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American History

Bungling National Priorities

There is no other book quite like this, a detailed analysis of the debates over national budget priorities all the way from 1932 to 2002. It could hardly appear at a better time, as President Bush launches the most controversial budget in memory. This subject may sound dreary, but it is not. The book is acceptable to non-specialists and its discussion necessarily involves value judgements not narrowly circumscribed by economics. So this is also national history, of the past seven decades, often rather dense with detail. The history is essential because you can't debate national priorities out of context with the socio-economic political setting, the world.

 

Remembering Our Bloodiest War

Recently, historians have sought to understand how and why Americans continue to remember their civil war. Memory of the bloodiest conflict on U.S. soil remains fresh in popular imagination, kept alive by legions of Civil War buffs, reenactors, genealogists, and amateur writers, as well as scholars, who declare it to be the "Second American Revolution" or the watershed in our national history. Clearly, it was a significant event, but why does this war still resonate so strongly in our popular culture and national psyche? The answer, or answers, appears to be quite complicated.

 

The New Deal “Constitutional Revolution” as an Historical Problem

The past quarter century has witnessed a major shift in the structures of American politics, often characterized as the passing of "the New Deal order." G. Edward White's superb new book The Constitution and the New Deal is a monument to that sea change, a clear-eyed effort to assess the significance of the New Deal and its iconic "constitutional revolution" from a self-consciously removed perspective that regards the New Deal as truly "past" and its well-established historiography as largely apologetic. Most prior accounts of the New Deal and its "constitutional revolution," White tells us, are "triumphalist narratives" that have had a "powerful and distorting historiographical effect."

 

Jubilant America

Andrew Burstein's lively and perceptive book not only provides an engaging portrait of a long-forgotten age, delightfully populated with characters worthy of a novel, but it offers an extended reflection on the role of memory and history in American life, allowing readers to assess the dilemmas and anxieties of successive generations through the experiences of those men and women of 1826, "an expectant people," beset like us with the problems of growth, economic change, and social division. "All Americans agreed upon one thing, and, it seemed, one thing only: that homage should be paid to their Revolutionary origins," Burstein writes. "It was that universal devotion which promised to preserve a language of unity and harmony and pure motives in an era of widely divergent tastes and purposes. Behind them lay glory days, ahead lay civil war. For them, as for us, the past was a comfort."

 

Ted Turner et al. at Gettysburg; or, Re-Enactors in the Attic

What I do want to talk about is the packaging and marketing of the Civil War as part of a larger commodification of cultural desire in which the making of Turner's film and his participation in it become exemplary. I wish to speak, that is, about the matter of Gettysburg as a case study in the ongoing manufacture of the Civil War as the quintessential American item—a product, I will propose, not unlike its cousin, the sport utility vehicle, as dangerous as it is big and handsome, a shining exterior fabricated around the killing power of the machine.

Lucas Beauchamp

He knew Lucas Beauchamp—as well as any white person knew him. Better than any maybe unless it was Carothers Edmonds on whose place Lucas lived seventeen miles from town, because he had eaten a meal in Lucas's house. It was in the early winter four years ago; he had been only twelve then, and it had happened this way: Edmonds was a friend of his uncle; they had been in school at the same time at the State University, where his uncle had gone after he came back from Harvard and Heidelberg to learn enough law to get himself chosen county attorney, and the day before Edmonds had come in to town to see his uncle on some county business and had stayed the night with them and at supper that evening Edmonds had said to him:

Mr. Jefferson’s “Sovereignty of the Living Generation”

The Bicentennial of the American Revolution ought to be a time for restoring the dialogue between the spirit of the past and the spirit of the future in our national life. We commemorate our origins because our origins are intertwined with our destiny; memory is the reciprocal of hope, and conservation and change are essential to each other. "There is nothing real without both . . . ," as Alfred North Whitehead once said. "Mere conservation without change cannot conserve . . . , mere change without conservation is a passage from nothing to nothing."

Lee’s Army Revisited

"Nineteen men in two distinct groups rode forward from the coalescing Confederate lines west of Chancellors-ville at about 9:00 p. m. on May 2, 1863. Only seven of the nineteen came back untouched, man or horse . . . Major General A.P. Hill escaped among the unscathed handful. Lieutenant General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, among those farthest from the flash point, was one of the five men killed or mortally wounded." So begins "The Smoothbore Volley That Doomed the Confederacy," the title chapter of prize-winning Civil War historian Robert K. Krick's latest book—an eclectic but compulsively readable collection of ten essays on Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, most of them focusing on such seminal episodes as Jackson's death, Lieutenant General James Longstreet's foot-dragging, and Major General Robert Rodes' relatively little-known heroics. The result is a brilliant tour de force.

 

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