History Feed

Against the Grain

Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest StatesAgainst the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States by James C. Scott
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Christian Century recommended this book for better understanding the ancient world that is the context for earlier biblical culture. Making that connection is not the goal of the author, though he makes occasional allusions to the biblical tradition, but is the task of the reader to identify how this research into the origins of agriculture, sedentism, urbanism, writing, and the city-state plus the responses to it by the "barbarians" contributes to a better understanding of the biblical world. And it has done that. Now when reading, teaching, and preaching various texts I will have a better grasp of the latest research in very ancient history aside from that presented in biblical commentaries.

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These Truths: A History of the United States

These Truths: A History of the United StatesThese Truths: A History of the United States by Jill Lepore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I thought the Introduction and first chapter were brilliant. Also the sections on the Populist and Progressive Movements and the chapter set during the Second World War. But others were more uneven. Any one volume national history obviously makes choices, skimming over some things and digging deeper into others.

Lepore's focus is our national pursuit of truth. In the Declaration Jefferson wrote, "we hold these truths to be self evident" and in the Federalist papers Hamilton wrote of America being a test of truths. From this frame she explores the nation's history, with much focus on communications technologies, journalism, and how we've viewed our history (though on this latter point, I feel she did less of that when she got into the twentieth century).

The final section on our own time is very chaotic, with a structure that is difficult to follow, as it is neither chronological nor clearly thematic. It was sad to read an American history that in the 1980's begins accounting for the rise of Donald Trump and then feels necessary to detail the post-9/11 conspiracy theories that he has participated in and which helped to explain his ascent. Yes, sadly, this is now part of the national story. And, of course, the book has a depressing ending. Plus, I thought the final paragraph so overwritten as to be comically absurd.

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The Colonial Mind

Main Currents in American Thought, Vol. 1: The Colonial Mind, 1620-1800Main Currents in American Thought, Vol. 1: The Colonial Mind, 1620-1800 by Vernon Louis Parrington
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I often walked the Parrington Oval while a student at the University of Oklahoma. And I remember the photo that hung in Dale Hall of OU's former head football coach who was a Pulitzer Prize winning historian. This is the book that won Vernon Parrington the prize in 1928.

Parrington has a strong position in favor of the Jeffersonian philosophy--agrarian, egalitarian, and democratic--and opposed to the Puritans, Tories, and Federalists. So it was interesting to read his takes on various thinkers. He was a big fan of Roger Williams and Benjamin Franklin and deeply critical of John Winthrop and the Mathers. He thought Jonathan Edwards had great ability which was squandered on his Calvinism. Hamilton he thought of great ability and very successful at achieving his goals of establishing the national economy, but he thought Hamilton completely wrong about what direction America should head and that we were still saddled with problems he had created. Strangely, he writes the only vigorous defense of Philip Freneau I've ever read.

Parrington has blind spots. He lauds Jefferson, though we now have a far more critical view of Jefferson, especially his hypocrisy.

But Parrington is a fun read. He is eloquent and witty with his descriptions of all these thinkers and movements. I enjoyed getting a perspective very different from my own.

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GrantGrant by Ron Chernow
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Despite its heft, I read it quickly, for Chernow is such an engaging writer. I learned a lot about Grant, his time, and other figures he interacted with. I've gained a greater understanding of him, better appreciating his strengths and accomplishments and better recognizing his serious flaws.

One drawback of the book is that Chernow seems to feel the need to address every rumor of Grant's alcoholism, so, particularly during the chapters on the war, every few pages Chernow addresses a fresh rumor of alcohol abuse. I got to skipping over those paragraphs.

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Williams' Social Compact

Victor Parrington gives this description of Roger Williams's idea of the social compact, a description I think is helpful in understanding the democratic idea of government:

But unlike the fiction assumed by Hobbes and Locke, this was no suppositious contract between ruler and ruled in prehistoric times, but present and actual, entered into between the several members of a free community for their common governance; nor on the other hand, like Burke's irrevocable compact, was it an unyielding constitution or fundamental law; but flexible, responsive to changing conditions, continually modified to meet present needs.  It is no other than a mutual agreement, arrived at frankly by discussion and compromise, to live together in a political union, organizing the life of the commonwealth in accordance with nature, reason, justice, and expediency.

Actually, reading that description, I think of Rorty.

A Rebel Against Stupidities

I've been reading Vernon Parrington's 1927 Pulitzer Prize winning book The Colonial Mind and today read his treatment of Roger Williams, which was a delight to read, as Parrington clearly is enamored of Williams.  Here are some descriptions he gives:

"Democrat and Christian, the generation to which he belongs is not yet born, and all his life he remained a stranger amongst men."

"An intellectual barometer, fluctuating with every change in the rising storm of revolution, he came transporting hither the new and disturbant doctrines of the Leveler, loosing wild foxes with fire-brands to ravage the snug fields of the Presbyterian Utopia."

"He was a rebel against all the stupidities that interposed a barrier betwixt men and the fellowship of their dreams."

"He was an adventurous pioneer, surveying the new fields of thought laid open by the Reformation."

"He was the incarnation of Protestant individualism."

"One of the most notable democratic thinkers that the English race has produced."

"The truest Christian amongst many who sincerely desired to be Christian."


A Computer Called Katherine

A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the MoonA Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon by Suzanne Slade
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was the other Apollo book to arrive today. I didn't want our son to only know the stories of the astronauts but also to learn about the work involved in getting them to the moon. This is a wonderful book with great art and fine content that gives Katherine Johnson's story while also highlighting math skills and their importance. Our son has enjoyed all of his space books, and I find him poring over them on his own looking at the pictures.

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Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Since the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landing, our four year old has been fascinated by space, the moon, and specifically the Apollo missions. We have encouraged this fascination with toys and books. Two more books arrived today, including this gorgeous one by Brian Floca (we have two others of his).

This book is beautiful art and good free verse poetry. And just the right amount of information and content for our son. I highly recommend it.

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