signing subscription lists, joining spinning groups, and writing articles for newspapers; or indirectly by not buying goods they had long been accustomed to in support of colonial rights.  Breen spends a lot of time on this, noting the frustration many men felt in having to ally the "weaker sex," as these boycotts would have failed without their support.

Breen notes that it is hard to gauge how strong an impact these boycotts actually had on the commercial trade between Britain and the colonies, but their rhetorical effect is indisputable.  Parliament heeded Franklin's oratory, as well as complaints from vendors noting how adamant the colonial leaders were in having these notorious acts repealed.  Great reading!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Debate on the Constitution 1787-1788



This is a link to the first volume of Bernard Bailyn's massive The Debate on the Constitution, published by the Library of America.  The two volumes weigh in at nearly 2400 pages and cover a tremendous number of recorded speeches, including those by "Antis" like Elbridge Gerry, Patrick Henry and Melancton Smith.  Surprised Maier didn't mention the two volumes in her introduction.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Meandering through the latest fiction


Trying to make sense of the latest fiction is never easy.  Bemused by Jonathon Safran Foer's latest effort, Tree of Codes.  Seems to take post-modernism to another level, as he literally dissects Bruno Schultz's The Street of Crocodiles, which had been made into a stop-action animation feature by the Quay Brothers some years before. 

What are some of the books others have been reading or perusing lately?  Doesn't necessarily have to deal with American history.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Celebrating women!

 
Happy International Women's Day!  Interesting to see Obama marking March as Women's History Month.  Long overdue.  Surprised to learn that the holiday stretched back to an international women's conference held in Copenhagen in 1910, sponsored by the Second International, although 1911 is considered the commemoration's first year, as it was celebrated in Germany.  The American ambassador honored the centennial on Lithuanian television this morning.  It was a major holiday in the old Soviet Union and many Socialist countries around the world.  Today, it is more an office party for women, which brings its own rewards. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Peasant Prince


Probably states the Polish part too much, but Tadeusz Kosciuszko is a fascinating figure, bridging not only the American and French revolutions but the Polish-Lithuanian one as well.  Although not as famous as Casimir Pulaski, who has both a fort and a day named after him, Kosciuszko was no less instrumental in helping to win battles during the American revolution and defend the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth back at home. 

Colonization After Emancipation



Seems the authors of this new book are hoping to generate some buzz, as I don't think there is anything particularly controversial about Lincoln's views on colonization.  Most historians have covered this.  Yet, Magness and Page seem to think they have presented startling new revelation,

Colonization after Emancipation: Lincoln and the Movement for Black Resettlement explores the previously unknown truth about Lincoln’s attitude toward colonization. Scholars Phillip W. Magness and Sebastian N. Page combed through extensive archival materials, finding evidence, particularly within British Colonial and Foreign Office documents, which exposes what history has neglected to reveal—that Lincoln continued to pursue colonization for close to a year after emancipation. Their research even shows that Lincoln may have been attempting to revive this policy at the time of his assassination.

Looks like they even used the same image from Team of Rivals for their cover.  Magness appears to be a very young historian, judging by his profile.  I hope he has at least read Goodwin.

Re-imagining de Tocqueville


Peter Carey has fun with the idea of De Tocqueville in America in this witty novel, Parrot and Olivier in America

The real Tocqueville is described by his biographer Hugh Brogan as having been “cross-grained, refined, severely intellectual, private.” Carey doubles the worst of these ingredients to create, in Olivier, a pompous, febrile, tantrum-prone twit, a master Parrot refers to as “Lord Migraine.” Olivier is abstractly liberal but consumingly elitist; his servant boils with ambition and resentment. A socialist and unbeliever, Parrot imagines his own mind to be “a mighty garden wild with weeds,” and himself a man “subject to the laws of Newton but not to those of kings.” He is being cruelly transplanted to a new world whose democratic opportunities he cannot seize: “I read Tom Paine by candlelight, but for 18 hours a day I was a vassal.” He is, however, able to bring along his volatile mistress, Mathilde, a portrait artist who hates the aristocrats she flatters in paint. Tormented by the hours of the voyage that Olivier spends sitting for her, Parrot tosses the resulting canvas over the Havre’s starboard side.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Forget, Hell!

Those good ol' Sons of Confederate Veterans are at it again.  This time they want to put Nathan Bedford Forrest on Mississippi license plates.  I've seen a couple variations on the web.  Apparently, Governor Haley Barbour has flatly rejected any such homage.


You have to love the SCV's spin on history, such as blaming the North for imposing slavery on Southern plantation owners.  Fortunately, the History channel refused to air these bogus infomercials.  It just makes you wonder how long we will continue to fight this cultural war.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Standoff in Madison



As the standoff in Madison continues, protests spread throughout the nation including some unlikely places like Arkansas.  Americans at this point seem to overwhelming favor the civil servants of Wisconsin, with nearly two-thirds of those polled supportive of collective bargaining rights.  In the process we have learned where the Republicans get much of their money.  Governor Walker revealed in a telephone sting that he answers more to the infamous Koch Brothers than he does the people of Wisconsin.  No problem, as far as Fox News is concerned, doing its best to slant their news in favor of conservative corporate interests.  Whether President Obama likes it or not, we now have a full blown class war and it is time for him to decide which side he stands on, not continue to cave into conservative interests, while paying lip service to liberal interests.  As usual, Mother Jones provides some of the best media coverage.

Meanwhile, Ohio Republicans are pushing through much of the same legislation, as the focus remains on Madison.  We can expect to see more such legislation in other Midwest states, which swung Republican in the midterms.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Vollmann's Jamestown


I've long been curious in William Vollmann and see that he has written a novel, Argall, that is supposedly the "true story of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith.  The author is known for his incredible output including the relatively recent Imperial.  I wonder if it was Argall that influenced Terrence Malick in his making of The New World.