THE LANDMARK HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE from Plymouth to Appomattox by Daniel Boorstin


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And not one word about tariffs,"" Dr. Boorstin assures the reader, promising to explain ""what it means to be an American."" His first several chapters are precisely what he implies: indoctrination (replete with injunctions to the reader and childish prattle--""every little fact had a big meaning""). Frequently he tells not what happened but what to think about it, as in the section on the Quakers, who are castigated for their obtuse pacificsm which he holds responsible for baring western Pennsylvania to Indian attack, disregarding the fact that, as in some other states, indifferent eastern interests dominated the assembly generally. The chapter on Georgia attributes settlement largely to the desire to grow silk (rather than to create a bulwark against the Spanish and French), identifies the colony as ""a vast poorhouse"" (whereas only a handful were actually debtors) and refers to destitution at the time of the Revolution (although the colony flourished as a royal province after 1753). Throughout coverage is highly selective but balance is not the author's aim: if he dwells on Captain Kidd for 7 paragraphs, mentions Peter Stuyvesant only extraneously, it is because he is using the chapter on New York to make some points about cutthroat competition and smuggling. This approach has its benefits, which are better seen in the post-Revolutionary period of expansion and growth: here are facilities (newspapers, hotels) preceding cities; balloon-frame construction making every man handy; Whitney devising the ""Uniformity System"" of manufacture that led to mass production. Also the tone changes from condescending familiarity to straight narrative, although there's a tendency to make categorical statements throughout. The illustrations are not notable in selection or reproduction. A very uneven book, not up to the standard of the author's adult studies.

Pub Date: Oct. 14th, 1968
Publisher: Random House