THE FREE AND THE UNFREE: A New History of the United States by Peter N. & David W. Noble Carroll

THE FREE AND THE UNFREE: A New History of the United States

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KIRKUS REVIEW

This ""'counterculture' interpretation of American history"" is essentially a revised version of the authors' one-volume paperback text, The Restless Centuries: A History of the American People (1973). Preserving an emphasis on social developments and minority experiences, along with a knack for compression of detailed material, the book now reaches back to the Indian centuries and forward through Watergate. In effect it fails into two sections, with Reconstruction as the division point. Exploration, revolution, and the antebellum 19th century have been turgidly recast to underline the ""aggressive ethnocentrism,"" ""elite institutional structure,"" and ""voter apathy"" of the colonial period, the lack of national unity in the War of Independence, and a--wholly undocumented--absence of social mobility in the young nation. The Civil War is troublesome because the North fights slavery while the South fights industrial capitalism, and the authors disapprove of both; emphasis falls on the gore of battle and on Lincoln, who believed ""the Civil War was 'testing' the viability, the validity, the future of this experiment,"" and who ""personified the death immersion of the country."" After Reconstruction, the book becomes more conventional and lucid as it traces business expansion, discrimination, regimentation, the end of the frontier, and new forms of ""male WASP ascendancy,"" The treatment of post-WW II America is pre-eminently cultural and social, expanding the sketches of intellectuals like Reinhold Neibuhr found in Restless Centuries, and ending with applause for alternatives to ""rational space and linear time,"" including a recognition of ""earth as the body of God."" Apart from extravagances of style, the book departs from earlier revisionists' historical approach in preferring blanket statement to debaters' discourse; thus a student is flatly told that plantation slave labor was just like factory labor without learning that there are live, fierce arguments on the point. This volume fulfills its own aims, but its one-sided negativism and tortured conceptual categories restrict its serious consideration.

Pub Date: Sept. 29th, 1977
Publisher: Penguin