Posts Tagged ‘american history’
A Patriot’s History of theof America, written by Larry Schweikart, covers the of the from its discovery by Columbus in 1492, up until around 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit. This well-researched and footnoted book gives an overview of that is rarely covered so extensively in other books. Even if you think you remember quite a bit from American class in high school, this book will probably bring up points that you either never knew or no longer remember.
What You’ll Find
Although this book is about America, the book begins with Europe. It is difficult to understand Columbus’s voyage without taking a look at Marco Polo and Vasco de Gama. Columbus’s voyage didn’t happen in a vacuum; Schweikart does an excellent job of tying in the events of Europe to the discovery of America. Similarly, the author briefly discusses the Aztecs, even though they lived in South America; although the Spanish were not innocent in their conquering in South America, the Aztecs and other South American natives were not the peaceful people that somes make them out to be. Throughout the book, the author tries to fairly portray both the strengths and weaknesses of both sides of the story.
The Patriot’s History of thecovers all the major figures of history, as well as some that are lesser known, but nevertheless, important. George Washington and Benjamin Franklin’s contributions, but so are the contributions of people like Queen Liliuokalani and Mike Fink. Many of the players in the last part of the book are more familiar to us, like Colin Powell and Sadaam Hussein, because their names were all over the news in our lifetime.
The book discusses every major period of American history. It covers the colonial period, Revolutionary War, the forming of the nation, western expansion, Civil War, reconstruction, the modern wars of the 20th century, and the history of the United States that many of the book’s readers would have lived through. It tries to take an honest look at each event; some of Andrew Jackson’s actions are not viewed with rosy glasses, neither are some of the American’s actions towards the Native Americans. The honesty helps you learn things that you may not have seen in school, where the textbooks sometimes go out of their way to paint the United States in an overly-patriotic way.
Structure of the Book
Each chapter of A Patriot’s History of the United States of America is laid out in a similar format, with a short introduction, a timeline, and then the remainder of the chapter, broken up into manageable sections. This style makes the book easy to read; the layout also makes it easy to look up specific events. Although there is an index in the back of the book, if you cannot remember the name of a specific person or event, the index will not be of use. If you wanted to look up a rebellion that happened in Virginia in the late 1600s, but couldn’t remember that it was called Bacon’s Rebellion, this format is quite useful.
Throughout the chapters, there are extra sections that will answer questions that don’t really fit into the overall narrative of the story. These sections ask questions like “Did Columbus Kill Most of the Indians?” or “Daniel Boone, Civilizer or Misanthrope?” Schweikart lists his sources after these sections, in case you want to read more about the subject.
At the end of the book, there are 69 pages of notes. As I read the book, I found myself turning to the notes when the author mentioned a fact or a conclusion that is new to me. Schweikart uses books, original sources, magazine articles, and reputable web sites to come to his conclusions.
If you are looking for a book that can give you an overview of American history that ties it into what came before and looks forward to the future, A Patriot’s History of the United States of America is well worth a look.
I always hated my History classes. I learned early on that History was a dull, mundane subject most often taught in monotone by a bearded, middle-aged man with rancid coffee breath. The tedious tasks of reading massive textand answering summary questions at the end of each chapter, all while the “teacher” read the paper or silently graded the latest pop quiz, left me listless. I stopped paying attention and I did the minimum amount of work necessary. I memorized dates, names, and facts, but purged them from my mind soon after the unit test was completed. And why not? When would that knowledge prove useful in my life, other than during the occasional game of Trivial Pursuit?
However, it appears I have been mistaken in my disdain for. In a personal endeavor to improve my knowledge of historical events, people, and facts, I am discovering that there are some fascinating stories to be learned. about the characters, personality traits, trials, and tribulations of historical figures is so much more interesting than simply memorizing the dates relevant to that person. Here are a few that I have read and enjoyed recently, all excellent examples of how can, in fact, be engaging.
1. In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, by Nathaniel Philbrick
I hated reading Moby Dick in high school. A chapter dedicated to how to tie knots? Another focused on the process of removing the blubber from a whale? Dull, dull, dull! This book, however, is the true tale of the American whaling ship whose plight was inspiration to Herman Melville. It is a story of survival, tragedy, and adventure that depicts the desperate measures men will take when faced with their own demise.
2. Sea of Glory: America’s Voyage of Discovery, the U.S. Exploring Expedition, by Nathaniel Philbrick
Although not as dramatic or intense as In the Heart of the Sea, this book by the same author introduces the reader to an under-appreciated event in American history. It provides a glimpse into the personalities behind the U.S. Exploring Expedition, including it’s captain, Charles Wilkes. Political intrigue, scientific discoveries, and world exploration abound. The book is a slow read at times, but it was fascinating to learn about the controversy over who actually discovered Antarctica and how the islands of the Pacific were charted.
3. The Skeletons on the Zahara, by Dean King
Yet another story of survival, this is the true tale of twelve American sailors who were stranded on the African continent in 1815. Following the destruction of their ship, the men are faced with captivity, slavery, and the harsh conditions of the Sahara desert.
4. The Lost City of Z, by David Grann
This book tells the story of Percy Fawcett, his search for the legendary “City of Z”, his disappearance into the unforgiving wilderness of the Amazon, and the countless explorers since who have sought to solve the mystery of his disappearance. I’ve always thought that someday I would see the Amazon. I love to travel, and the prospect of taking a boat ride down the massive river and the jungle and the canopy, has always been appealing to me. Not so much, after reading this book. The detailed descriptions of the bugs, parasites, pests, and maladies of the area will give you nightmares!
Okay, so it’s true that Squirt still knows more about history than I do. However, I do take some comfort in knowing that, with each book, I’m increasing my knowledge just a little bit. Upon finishing each book, I curse my pastfor their inability to suck me into a story in the same way as the authors did. I sincerely hope that my children’s History engage them with intimate stories of real people, captivate them with true tales of adventure, and charm them with legends of discovery. Since I was not so lucky in my educational experiences, I will take the challenge upon myself to continue reading. In fact, I’m considering making it a New Year’s resolution to read a minimum of 5 (okay, maybe 3) historical non-fiction in 2011. Any recommendations?
“Every chapter taught me something new and unexpected,” reads one of the reviews on the back of the book 33 Questions about American History You’re not Supposed to Ask, by Thomas E. Woods, Jr. This is as an appropriate summary of the book as one could expect, as Woods sets out to revisit some of the most common myths of American history and look at them in the light of non-politically correct thought. As the description of the book states, “there’s the history you know and then there’s the truth.” It is this not so idealized truth that Woods presents to answer his thirty-three questions.
As a whole, the book is quite enlightening and filled with conclusions supported by numerous citations of books, various government and private studies, and scholarly articles. In a book this short (around 260 pages), having nearly thirty pages of endnotes and citations shows that Woods has done a fair amount of research and fact-checking. Thus, while the discussions of questions that are presented may contain much information contrary to conventional wisdom, the book encourages readers to verify the correctness of every chapter. Assumptions are not made when discussing facts and historical events, but Woods does draw out some overarching themes throughout the book, in addition to dispelling some commonly-held myths about American history.
One of the themes that Woods discusses in several chapters of the book is the issue of small government and free markets versus big government and a command-type economy. Woods shows that the “Wild West” was not really all that wild, despite a marked absence of government institutions and protectors. Instead of lawlessness and violence, “even in the absence of government, the old West was far less violent than most American cities today. Frontiersmen developed private mechanisms to enforce the law and define and enforce property rights.” Another example of big government interference in private enterprise is the example of Hoover’s and Roosevelt’s interactions in the economy during the Great Depression. Woods shows that both presidents intervened in the market, enacting controls and spending programs that only caused the Depression to become longer, deeper, and more financially ruinous to the general population.
Another theme that is present in various chapters is that of the powers of Congress and the Presidency, and how they have changed over time and their original intents in the Constitution have been distorted. Woods examines the claim that the US Constitution is a “living, breathing document,” by showing that this is exactly the result the framers wanted to avoid: the British constitution was considered to be a living, breathing entity that forced itself upon the colonies. The Founding Fathers wanted a Constitution that was a written agreement between the people and the government and was able to be changed through various methods, but would not just change with the times. The book also looks at the interstate commerce clause, which the federal government now uses to regulate all gainful activity, which was not the founders’ intent. Woods argues that the phrase “among the states” refers to “commerce between one state and another, not commerce that occurs in one state and merely concerns of has effects upon others,” although the government has distorted this into regulating everything and anything that may affect commerce, which have granted it “extraordinary power to interfere in Americans’ lives.” The role of the government was meant by the Constitution to be small, although it has taken on more and more powers to legislate the lives of Americans.
The powers of the president of the United States are also examined by Woods, who determines that the president now wields much more power than was originally granted. Theodore Roosevelt is seen as the instigator of the rise of the “imperial presidency,” due to his increased visibility in Americans’ lives, and the extraordinary use of presidential executive orders (1,006 total). However, Congress has also transferred the power to the president to send troops anywhere in the world without a declaration of war. This transfer of power is now so complete, according to Woods, that “In 2002, on the eve of war with Iraq, Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) insisted, as he had throughout the Clinton years, that if the country were to go to war, the Constitution required that Congress approve a declaration of war… He was told by prominent Republicans that his position was outdated and that things weren’t done that way anymore.” In his discussions of questions relating to the theme of the Constitutional powers of the federal government, Woods demonstrates that powers originally granted to the states have been usurped by the federal government, which has resulted in a consolidation of powers in the Congress, judicial branch, and especially the presidency.
There are a number of other themes that Woods examines, such as civil rights myths, government welfare programs, and the legacy of President Clinton’s intervention in Kosovo. Many of the questions raise issues that are little-discussed in mainstream accounts. The root of the problem, according to Woods, may be traceable to the public school system, which teaches students the same myths and the same one-sided stories. This racket can only result in the propaganda of the greatness of big government, the evils of the free market, and the godlike status of presidents. As Woods states, “the same group of people who hold a monopoly on the power to tax and the power to initiate force also wield an effective monopoly on the power to educate future generations of Americans.” Thus, a healthy skepticism is recommended for all official party-line type discussions of these programs and roles.
The book, in the end, is an invitation to critical thinking of some of the major myths of American History. Woods does not attempt to denigrate his targets or examine the issues in minute detail, instead offering a second look at American history. Even though everyone may not agree with Woods’ on all of the issues, it is more important to him that people know that there is another side to many of the best-known stories of America, and draw their own conclusions, rather than take the official public school-taught propaganda at face value.
Quite a lot happened in Europe between 1002AD, when the Vikings hurriedly packed their longships and retreated back to the colder climes of Greenland, and 1492AD, when the Spanish caravels, with Columbus so confident at the helm, accidentally stumbled across the forgotten continent.
The period, collectively known as the Renaissance, saw a general revival of interest in intellectual thought. Science was studied, with fresh experiments conducted and new conclusions drawn, laws were introduced to control the growing populations and to create more stable societies, medicines were used to cure illness and prolong life, astonomers peered farther into the unknown universe, while geographers mapped and plotted the earth.
All of these advances were aided by the invention of the movable type and a working printing press, which for the first time made books and maps easy to produce and allowed knowledge to be readily available to all.
While Spain united to drive out the Moors and the other major European countries generally moved closer to becoming nation states, so the merchants also started to trade with far-off places and in particular with the other main hubbub of civilization, namely the East (principally China, India and Persia).
This trade brought all sorts of attractive items into daily use and it wasn’t long before Europe started to thrive on this vital commerce, though events were suddenly brought to a premature halt by the rise of the Muslems in the Middle East who moved to blockade the profitable trade routes.
When Constantinople, the established base of the Christian Byzantium Empire, finally fell to the forces of the Ottaman Turks in 1453, the trade virtually dried up. The merchants were doomed and a continent that had become more or less dependent on this trade suddenly felt the need to find an alternative route to regain access to this lucrative market.
At that time Portugal was the leading maritime nation in Europe, holding vital access to the Atlantic Ocean, the unknown frontier and as a few believed the real key to access the eastern markets. As they started to explore into this ocean they first found tiny chains of islands – Madeira, the Canary Islands, the Azores and the Cape Verde Islands – but they then turned their ships southwards to chart the continent of Africa. The Atlantic was still too big, too unknown, and they decided to play it safe and stick to the coastline. Their plan was to try and get around the tip of Africa and then to access Asia across the Indian Ocean. This was a safe route, making sense on the maps of the time, as to their knowledge the American continent quite simply did not exist.
How things were going to change!
When Steven Crane wrotein 1895, he had never even been in a battle, let alone the American Civil War. Nevertheless, it’s now considered one of the most accurate portrayals of war in literature – a characteristic that initially ticked a lot of Americans off as being “unpatriotic.” Only when British critics praised the novel could Americans forgive Crane’s suggestion that war is no picnic in the park.
The novel centers on Henry Fleming, a.k.a. the Youth, who enters the war expecting poetry, grandeur, courage, and, above all, action – when the ladies welcome him home, that is. What he doesn’t figure into his plans is the fact that war is tedious when nothing happens and terrifying anytime anything does. During only his second round of battle, the Youth rekindles his relationship with the will to live and runs for the hills.
While chucking a pine cone at a squirrel in the forest, the Youth has an epiphany: the squirrel doesn’t stand there unflinching to meet an honorable death, so why should he? This revelation makes him feel pretty clever but, as with most squirrel-based life decisions, the sentiment only lasts a few minutes. The Youth then stumbles across a corpse that’s practically riverdancing with ants and has another epiphany: the world really doesn’t care who lives or dies. Horrifying though this may be, it’s also kind of liberating, and he heads back to battle.
Only by A) realizing that his life isn’t all that important in the grand scheme of things, and B) deciding to sacrifice his individuality to a larger concept (like the Union, the flag, camaraderie, or) is the Youth able to join and influence the battle. That’s right: taking the “self” out of the picture really makes the whole “save yourself!” thing less of an issue. It’s the same logic that makes you dive for the ball as a 300-lb guy named Buck carves a path through your teammates: you’d better either really want that ball or really like your team.
With that in mind, it’s no wonder that all the main characters inhave both real names like Henry, Jim, or Wilson and generic names like the Youth, the Tall Soldier, or the Loud Soldier. Actually, Stephen Crane was way ahead of his time when he decided to write a war novel that explored soldiers’ personal struggles instead of the overall movement of Civil War battles or the causes of the Civil War; only by showing the individual experience could he portray the process of becoming a cog in “the war machine.” Not bad for a 20-year old literary type who’d probably never even been in a fistfight.