All posts filed under: American History

Appetite For America (Stephen Fried)

“Appetite For America” is that rare book that combines the best of a history book and a business book. It’s the story of Fred Harvey, a sickly but iron-willed Englishman who built the first retail empire in America, and the story of the company he founded, also called Fred Harvey (not Fred Harvey, Inc.—just plain Fred Harvey). It’s all fascinating, and offers the reader many accurate business insights as well (although they are not billed as business insights—this is not a navel-gazing self-help “business book”).

Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography (William F. Buckley)

“Miles Gone By” is a good, but somewhat disorienting, book. It’s disorienting, first, because it’s disjointed—while divided into chapters covering different topics, it’s actually composed entirely of previously published pieces, without any attempt to knit them together coherently, in time or theme, as would be usual in an autobiography. The result isn’t bad, it’s just different, and that’s disorienting.

The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression (Amity Shlaes)

“The Forgotten Man” is both history and warning. It’s a great social/political history of the Depression. Rather than a recitation of economic facts, it emphasizes the personalities of relevant leaders in many fields and views the Depression through their interactions, with particular focus on the inability of the government to actually fix the Depression, despite their best (and not-so-best) efforts. The “forgotten man” of the title, in its usual historical frame, refers to Franklin Roosevelt’s use of the term—the politically weak voters on whom Roosevelt focused to get their votes, and supposedly rescued from economic despair. Shlaes resurrects in parallel the original and alternate meaning, of the man who bears the costs of government schemes directed at others.

Coming Apart (Charles Murray)

This is a deeply pessimistic book. Charles Murray warns, Cassandra-like, of the ill effects that are resulting and will result from the economic and cultural divergence between the upper and lower classes. Even so, he tries to be optimistic, and he succeeds in being optimistic himself, but he doesn’t succeed in convincing the reader to be optimistic.

The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge (Calvin Coolidge)

I read this book after reading Amity Shlaes’s “Coolidge,” in part because Shlaes more than once refers to the “Autobiography.” While it is not an analytical work, rather a straightforward exposition by Coolidge of the facts of his life, it is an excellent complement to Shlaes’s longer (and also excellent) work. And as with that work, the “Autobiography” shows an America that is dead and gone, but one that contained within itself multitudes of virtues.

Coolidge (Amity Shlaes)

My conclusion, after reading this book, is that Calvin Coolidge is grossly under-rated. Actually, that’s not quite right, because to be under-rated, you first have to be known. As far as I can tell, nearly nobody in America today knows much if anything about Coolidge. I certainly didn’t before reading this book. Yet not only is Coolidge a fascinating character study, his political life and his Presidency hold important lessons for today.

Thomas Jefferson: Author of America (Christopher Hitchens)

Typical incisive Hitchens, but marred by his anti-religious obsessions and biases, along with some strange lapses (mis-defining “entail”; mis-using “usufruct”; and others). Also way too much focus on slavery for a book less than 200 pages–it could better have been subtitled not “Author Of America” but “His Views And Actions On Slavery; And Some Other Matters.

Ulysses S. Grant: The Unlikely Hero (Michael Korda)

This is a slight book, but it does not claim to be more. As a basic introduction to the life of Ulysses Grant, once the most famous person in the world and now essentially forgotten, it is very good. I am not qualified to judge the accuracy of the details, of which some other reviewers have complained. But it provides a clear and compelling outline of the man, in his roles as general, President and husband, and serves the important purpose of re-introducing him to modern Americans.

Conservative Insurgency (Kurt Schlichter)

Conservative Insurgency is that rare animal: an optimistic look at the future of America through a conservative lens. Framed as a fictitious oral history (think Studs Terkel) from 2041, when a form of conservatism has come to dominate essentially all areas of American life, the book largely succeeds in its goal of showing how such a consummation, devoutly to be wished, might come about—through a decentralized, self-organizing strategy: an insurgency (hence the title).