This is an extremely well written and thought provoking boook. Gordon-Reed addresses the history of the Hemings family, the slaves whose live were so...moreThis is an extremely well written and thought provoking boook. Gordon-Reed addresses the history of the Hemings family, the slaves whose live were so completely intertwined with the life of Thomas Jefferson. She focuses on them and their individual lives, not just as extensions of Jefferson, although he was of course, central to their existence.
I am surprised at some of the comments I have read about this book. I did not find Gordon-Reed to be particularly angry, although, God knows, people of African American heritage have every right to be angry about so much of this country's history. It is also true that she had to extrapolate some of her conclusions, but the fact that white Americans essentially made their slaves historically invisible, and white historians did not focus any of their attention on slaves, or people of color in general, so what primary sources there are are few and far between.
While I knew about Sally Hemings and her relationship with Jefferson there was so much I did not know that illuminates both sides of the relationship, freeing it from the cliche'd image of master and slave. It was that, but it was much more as well. Hemings was Jefferson's half sister in law, sharing a father with Jefferson's widow Martha.
Her brothers, James and Robert, were close to Jefferson throughout their lives as well, and the entire family were treated in Monticello as a special kind of "family", never treated as the other slaves on the "little mountain" were treated, but it was never ever forgotten that they were, indeed, Jefferson's chattel property.
I found it fascinating to learn that during the time that Sally and James were with Jefferson in Paris for five years, they lived in a city where slavery was essentially illegal. Had they wanted to sue for their freedom, Gordon-Reed argues that they almost certainly could have won it. This implies a certain willingness in their return to Virginia and legal slave status. The discussion of the "representations" made by Jefferson to Hemings is remarkable. The result was that Hemings spent thirty eight years in a relationship with Jefferson and ultimately, won the freedom for her children that she had demanded from him.
By dealing with the Hemings family, and their multigenerational relationship with Jefferson and his family, Gordon-Reed does much to illuminate not only their forgotten lives, but the forgotten (at least by white historians and culture) lives of so many other families in their same situation. It is a painful book to read in many ways, but a rewarding one as well. (less)
Extremely well written. Focused on Lincoln's role as the only US President whose entire presidency was encompassed within a war. McPherson argues that...moreExtremely well written. Focused on Lincoln's role as the only US President whose entire presidency was encompassed within a war. McPherson argues that much of what we now call the Presidential war powers were taken on for the first time by Lincoln, as a result of the weakness of so many of his generals, and the need for executive leadership in the prosecution of the civil war. (less)
An extremely strong book analyzing the development and execution of military strategy and tactics in the Athenian and Spartan cultures. It should be a...moreAn extremely strong book analyzing the development and execution of military strategy and tactics in the Athenian and Spartan cultures. It should be a core work in anyones study of military culture.(less)
The best overview of the history and meaning of the gnostic gospels. Pagels does a fine job in outlining the amazing history of the finding of these m...moreThe best overview of the history and meaning of the gnostic gospels. Pagels does a fine job in outlining the amazing history of the finding of these manuscripts in a jar by an Arab shepherd in the late 40's, and the near miraculous way they were saved from destruction. It is heartbreaking to consider that some were used by his mother to start fires, what work may have been lost there.
These variant views of Christianity were sidetracked by the early Christian fathers who determined which of the religious texts of their day would be considered to be canonical, and which would be heretical.
Pagels contends that a significant differentiator between the books selected, and those rejected, had to do with the path between the believer and God. The church was founded on the notion that the 12 apostles represented the only path of intercession between the human and the divine. Jesus appointed Peter as his first "Pope" and a hierarchy eventually developed through which believers approached God.
The gnostics believed that an individual could have a direct and immediate experience of God, without the need of a church to intercede. Their writings are poetic, mystical, and deeply spiritual. They provide a completely new way of experiencing and interpreting Christianity. (less)
I wish I knew what went wrong with this book. I thought it would be one that I would really enjoy, the kind of quirky history that focuses on one elem...moreI wish I knew what went wrong with this book. I thought it would be one that I would really enjoy, the kind of quirky history that focuses on one element, and then ties everything together around that element. Also, I am a huge fan of Peter Ackroyd. He is an elegant and entertaining writer. Beginning with fiction (Chatterton, Hawksmoor, Milton in America, etc.) and then extending into history and biography (Dickens, Pound, Chaucer, London the City...) he has created a bookshelf full of well written, entertaining and informative work.
But somehow, he seems to have lost himself in this one. This book feels as though he spent ten years doing research, and filling out thousands of little note cards, then organized them together by topic and period, and then just dumped the damn things into his word processor. The sense one gets is of list after list after list, ad infinitum; followed by little story after little story, with no unifying theme at all. Ironically, his comment on John Leland's work Itinerary, describes his own book perfectly. "His was an anecdotal and perambulatory style, a collection of notes rather than a coherent narrative."(less)
A landmark work. McCullough focuses on Washington, Nathaniel Greene, and Henry Knox, the bookseller who found a way to move cannon hundreds of miles t...moreA landmark work. McCullough focuses on Washington, Nathaniel Greene, and Henry Knox, the bookseller who found a way to move cannon hundreds of miles through the dead of winter to bring them to Washington in Boston. An outstanding piece of historical writing. (less)
McCullough may be this countries most accomplished historian and biographer, and this may be the finest biography that I have ever read. John Adams oc...moreMcCullough may be this countries most accomplished historian and biographer, and this may be the finest biography that I have ever read. John Adams occupies a difficult spot in American history, our first one term president, bracketed by the heroism of the "Father of our Country" and the brilliance of the author of the Declaration of Independence.
His was a heroism of a more prosaic, and plodding type. McCullough paints a picture of a man who was straight forward, plain spoken, cranky, and as often disliked as he was respected. But also a man who loved his colony and his nation, and was willing to sacrifice much of his life and his comfort to the service of that nation.
Let me start by noting that Mann is a journalist, rather than a historian or cultural anthropologist. This results in a work that is extremely accessi...moreLet me start by noting that Mann is a journalist, rather than a historian or cultural anthropologist. This results in a work that is extremely accessible to the non specialist reader and lacking in jargon.
So much of our notions of what North America was like before Europeans arrived are the result of our own impact on the continent. The notion of an empty continent populated by either "noble savages" or aborigines comes from the fact that the population was decimated by western diseases within a 100 years of our arrival.
Mann shows that Native American cultures were highly civilized and complex, with enormous centers of population and highly organized agricultural and political societies. He shows that when Europeans came to North America, they were not seeing a "state of nature" but rather a continent that had already been significantly changed by the agricultural practices of its inhabitants.
We tend to think of small villages of teepees or cave dwellings. But Mann shows that the populations of the America were equivalent to those of Europe in 1500, and that there were large, organized communiteis throughout the continent. Some of the largest of these, such as the cities of the mound people of the plains, or Tenochtitlan in South America, were enormous in scale, and highly civilized.
There was so much here before we arrived, and its important to remember this. (less)
An extremely solid, well researched, and well written biography about one of the few "common men" who have risen to the Presidency. A son of farmers,...moreAn extremely solid, well researched, and well written biography about one of the few "common men" who have risen to the Presidency. A son of farmers, Truman was a solid line officer in World War I, but did little that would show the kind of future he was to have. An unsuccessful businessman, a moderately successful local politician, and the product of Boss Pendergrast's Kansas City machine, Harry Truman turned out to be so much more than his background.
What may have been the most surprising part of this book for me was discovering the easy racism of the middle west at the turn of the century was a part of what made Truman. He was a young man who used terms like "nigger" and "kike" in daily language and in jokes. But he turned into a man who pushed for civil rights legislation, who was the first president to address the NAACP, who recognized the state of Israel, and whose close friend and business partner was Jewish. He also was a man who was outraged to hear that a heroic war casualty had had his burial interrupted by the cemetery committee in Missouri because he was "not caucasian". He was in fact a Native American. Truman used his power as president to have the man buried at Arlington and his family flown to the service at government expense.
McCullough is a fine writer, and as was the case in his books on Adams and the Revolutionary War, his talents are put to use here to give a complete description of the man, strengths and weaknesses, who had the Presidency thrust upon him, and served his country well in one of its most trying times. An ordinary man, who rose to extraordinary heights. An insightful and enjoyable book. (less)