A persuasive argument in favor of evidence-based history, even if it means surrendering some of our cherished fabrications.

FOUNDING MYTHS

STORIES THAT HIDE OUR PATRIOTIC PAST: REVISED EDITION

A distinguished historian revisits the American legends he effectively debunked 10 years ago and discovers that they die hard.

Over two centuries after the nation’s founding, does the narrative change when we understand that Paul Revere didn’t really ride alone, that Sam Adams wasn’t a “one-man revolution,” that the Declaration didn’t spring full-blown from the mind of Thomas Jefferson, that Patrick Henry likely never said, “give me liberty or give me death,” or that Molly Pitcher never existed at all? Raphael (Senior Research Fellow/Humboldt State Univ.; Constitutional Myths: What We Get Wrong and How to Get It Right, 2013, etc.) takes on a number of myths and legends that have crept unquestioned into our textbooks and popular histories, and he explains their persistence and the damage done if they remain uncorrected. He also highlights some stories we have failed to tell. How is our understanding changed if we discover that the tale of the cruel winter and patient suffering at Valley Forge has an unacknowledged twin, two years later, at the Morristown encampment, where the weather was colder and the soldiers mutinied? What if we learn that the American struggle for independence, itself only a small part of a worldwide conflict, was also a war of conquest in the West and featured a brutal civil war in the South? By slapping tidy beginnings and endings on stories, we distort a deeper, more complex history. By fashioning them into stick figures, we turn the Founders into an assembly of demigods. Worst of all, Raphael argues, we understate the central theme of the American Revolution—popular sovereignty—and marginalize the contributions made by millions of common citizens. Overlooking this genuine heritage, he insists, takes the Revolution out of the hands of the people, without whom the entire enterprise would surely have failed.

A persuasive argument in favor of evidence-based history, even if it means surrendering some of our cherished fabrications.

Pub Date: July 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59558-949-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: May 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2014

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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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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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