A left-leaning but readable, comprehensive history of the political and cultural trends that continue to erode any sense of...

FAULT LINES

A HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES SINCE 1974

Two Princeton professors add to the burgeoning literature about a fractured America, based largely on their university lectures on the subject.

Kruse (One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, 2015, etc.) and Zelizer (The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society, 2015, etc.) organize their history around four principal fault lines: growing economic inequality, racial division, partisan polarization, and conflicts regarding gender and sexuality. In a clear, lively style, Kruse and Zelizer show how developments in these areas have divided the nation and made compromises for the common good more difficult. In coverage of the earlier years, the authors evenly distribute responsibility for the worsening conflicts. However, beginning with the genesis of the Obama administration, the narrative takes on an increasingly leftist slant as the authors minimize or omit the left's contributions to the widening divide, creating the impression that it was largely conservatives who were perpetuating an atmosphere of obstructionism and division. Conspicuously absent, for example, is any mention of intolerance and violence directed at conservative speakers on college campuses or of antifa thuggery generally. Alongside political and social divisions, the authors chronicle the fragmentation of American media, with three major TV networks and relatively sober newspapers of national stature replaced by cable TV, talk radio, and an infinite number of commentators on internet blogs and social media. As is well-known, this multiplicity of sources has led not to a better informed public but to the creation of partisan echo chambers that disagree even about fundamental facts, let alone their interpretation. The authors posit no overarching theories of how all this came about, nor do they offer a path forward to a better place. In discouraging detail, they lay out how short-sighted decisions and inflexible partisanship have placed a consensus on national identity and goals so far out of reach.

A left-leaning but readable, comprehensive history of the political and cultural trends that continue to erode any sense of American national unity.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-393-08866-3

Page Count: 420

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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