An iconoclastic, romping, bull’s-eye volley at an enduring sacred cow—popular history at its most engaging and insightful.

FORGET THE ALAMO

THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN MYTH

A zesty, journalistic, half history, half sendup about the battle of the Alamo and the myths that cling to it.

Setting out to distinguish ascertainable fact from Texas tub-thumping, Burrough, Tomlinson, and Stanford, all Texans, succeed brilliantly in their intent. Their focus is the famed 1836 battle for control of San Antonio’s fabled fortress and its role in the mythology of the Lone Star State. In this evenhanded popular history, the authors situate the war for Texas’ independence from Mexico as a fight for the preservation of slavery by Anglo Texans. The fact that Santa Anna and his followers, as well as the Tejanos (Texans of Mexican birth), were “ardently abolitionist” foes of slavery is only one of the book’s many punches to received wisdom. Some of the fort’s famous defenders come off poorly. Jim Bowie was “an amazingly brazen swindler. Had he stayed in the United States, there’s a decent chance he’d have ended up swinging from a rope.” Davy Crockett didn’t die a “glorious death”: “The Alamo’s trapped defenders died for pretty much nothing.” What the authors call the “second battle of the Alamo” has focused not on slavery but on what the events of 1836 do and should mean to Texans. Laying waste to many previous historians of the events, the authors leave readers amused as well as informed. The entertaining story contains multitudes: Disneyland, John Wayne, JFK, LBJ, and, of course, the Bush political dynasty. Since the 1970s, this battle has been joined by American Latinos, whose ancestors are finally gaining their well-deserved recognition in Texas history through “Alamo revisionism”—a direct, important challenge to the “Heroic Anglo Narrative of the Alamo.” Despite a bit too much chattiness and some unnecessary vulgarity, this lively book is sure to cause plenty of interesting conversations in Texas.

An iconoclastic, romping, bull’s-eye volley at an enduring sacred cow—popular history at its most engaging and insightful.

Pub Date: June 8, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984880-09-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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