Friday, January 03, 2014

Five Books Of American Political History That We Allegedly Must Read


Richard White, The Middle Ground

Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution

W. E. B. DuBois, Black Reconstruction in America

Theda Skocpol, Protecting Soldiers and Mothers

Richard Hofstadter, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life

The only one of these currently on my to-read list is Hofstadter. The Bailyn book sounds interesting...anybody know about the other three?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel like this is a list more by a historian for historians, in that three of the five books at least are ripostes to the conventional scholarly wisdom of their times. Bailyn, for example, is working against the economic reductionism common in his time. But how likely is it that the educated, generalist reader is enough in the grip of a view like reductionism to profit from being reasoned out of it?

For the American reader of American history who is uninvolved in the debates of historians, the best books I believe are the ones written by intelligent journalists and essayists. Most of us rely upon history for analogies and inspiration, signposts and warnings. We need facts mostly, gathered together into a narrative that will allow us to make informed judgements. Later, if we want, we can engage in the historiographical stuff. The best books for these I think will tend to be focused on a single continuing phenomenon or era, particularly those that bear on current political debate.

Of these books, Hofsteader is valuable, especially in our tea party era. The du Bois looks like it could be very good, and practically no one knows a damned thing about reconstruction. (I know I don't.) In that vein, I can highly recommend van Woodward's Strange Career of Jim Crow. Ohkrent's recent book on Prohibition was very informative, not only for the effects of the policy (bad!) but in understanding the political process that enabled its implementation and repeal, so relevant today. Everyone loves to debate the question of whether the A-bomb should have been dropped, but most all of the debate ignores the basic events that lead up the decision on the US an Japanese side. The Day Humanity Lost and Japan's Longest Day, despite the melodramatic titles, are books by a group of Japanese newspaper reporters that do a fine job of lining the events up. Jefferson Cowie's Stayin' Alive documents the collapse of the liberal/blue collar coalition in the 70s, which has also been so relavent to where we find ourselves today. That's all I can think of off the top of my head.

Oh, except, the risks of cannon-making and that stuff I said about professors be damned: Everyone in America should have to read Battle Cry of Freedom before they can vote, or at least talk about the Civil War in bars.

10:44 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Thanks, A!

Very helpful/informative!

8:41 AM  

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