REDEEMING AMERICAN POLITICAL THOUGHT

This posthumous collection of essays doesn't work well as a book but is worth reading anyway. Shklar's (Ordinary Vices, 1984, etc.) untimely death in 1992 left a hole in Harvard's political-science department and a project on American political thought unfinished. Two colleagues attempt to address the latter in this volume by presenting 13 of her essays on the subject, only four of which have previously appeared. While the serious, impressive scholarship characteristic of Shklar's work is evident here, however, the result is more frustrating than illuminating. Writing about American political thought has always been problematic: Without great philosophical works to serve as touchstones, scholars are confronted with a wide variety of source material to blend together into a coherent theory. Shklar quite rightly rejects the traditional oversimplifications of consensualism (Americans are all basically liberals) and exceptionalism (American political experience is unique) that have been used to obscure the richness and diversity of American political thought. Unfortunately, her impressive forays into that richness and diversity—exploring figures from Hamilton to Hawthorne, and topics ranging from friendship to rights—yields no general framework that illuminates the whole. The veins of American intellectual history are mined selectively, at times repetitively, and with large areas left untouched. For example, while the Jefferson-Adams correspondence is indeed one of the great treasures of early American political thought, it's introduced and consulted extensively in several essays, while anything beyond a passing mention of a person or event from the postCivil War period is hard to find. Historical description rather than philosophical generalization was always Shklar's strength, but with the time to shape these essays into a book her efforts would have constituted a much more significant contribution to American political thought. It's tragic that this will not occur.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-226-75347-6

Page Count: 184

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1997

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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS

Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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