This book succinctly summarizes the plight of Americas' indigenous people. I found myself reading the history feeling as though I was pushed off a cli...moreThis book succinctly summarizes the plight of Americas' indigenous people. I found myself reading the history feeling as though I was pushed off a cliff. This sustained free-fall just never seemed to get better. This is not a 'feelgood' book; it echos themes of betrayal, bigotry and avarice as Native Americans steadily were broken down and extinguished and their way of life was encroached upon and displaced by a budding nation's fantasy quest to fulfill its Euro-centric ideology of Manifest Destiny to justify its explosive westward expansion toward the Pacific coast.
The book is laid out as a chronicle and references interesting events in a time line which gives a sense of contextual reality as the tragic history which, if it were not true, would read like some fantastic tale of genocide. Unfortunately, the reality is weighted with historical evidence and this book serves as a telling synopsis of how Human Beings are capable of destroying entire cultures when greed and ambition are served by religious and social conventions bent to serve selfish gains.
My emotions raged from surprise to rage and, hopelessness to profound despair. Dee Brown, the librarian-turned-author has delivered a timeless piece of work which challenges any thinking person to question how history is being taught.
The book touches me on so many levels - things I can neither divulge in this writing and things I cannot even begin to explain. Nonetheless, it forces me to reckon with who I am as a member of Humanity and it compels me to carry a deeper understanding for what it means to be alive.
My ethnicity is that of a 'mestizo' (Sp) - mixed blood person's - heritage. I carry the mongrel mix of my European and middle eastern roots and my DNA also belies the heritage of America's native people. Consequently, the angst I feel is one which tugs at bittersweet sense of right and wrong, of destiny and direction; my ancestors walked this earth both as conquerors and as conquered.
What the book does for me is it re-acquaints me with how the world is never simply black and white. My sense of social justice and moreover the deep understanding that every Human Being has an intrinsic value are clouded with shades of gray. What disturbs me most however is how wholesale destruction of a people can be carried out by what I can only describe as God-fearing, decent Human Beings driven by wanton, self-serving interests. Even more appalling is just how far we, as a species are willing to go in order to justify avarice.
I highly recommend this book - not because of the repulsiveness of violence - but, because it serves as a touchstone for our collective consciousness. In a world where atrocities seem the rule rather than an exception to the Human experience, I believe this book serves our better interests because it acts as a mirror upon which we can reflect. Its sharp focus serves to dull the lines of distinction that we love to invoke in our need to set ourselves apart from our fellow Human Beings.
Such reflection leads to contemplation and cognition which, far and away, is far better than rationalization of the variety where we can diminish the value of anyone who happens to be different. The truest danger we all are at risk for is mistakenly believing that our differences are so great that the only explanation which will suffice is to deem one another inferior and thus not worthy of the full measure of respect that we all deserve - simply because we are members of the Human species.
One thread that I found particularly fascinating was the level of eloquence all of the chiefs quoted in their communication. If anything, it sheds light on a highly intelligent, cultured and elegant in their dialogue - quite different from the invocations of noble savages of James Fenimore Cooper or the bigoted rants of 'civilized' European descendants and Hollywood archetypes so prevalent in the movies of my childhood. These people weren't 'John Wayne' Indians.
Do yourself a favor and read what they had to say. Their words are brilliant and thoughtful. (less)
This is a compelling story of ambition, intrigue, jealousy and the attendant devastation visited upon J. Robert Oppenheimer ('JRO' aka 'Oppie') - whos...moreThis is a compelling story of ambition, intrigue, jealousy and the attendant devastation visited upon J. Robert Oppenheimer ('JRO' aka 'Oppie') - whose direction and guidance brought about the most destructive weapon available to Humanity. Oppenheimer's contribution earned him the name, 'father of the Atomic Bomb.'
This book traces Oppenheimer's life, documenting a series of personal blunders and mistakes he made along the way. They ultimately proved to be as destructive for his career as the weapon of mass destruction he helped to create. It is a captivating story about the acrimony and alienation he cultivated among his rivals because of the Bomb project.
Oppenheimer was eloquent, quick-witted and brilliant in spotting critical nuance. He had a great capacity for assimilating information and creating a collaborative environment which encouraged others to reach greater intellectual accomplishments as a result. Despite his brilliance, he also had an intolerant streak for intellectual laziness. Recipients of his derisive, caustic responses perceived him as vainglorious and arrogant. While he engendered deep loyalties and profound respect from the majority of people he made contact with, his incisive criticisms created lifetime enemies as well. For at least two; their hatred for JRO became a life's ambition with total commitment to undermining and destroying his character.
"A man that studieth revenge keeps his own wounds green" - Francis Bacon, Poem 'Of Revenge'
I never particularly liked Edward Teller - leader of the Hydrogen bomb development - I dislike him even more after reading this book. I recall hearing him lecture at the University of New Mexico back in the early eighties. By then, he was an old man and had come around to Oppie's thinking regarding Nuclear proliferation. His rhetoric had softened and he spoke more like a pacifist and not the war hawk of his earlier manhood. He was traveling the University circuit as a visiting lecturer so, I felt fortunate to sit in the lecture hall as he delivered his thoughts on the nuclear age.
As a student of history, I was aware of his involvement in Oppenheimer's fall from national grace. But, I was never cognizant of what lengths he went to in order to advance his own cause - developing the H-Bomb. It is evident the slight he felt when Oppie flatly rejected his efforts to develop a bomb 1000 times more powerful than those detonated in Japan never let Teller rest until his ego was assuaged - first with detonation of the H-bomb and finally - in contributing to Oppie's political demise by testifying against him.
Owing to philosophical differences with Teller, Oppenheimer opposed advancement of H-Bomb development - presciently fearing a nuclear arms race with the Russians would ensue. He called for transparency and world regulation of Nuclear Armaments as a means of avoiding wholesale destruction of life due to the indiscriminate destructive capacity of nuclear weaponry. He expressed serious doubts about the destructive power of such a weapon after having come to the realization that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were essentially strategic decisions made by President Truman who wished to effect an unconditional surrender from Japan before the Russians had an opportunity to become involved and thus assert their influence over Japan and the Pacific corridor's fate. The Japanese were ready to meet the US terms for unconditional surrender. Nonetheless, Truman ordered the bombing anyway.
Unfortunately, Teller's ambitions dovetailed with American businessman and politico, Lewis Strauss who - like Teller was a friend-turned-enemy after tangling with the eminent Scientist. Together, Edward and Lewis made Oppenheimer's character assassination their life's ambition. Though separate and apart from eachother, both acted in collusion with the FBI's Director, J. Edgar Hoover and other ultra Right-Wing war hawks to eventually thwart Oppenheimer's influence over the developing the nascent American Nuclear arms policy by precipitating cancellation of his security clearance.
They did so by questioning his political allegiance to America - a feat accomplished by inciting fear of Communism, using personal smear tactics and manipulating the legal process under the guise of national security.
Neither Teller nor Strauss however, came away unscathed for their acrimonious efforts. History set the record straight - within their lifetimes. Their underlying motives came to light and they suffered the same retribution brought about by their zeal to destroy Oppie. Teller became a pariah in the scientific community and Strauss' national career came to an end when his flagrant disregard for Oppenheimer's right to due process was exposed in relatively short order after the hearings concluded and the decision was made to pull Oppie's security clearance.
Like the bomb which Oppenheimer guided into creation, political antipathy reached a critical mass for destruction of his public persona at the height of the Red Scare. The books title is appropriate as it makes reference to the Greek mythological Titan, Prometheus who stole fire from the Gods and gave to Humanity. The price for his deed was to suffer eternal condemnation of being lashed to huge stone and having his liver completely eaten away by an great eagle. According to the story, Prometheus cycle self replicates daily because his liver regenerates every night.
Symbolically, Oppie's fate was the same. He endured never-ceasing scrutiny. despite his innocence, the Liberal-thinking, socially conscious scientist's name was forever tied to Communism. His efforts to inject rationality into the debate for arms control never came to fruition. This intellectual giant who had unleashed the nuclear power - the explosive core - energy of the sun to mankind was doomed to suffer the same metaphorical fate as the mythological Greek Titan, Prometheus. For J. Robert Oppenheimer, the albatross of communism was forever tied to him - and his personal character was cyclically destroyed and regained for the rest of his life by the Republican war hawks.
This book was a fascinating character study of a man who was brought down by people who, being more politically astute never compared to the man in intellectual prowess.
My mom has a Spanish saying that translates, "Even for the tallest pine, there is an axe." Oppie's story is a sober reminder of this. I suppose there is another important lesson to be learned:
"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." - Maya Angelou, poet
'American Prometheus' is a story worth re-visiting in light of the recently past administration of George W. Bush & Company which pushed the limits of executive power and used such tactics from the past to destroy political enemies during the 42nd president's tenure in office.
It is my hope that Oppenheimer's history serves as warning for future generations to recognize ambitions of ideologues who abuse position and power. That we remain vigilant for those who seek to settle vendettas invoking false appearances of patriotism and national security.
It is a lesson for all to our great leaders such as President Obama can learn - the lesson which Oppenheimer was forced to learn the hard way; regardless of how tempting, never deny a person - either by action or word - his dignity or respect.
Oppie himself opined that clearing his name had come, 'too little, too late.' Posterity nonetheless cleared Robert Oppenheimer of the communist smears attached to him during the McCarthy era.
I believe this book's title of 'American Prometheus' is apropos for this brilliant academic who was a liberal, compassionate, forward-thinking and highly controversial Human Being.
'I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.' - J. Robert Oppenheimer; words he is said to have uttered when he witnessed the test atomic bomb detonation in the New Mexico desert at the Trinity nuclear explosion site on 16 July 1945 - this quote originally came from the Bhagavad Gita(less)
Prior to reading this book, I never had much of a feeling one way or the other about John Adams. What I most remembered about him was the black mark o...morePrior to reading this book, I never had much of a feeling one way or the other about John Adams. What I most remembered about him was the black mark on his Presidency with passage of the Alien & Sedition Act during his administration. It smacked with memories hearkening to the days of Bush & Co. In truth, George W. Bush is no John Adams and I am sorry to have ever made such an unfair connection. I likened Dubya's ceaseless power grabs and invocation of the Patriot Acts (I & II), wire-tapping and rendition orders to President Adams - who was never that underhanded.
Having read this biography has changed my opinion of the man. He was a loving husband, father and ardent patriot. As a Federalist, he did much to advance the cause of liberty. I found myself quite emotional in reading of his demonstrated love for the Constitution and his young nation.
In contrast to many Virginians, President Adams was a man who lived within his means and was by no means rich. He strongly disagreed with slavery and put his words into action. It was refreshing to have seen a man who made his decisions on pure principal. He stuck to his beliefs regardless of how unpopular they made him among his contemporaries.
Equally impressive was his drive for the Constitution's approval. It is something rarely appreciated by so many students of American History. No one fought harder to being the incipient Constitution to fruition than John Adams during the Continental Congress.
David McCullogh is good. His scholarly research is an admirable testimony to the craft of writing this tome. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know about John Adams the man and the patriot.
I have also just recently finished Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris and it is a thoroughly good book. His writing style is quite different from Mccullough and is a bit more florid - a beautiful piece of work in its own right. Nonetheless, David McCullogh is such a talented storyteller who's breadth and depth of knowledge sets him on par with the giants of Historical writing.
Buy the book, you will not be disappointed. (less)
I approached this book with some reservation because I was already aware of President Jackson's history regarding treatment of Native Americans and hi...more I approached this book with some reservation because I was already aware of President Jackson's history regarding treatment of Native Americans and his stand on slavery. I did however come away with a few realizations - from a perspective that I had not previously known.
Jon Meacham detailed the changes that Jackson implemented regarding the Executive branch - his examples include;
1] Jackson's usage of the veto as a political tool coupled with his expansion of executive powers and establishment of the presidency as political force which did not exist prior to Jackson's tenure as President of the United States [POTUS:],
2] being the first to completely replace his presidential cabinet thereby establishing that those members served at the pleasure of the president.
3] his introduction of legislation (Force Act) to affect change and to forecast his preparedness to act in the event someone intended to break up the union. In other words, threatening something extreme in order to get something generally perceived to be less benign.
4] his usage of executive branch to force policy change (Banks)
5] his usage of the media for fomenting his ideas and for advancing his agenda.
6] his reference to the voting populace as a mandate to implement his populist ideas - or perhaps, appealing to the masses in order to implement his agenda.
7] invoking the spoils system he was the first to dismiss federal office holders en masse.
Allowing for tempo-centric considerations regarding his bigotry, his fervent nationalism and passionate voice for the common (white) man, Meacham painted a fairly accurate picture of a man who, judged according to the prevailing sentiments of his times - and by people who shared a common Northern European heritage - he would have been a great man. His willful, obstinate, fiercely loyal nature served him well.
The Roman philosopher Herodotus said, "Soft lands breed soft men." Andrew Jackson is a good example for that axiom; he was, to be certain a tough man and the genteel world of the Washington of his time certainly proved to be a place where he could push his way around without much appreciable resistance. Perhaps the greatest nuance of his time was that he could get his way regardless of the opposition. It appears the opposition soon learned the value of having a medium (the printed press) in order to mount an effective opposition.
If any of this sounds at all familiar, I suspect it is because the author is looking back at the nineteenth century with his feet firmly planted in the 21st. Andrew Jackson's presidency seems to be quite familiar with the administration of President George W. Bush.
In short, it smacks of Rovian politics and, - to me - this is where Meacham fell short; he did not detail how such powerful nuanced re-interpretation of presidential power could have come from such an uneducated man. The constitutional law behind Jackson's vision is powerful and highly academic and yet, it seems he just had a great head for constitutional law. It makes me wonder whether it was in fact Martin VanBuren who was the brains behind the operation. We will never know from this book.
Unfortunately, the aberrant leanings president Jackson held, even during his time, were already proving to be distasteful in nineteenth century America. His deathbed statements regarding Heaven not being exclusively a realm for whites only indicates he was cognizant of the inherent injustice for slaves in the world he was living and preparing to leave shortly. Also, once the crisis of nullification had been averted the first time, President Jackson wrote about the potential role that slavery was certain to play in the future (six days before he would appoint an obscure country lawyer - Abraham Lincoln - to a low Federal Postal position in Illinois.)
Old Hickory predicted that slavery would eventually lead to a civil war. Unfortunately the president's prescient nature was accurate but he did not see himself as the instrument that would bring such an abomination to an end. While the book is an interesting read, I did not find it too cumbersome as others have alluded to. I also have a difficult time dismissing this account of his life as a 'white-wash' as other readers have contended. There are many accounts in the story which address the unfair treatment of Native Americans and his stand on slavery. For anyone to ignore that Andrew Jackson was an example of and a product of his time is to fall into the same tempo-centric trap that he fell into. Consequently, while slavery and Jackson's forbearance of long-standing treaties with the sovereign Indian nations were the order of his day - application of 2009 standards in retrospect are just as unmerited as the sins his modern-day critics are frowning upon.
To me there is a greater lesson to be garnered in looking back upon history; the wrongs can be reflected upon with an eye toward ensuring that such similar errors may be more easily understood and even avoided in the future. And, there are plenty of lessons to be learned. I could not help but notice the similarities of nationalism and invocation of populist themes in order to affect change as evidenced in our past presidential administration. It strikes me that the themes which resonated so strongly during the popular Jackson Administration were recently echoed by the Bush II reign as well. So too were the voices of opposition. This not to imply that bigotry exists towards at the same level today as in 19th century America however, there is no denying that similar shadows persist toward Latin American immigrants and Muslims in the paranoiac, post-9/11 America we live in today. The ultimate question in this or any democracy is whether majority rule trumps minority rights.
For my part, this was decent book and, while I would recommend it, it will not rank among the best books I have read. It is nonetheless, a pointed study about what happens when strong-minded personalities enter the office of president. It also demonstrates how fluid the description of the office can be and moreover, how mercurial personalities can effect the outcome of history - but, owing to contemporary experiences with our own presidencies of late, we already knew that. (less)