Vintage McCullough and a book that students of American history will find captivating.

THE PIONEERS

THE HEROIC STORY OF THE SETTLERS WHO BROUGHT THE AMERICAN IDEAL WEST

A lively history of the Ohio River region in the years between the Revolution and the Civil War.

McCullough (The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For, 2015, etc.) isn’t writing about the sodbusters and hardscrabblers of the Far West, the people whom the word “pioneers” evokes, but instead their predecessors of generations past who crossed the Appalachians and settled in the fertile country along and north of the Ohio River. Manasseh Cutler, one of his principal figures, “endowed with boundless intellectual curiosity,” anticipated the movement of his compatriots across the mountains well before the war had ended, advocating for the Northwest Ordinance to secure a region that, in McCullough’s words, “was designed to guarantee what would one day be known as the American way of life”—a place in which slavery was forbidden and public education and religious freedom would be emphasized. “Ohio fever” spread throughout a New England crippled, after the war, by economic depression, but Southerners also moved west, fomenting the conditions that would, at the end of McCullough’s vivid narrative, end in regional war three generations later. Characteristically, the author suggests major historical themes without ever arguing them as such. For example, he acknowledges the iniquities of the slave economy simply by contrasting the conditions along the Ohio between the backwaters of Kentucky and the sprightly city of Cincinnati, speaking through such figures as Charles Dickens. Indeed, his narrative abounds with well-recognized figures in American history—John Quincy Adams, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Johnny Appleseed—while highlighting lesser-known players. His account of Aaron Burr—who conspired to overthrow the government of Mexico (and, later, his own country) after killing Alexander Hamilton, recruiting confederates in the Ohio River country—is alone worth the price of admission. There are many other fine moments, as well, including a brief account of the generosity that one farmer in Marietta, Ohio, showed to his starving neighbors and another charting the fortunes of the early Whigs in opposing the “anti-intellectual attitude of the Andrew Jackson administration.”

Vintage McCullough and a book that students of American history will find captivating.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6868-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Aug. 27, 2019

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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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Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

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21 LESSONS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

A highly instructive exploration of “current affairs and…the immediate future of human societies.”

Having produced an international bestseller about human origins (Sapiens, 2015, etc.) and avoided the sophomore jinx writing about our destiny (Homo Deus, 2017), Harari (History/Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem) proves that he has not lost his touch, casting a brilliantly insightful eye on today’s myriad crises, from Trump to terrorism, Brexit to big data. As the author emphasizes, “humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers, or equations, and the simpler the story, the better. Every person, group, and nation has its own tales and myths.” Three grand stories once predicted the future. World War II eliminated the fascist story but stimulated communism for a few decades until its collapse. The liberal story—think democracy, free markets, and globalism—reigned supreme for a decade until the 20th-century nasties—dictators, populists, and nationalists—came back in style. They promote jingoism over international cooperation, vilify the opposition, demonize immigrants and rival nations, and then win elections. “A bit like the Soviet elites in the 1980s,” writes Harari, “liberals don’t understand how history deviates from its preordained course, and they lack an alternative prism through which to interpret reality.” The author certainly understands, and in 21 painfully astute essays, he delivers his take on where our increasingly “post-truth” world is headed. Human ingenuity, which enables us to control the outside world, may soon re-engineer our insides, extend life, and guide our thoughts. Science-fiction movies get the future wrong, if only because they have happy endings. Most readers will find Harari’s narrative deliciously reasonable, including his explanation of the stories (not actually true but rational) of those who elect dictators, populists, and nationalists. His remedies for wildly disruptive technology (biotech, infotech) and its consequences (climate change, mass unemployment) ring true, provided nations act with more good sense than they have shown throughout history.

Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-51217-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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