As a cubist might, Parrish paints a multifaceted portrait of catastrophe: sometimes puzzling, often surprising, and wholly...

THE FLOOD YEAR 1927

A CULTURAL HISTORY

A scholar’s cross-disciplinary look back at the little-remembered greatest natural disaster in American history.

Even as Charles Lindbergh took off on his historic solo crossing of the Atlantic, a triumph of modernity, Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover, appointed by President Calvin Coolidge to manage disaster relief, ordered the evacuation of 35,000 people from a Louisiana town, one small piece of the devastation wrought by the Mississippi superflood of 1927. Although Parrish (English/Univ. of Michigan.; American Curiosity: Cultures of Natural History in the Colonial British Atlantic World, 2006, etc.) sketches out the scope of this catastrophe, she’s less interested in a granular account of the slow-moving, long-lasting flood than in exploring how such a disaster acquires meaning. Through multiple lenses—sociological, ecological, cultural, and aesthetic—she focuses on the dark side of modernity, the ominous portents of the future accompanying the deluge: the man-made contributions—clear-cutting, industrial farming, faulty levee design—to the flood’s magnitude; the harsh economics and the even more severe prejudice that left African-Americans most vulnerable to the flood’s depredations and least helped by the federal “relief machine”; the unprecedented communications apparatus—the newly nationalized radio medium, the pervasive white and black press—reporting the unfolding crisis, making it a collective rather than merely private experience; and the contemporaneous representations and interpretations of the disaster by popular entertainers. Too often hobbled by academic locutions and a specialist’s vocabulary, Parrish’s ambitious, dense, deeply researched narrative nevertheless rewards dedicated general readers. It requires no doctorate to appreciate her rendering of the remarkable back story to Bessie Smith’s “Backwater Blues”; her insightful discussion of the trauma’s conversion into enduring works of literary fiction by William Faulkner, Richard Wright, and Zora Neale Hurston; her analysis of the persistent North/South hostility that complicated relief efforts; and her survey of 1927’s vaudeville scene, from the subversive African-American stars Miller and Lyles to the high-profile, widely influential, and, in the author’s telling, somewhat problematic Will Rogers.

As a cubist might, Parrish paints a multifaceted portrait of catastrophe: sometimes puzzling, often surprising, and wholly original.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-691-16883-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2016

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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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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