Provocative, polymathic, pleasurable. (Illustrations throughout)

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THE LANDSCAPE OF HISTORY

HOW HISTORIANS MAP THE PAST

Entertaining, masterful disquisition on the aims, limitations, design, and methods of historiography.

Gaddis (Military and Naval History/Yale; We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History, 1997) adapts the lectures he gave at Oxford while its George Eastman Visiting Professor (2000–01). Employing a wide range of metaphors (from Cleopatra’s nose to Napoleon’s underwear), displaying an extensive knowledge of current thinking in mathematics, physics, and evolutionary biology, alluding frequently to figures as disparate as Lee Harvey Oswald, Gwyneth Paltrow, John Lennon, and John Malkovich, Gaddis guides us on a genial trip into the historical method and the imagination that informs it. He begins by showing the relationship between a cartographer and a historian, asserting that the latter must “interpret the past for the purposes of the present with a view to managing the future.” He also takes us through a set of principles he believes historians must employ and reminds us that the imagination of the historian must always be tethered to reliable sources. He takes on social scientists (especially economists), observing that as they attempt to become more “scientific” (establishing laws, making accurate predictions), they move in the opposite direction of today’s “hard” scientists: “When social scientists are right, they too often confirm the obvious.” Gaddis moves to a discussion of variables (declaring irrelevant the distinction between “independent” and “dependent”: “interdependent,” he says, is the more accurate term), examines chaos theory and explores theories of causation. He ends with an intriguing discussion of the role of the biographer, insisting that historians retain a moral view of events, and with a reminder that they must necessarily distort even as they clarify. Historians, like teachers, he says, both oppress and liberate.

Provocative, polymathic, pleasurable. (Illustrations throughout)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-19-506652-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2002

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A probing study of a scandal that spread even deeper than the standard histories claim—and one that has plenty of lessons...

THE TEAPOT DOME SCANDAL

HOW BIG OIL BOUGHT THE HARDING WHITE HOUSE AND TRIED TO STEAL THE COUNTRY

If corruption is what you want, put someone with strong ties to the oil industry in the White House.

So we learn from business journalist McCartney (Across the Great Divide: Robert Stuart and the Discovery of the Oregon Trail, 2004, etc.) in this lucid account of the Teapot Dome scandal. At its root was Warren G. Harding, the Ohio senator who was a 40-1 shot to gain the Republican nomination for the presidency for 1920 until he secured the backing of Jake Hamon, Harry F. Sinclair, Edward Doheny and other oil titans. The trade-off was that Hamon was to become secretary of the interior and be given control of the Teapot Dome oil field in Wyoming, “an oil supply potentially worth several hundred million dollars—1920 dollars—a bonanza so rich that it was almost beyond comprehension.” Hamon’s wife shot and killed him before the deal could go through, but before he died Hamon sent a sealed note to Harding with orders to “get some of his friends taken care of.” The oilmen got their way with a longtime New Mexico senator named Albert Fall, hard-drinking and murderous, who had fallen on hard times and seemed in danger of losing his huge ranch holdings. No sooner was Fall installed than his money problems disappeared, the dollars flowing into his bank accounts and those of other prominent Republicans as the oil flowed out of Teapot Dome. By way of thanks, Sinclair gained access to two million barrels of public-domain oil per year, on which Harding signed off in a letter to Fall: “I am confident you have adopted the correct policy and will carry it through in a way altogether to be approved.” Of course, when all this backdoor dealing was exposed, approval was not forthcoming. Sinclair thundered that he was too rich to be jailed. He was wrong, but many others walked.

A probing study of a scandal that spread even deeper than the standard histories claim—and one that has plenty of lessons for today.

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6316-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2007

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Ideal for Chicagoans, both casual and die-hard sports fans, and anyone who wonders, “What happens when you have a dream and...

MONSTERS

THE 1985 CHICAGO BEARS AND THE WILD HEART OF FOOTBALL

A fan’s engaging yet ultimately melancholy love letter to his beloved team and his hometown.

“Pick your team carefully, because your team is your destiny.” Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone contributor Cohen’s father’s solemn advice can be easily understood by sports fans. However, other readers will enjoy this entertaining, if profane, history of the 1985 NFL champion Chicago Bears. That team symbolized Chicago through their fierceness and audacity and by playing a “blitzkrieg” style of football that would certainly be banned today. Throughout, the author provides comical anecdotes about head coach Mike Ditka, a pugnacious tantrum-thrower whose method was “Ready, Fire, Aim.” Ditka’s orneriness mirrored that of “stingy, angry and mean” team owner George “Papa Bear” Halas (a founder of the NFL) and met its match in the defiant quarterback Jim McMahon, who, despite being undersized with a weak throwing arm and a bad eye, played without regard for his body and led his team to a 15-1 record. Cohen’s telling of the Bears’ founding and its tradition of nastiness is by turns devastating, regarding the irreparable harm done to players’ bodies and minds, and moving, as when he explains that Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton was “Chicago as Chicago wanted to be: a fighter…who’s been knocked down but always gets back up.” Cohen thankfully avoids sentimentality and doesn’t bog readers down in lengthy game reports or analyses. The author is at his best in the interviews with 32 retired players and executives who offer their impressions of the Bears’ famed “46” defense, “the most devastating force in football,” and its characters, including the Hit Man, Mongo, the Black & Blues Brothers and, most famously, the Fridge.

Ideal for Chicagoans, both casual and die-hard sports fans, and anyone who wonders, “What happens when you have a dream and that dream comes true?”

Pub Date: Oct. 29, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-374-29868-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 3, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2013

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