A handy, often diverting collection.

HISTORY IN THE MAKING

AN ABSORBING LOOK AT HOW AMERICAN HISTORY HAS CHANGED IN THE TELLING OVER THE LAST 200 YEARS

Excerpts from American-history textbooks from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries trace the ways that history has been written and rewritten over time.

Insofar as they can be known, the facts of history remain constant, but each generation interprets for itself the meaning of the past, emphasizing or obscuring characters, issues and episodes to reflect the latest twitch in the sociological/political zeitgeist. Ward (History/Vincennes Univ.) here provides excerpts from a range of history textbooks, addressing topics like the American Revolution, Native-American relations, slavery and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (In a chapter titled “Slavery in America,” for example, the author excerpts passages from nine textbooks published from 1851 to 1995.) For the most part, he deals with well-known events (the Boston Massacre, the last stand at the Alamo) and characters (Washington, Lincoln). Other subjects—the Caroline Affair, the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, the Espionage Act—will be only dimly recalled by most. The excerpted materials are preceded by some rather thin analysis. Readers in search of a richer perspective on the subject would do better while Peter Charles Hoffer’s Past Imperfect (2004). Still, the primary sources Ward provides are a good starting point for anyone interested in history and subjectivity.

A handy, often diverting collection.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2006

ISBN: 1-59558-044-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2006

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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 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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