CENTENNIAL: American Life in 1876 by William Peirce Randel

CENTENNIAL: American Life in 1876

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Randel's volume shares both the charms and deficiencies of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition itself: it's a wide and colorful panorama of a teeming nation but the subject's too vast and varied to capture with comprehensiveness and/or depth. Yet Centennial is an attractive kaleidoscopic slice of American life in a year that opened with jubilation and closed in humiliation at the Grant administration scandals and the disputed Tilden-Hayes-election. It's Randel's contention that things weren't really as bad as all that; a little wickedness in high places shouldn't obscure all those ""Good and Faithful Servants"" to whom he devotes an entire chapter. Otherwise he has no bones to pick, and after sampling opinions of ten-American and foreign Centennial chroniclers, he sets off to survey The Civilized East, The Frontier, and The Wilderness (where 1876 witnessed Jesse James' fiasco at Northfield, Wild Bill Hickok's murder at a poker table, Bat Masterson's first appearance in Dodge City, and Custer's Last Stand). Then there are sections on entrepreneurs and inventors, the mess in Washington and the unrest in the South, ""The Quality of Life"" and ""The Arts Fine and Otherwise,"" and of course a stopover at the great Exhibition in Philadelphia. The year's greatest gain was in the field of education, while the churches reposed in irrelevant complacency. Randel's prose is enthusiastic, occasionally extravagant, but it's a fetching portrait.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1969
Publisher: Chilton