A scholarly, exhaustively detailed account of how America’s founding generation used the “language of sentiment” to establish a benevolent, romantic self-image for the new nation. Historian Burstein (Univ. of Northern Iowa) has compiled evidence from letters, speeches, newspapers, poems, and popular literature to illustrate 18th-century America’s “concern with the workings of the human heart,” a concern that helped shape the founders and their nationalist ideology. Through the use of sentimental language, the revolutionary generation created a sort of secular religion envisioning America as a divinely ordained Eden whose example would liberate the world from tyranny. Burstein parses this sentimental language, citing the impassioned words of Jefferson, Crävecoeur, Paine, and others. With a profound understanding of the moral and intellectual climate of the Revolutionary era, Burstein describes the evolving mythology of the young nation. Washington was transformed into a symbol of republican virtue, a selfless Cincinnatus forsaking his plow to defend his country. The “spirit of ’76” stressed a love of liberty that compelled total self-sacrifice. As postwar factionalism and economic instability rose, the rhetoric of moral crisis returned. Federalists increasingly bemoaned the “unbridled passions” of the multitudes, fearing a descent into Hobbesian mob rule. Hence, they proposed constitutional checks and balances to channel public sentiment. Jefferson, Burstein’s quintessential Man of Feeling, feared this centralization of power as a smokescreen for aristocracy; he revered the simpler, agrarian virtues, worshiped Nature, and trusted in resilient individualism. While the Jacksonian era seemed to embody Jefferson’s idyllic vision, it also promoted concepts of acquisitiveness and aggression. As the 19th century advanced, Burstein notes, the seemingly contradictory concepts of sentiment and power were merged into a national ideology of benevolent aggression, whereby power was wielded for paternalistic or “civilizing” motives. Burstein wisely admits that the nation hasn’t always lived up to its romantic self-image, especially in its treatment of slaves and Native Americans. A welcome addition to the literature exploring American history’s ideological underpinnings.

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-8090-8535-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1999

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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