National Book Award winner Remini (The House, 2006, etc.) boils down U.S. history, illuminating the present.
This neat survey begins and ends in uncertainty. Who were the first inhabitants of the New World? Is the United States now on the verge of irreparable decline? As can be expected from a biographer of Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, as well as the official historian of the House of Representatives, Remini serves up American history with a heavy dose of big-name politics. After a patronizing account of the continent’s earliest inhabitants (“these natives were limited in what they could do by the fact that they had not invented the wheel”), he zips through the colonial period, the Revolution and the early 19th century. Americans, he explains, only achieved their distinct national identity after the War of 1812. The Jacksonian era then receives generous treatment. Remini remarks that Jackson transformed the executive branch by demonstrating that “all it takes is a President with determination, popular support, and leadership skills to direct both domestic and foreign policy and decide the future course of American history.” John Quincy Adams had previously warned that the United States must not go “abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” Nevertheless, after the Civil War, America emerged as an industrialized nation unwisely eager to spread freedom and democracy to other parts of the globe. One consequence of its continued involvement in the Philippines after the Spanish-American War was the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. By the end of the 20th century, successive presidents had ignored the constitutional jurisdiction of Congress over declarations of war. Following 9/11, President Bush made “one of the most disastrous foreign policy mistakes ever committed by the United States”: the invasion of Iraq. In 2008, Americans face war, terrorism, recession and the rising economies of China and India. Yet the author avers there is still reason to hope for good leadership.
Astute assessments of an evolving nation and ideal reading for November voters.