The United States has always been a heterogeneous nation, right from the beginning; its politics has always reflected that fact. Nowhere is this moreThe United States has always been a heterogeneous nation, right from the beginning; its politics has always reflected that fact. Nowhere is this more evident than in the period known in US history as Reconstruction, which took place between 1865 and 1877. Though relative short, it was a turbulent time, as everyone--politicians North and South as well as newly freed slaves tried to define what exactly � freedom� meant. At that time, while there was widespread agreement in the North about emancipation, most of the country, the North included, was divided on what � freedom� meant. Foner divides the concept into four areas: economic, civil, political, social. All of these meant something different to the lives of blacks; Foner goes into great detail both what each meant to freedmen (ex-slaves) and freeborn alike.[return][return]Possibly the single most important event that shaped Reconstruction happened right at the beginning--the assassination of Lincoln, which elevated Andrew Johnson to the Presidency in 1865. Much of what happened in Reconstruction followed from this single event, and Foner does a brilliant job of recounting the consequences.[return][return]There is so much to this book that it� s difficult to put it in a single review. For me, among the most memorable sections were: the violence--not just by the Ku Klux Klan but by other armed gangs of whites-against blacks, massacring blacks to prevent them from voting; the association of the Republican Party, which had been one that represented smallholders and independent merchants, free labor, with corporations, especially railroads, and banks; the violence and overt racism of the Democratic party throughout the country; the suffragette movement; the shift, especially among poor white Southerners, from independent landholding to working for wages; the origin of sharecropping; the increased protests of labor and the violence with which it was put down, North and South; the vast corruption both North and South with both parties; and so much more.[return][return]Foner writes extremely well, but the book is so jammed with information that it reads slowly. I found I could not read more than 25 pages a day without going on overload. However, the effort is more than amply repaid with understanding.[return][return]Much of what we see today in the US either has its origins or was mirrored in this period. For in-depth understanding of the political and social history of a critical period, this book is a must own and must read....more
The second in Taylor Branch's trilogy on the Cicil Rights era,this was an extraordinarily difficult book to read, and I had to stop several times simpThe second in Taylor Branch's trilogy on the Cicil Rights era,this was an extraordinarily difficult book to read, and I had to stop several times simply because of being sickened by the horror of the Southern white reaction to the Freedom Rides and voter registration efforts of Southern blacks. It is also a history of the shameful acts of the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover and many of his sycophantic subordinates who lied and schemed, eavesdropped and did their best, to no avail, to discredit Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement. And all for power, nothing else. Hoover was a megalomaniac like so many who gather power to themselves like spiders at the heart of their webs.
Terrible as that history is, still it is an incredible monument to the courage of poor, uneducated blacks, particularly in Mississippi where they formed the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and went on to challenge the regular Democratic candidates at the 1964 convention. Whether in Chicago, or Jackson Mississippi, or Selma, Alabama or St. Augustine, Florida, they marched and sang and suffered to obtain their rights. Their stories are awe-inspiring.
The years covered include the passage of the Civil Rights Bill and the Voters Rights act under Lyndon Johnson. Much as he is maligned for the Vietnam War--and the book covers those initial years very well with interesting material--he is not given enough credit for his belief in Civil Rights and his efforts, as President, to effect that legislation despite hostility within his own party. Branch does a commendable job of documenting Johnson's efforts and achievements.
Also covered is the emergence of Malcom X and his assassination, the politics of the Nation of Islam under Elijah Muhammed, and the bitter infighting within the Muslim community that was typical of the black organizations of the day, with SNCC and SLCC at odds with the NAACP and many times with each other.
The one who ties this all together Is the Reverend Martin Luther King who was a towering figure, a giant of the times, a true hero regardless of his flaws.
This is NOT an easy book to read, not at all....more
I knew very little about the US Revolutionary War history before I started this book. Although I knew John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams had beeI knew very little about the US Revolutionary War history before I started this book. Although I knew John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams had been presidents of the US, I don� t think I could have told anyone that the father was was the 2nd president and the son the 6th. And I thought that the late colonial and revolutionary war periods were sort of boring.[return][return]Well, I certainly was wrong about the boring part! McCullough� s splendid biography of Adams brings both periods to life and provides a fascinating account of the politics of the time (sleazy). He offers truly intriguing portraits of the prominent figures of the times: Jefferson ( a lot less noble than he is ordinarily made out to be); Washington (fairly inscrutable); and of course Adams himself along with his remarkable wife, Abigail. all these people and more and the times they lived in are vividly portrayed mostly though their own words. It was a letter-writing era, and some of the most important and most illuminating have survived. The correspondence between John and Abigail alone is worth reading the book. Abigail was no demure � little woman� , submissive and silent, leaving important matters to her husband. On the contrary, she was quite a match for John, who was one of the most erudite men of his age--more so, actually, than Jefferson.[return][return]Through these letters, between these prominent figures (and Abigail kept up a spirited correspondence of her own with Jefferson), we see the age and its issues in quite a different, more vibrant light than is usually taught in history books. Far from boring, it actually is thrilling; we know the end of the story, that US independence was won, a constitution framed and signed, and a young republic born. But how this was done--what the controversies were, the terrible odds against all of it coming to pass, the intrigues in England and France--are never exposed so thoroughly as in the letters that passed among all the principals.[return][return]I know that many times I� m tempted to think that US politics has never been worse than they are at the moment, that there have never been politicians of such low integrity, such partisanship as exist in our times. Actually, slander of all types--lies, smearing of reputations (the noble Jefferson was adept at this), blatant falsification of positions--was much worse right after the US was born that it is even now. And the US public was just as gullible, just as uninformed as it is now. McCullough does modern readers a service to point out the origin of these attitudes and behavior; while it may be depressing, it perhaps can give some comfort to know that modern US politics is no different from the way it� s always been, and that the basic issues have not changed. That may not be McCullough� s intent, perhaps; if not, then it is a serendipitous result of an affectionate look at the second president of the US.[return][return]It's also an account of a remarkable family--not just John and his wife, but their other children as well who, with the exception of the brilliant John Quincy, led tragic lives. [return] [return]McCullough is not the best writer of the current crop of historians, but he is more than adequate for his subject. A very fine book--highly recommended....more
When thinking of the South before the Civil War, the images that immediately come to mind are those of Scarlett O� Hara, Rhett Butler, and Mammy fromWhen thinking of the South before the Civil War, the images that immediately come to mind are those of Scarlett O� Hara, Rhett Butler, and Mammy from the book but most especially from the very popular movie, Gone With The Wind. Clinton calls it the � myth of Tara� , claiming that the Hollywood images are not only misleading but represent revisionist history, rewritten to serve the interests of the defeated Southern population.[return][return]Clinton looks at the beginning of the myth of indolent whites and happy, clapping blacks, which predates the Civil War. Southern culture exaggerated the status of Southern white women to an impossibly elevated status, of purity, genteel behavior and dependency. The reality? Such women were almost nonexistent in the antebellum South; only a very few had such privileged status. Reality for Southern women,both black and white, was hard work, even for women who were wives of plantation owners.[return][return]Clinton shows how the needs of he Confederacy to keep the plantations going for the war effort emphasized this stereotype, giving women a heroic status. With the defeat of the South and the advent of the hated Reconstruction, Southern writers immediately began romanticizing the plantation and slave experiences; some of the most outrageous are slave memoirs that were written by whites! [return][return]The genre culminated in Margaret Mitchell� s racist book, Gone With The Wind. Turned into a movie by David Selznick (who did consult with the NAACP on the script) and brilliantly acted by Hattie McDanile, who won an Academy Award for her portrayal as Mammy and Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O� Hara, Tara seized hold of both the Southern and Northern imagination (for different reasons) and became an icon of a South that never was, and remains so to this day; visitors to Georgia still ask for the location of Tara.[return][return]Clinton spends her last chapter excoriating the resurgence of these false images of happy slaves and benevolent masters; photos of ceramic figures and other � collectibles� sold in the South in current times are reproduced to reinforce her point.[return][return]While a somewhat superficial study of Southern women during the Civil War (read Mothers of Invention by Drew Gilpin Faust for a fascinating, in-depth study of the same subject), Clinton� s thesis is interesting and she argues it well. Highly recommended...more
The Iron Brigade, the legendary Black Hats, was one of the most famous fighting unit in the Union Army. Its major claim to popular fame arises from itThe Iron Brigade, the legendary Black Hats, was one of the most famous fighting unit in the Union Army. Its major claim to popular fame arises from its � last stand� on July 1st, 1863, the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg. There, rushing to the rescue of John Buford� s cavalry who were holding off Heth� s Division of the confederate Army, the Iron Brigade fought to preserve McPherson� s Woods and then later Seminary ridge until the major part of the Union Army could concentrate at Getysburg. They were successful� but at enormous cost. The Brigade suffered the most losses of the Union Army in that battle; the 24th Michigan had the highest losses of any regiment in that battle� an unimaginable 80%. Overall, the Iron Brigade lost nearly 2/3 of its men in that battle.[return][return]But the Brigade was already famous long before Gettysburg. Nolan describes in detail the history of the Brigade, from its beginnings in the 2nd Wisconsin volunteers in May, 1861, answering Lincoln� s calls for volunteers to preserve the Union; the Brigade consisted entirely made of Western regiments: the 2nd, 6th, and 7th Wisconsin volunteers, the 19th Indiana, and last but not least, the 24th Michigan. They were justifiably proud of their reputation and their position: "the First Brigade of the First Division of the First Corps" of teh Union Army. Shattered at Gettysburg, the Brigade lost its identity with the incorporation of Eastern conscript regiments in late July, 1863; subsequently, after more losses, the regiments were consolidated and the Brigade broken up in order to incorporate the stronger regiments into other brigades.[return][return]One of the advantages of a unit history such as this one is that the author can give in much more details than any general history an account of the engagements fought by the unit. Nolan, although a lawyer by profession rather than a historian, does an outstanding job in this regard. We learn about the battle at the Brawner Farm, the prelude to 2nd Bull run, where the Iron Brigade got its real baptism of fire under its new commander, John Gibbon. We learn how the Iron Brigade got its name and why� at Turner� s Gap, prior to the horrors of Antietam. And then Gettysburg, since the Iron Brigade did not see significant action at Fredricksburg.[return][return]Nolan, better than some professional historians, does a skillful job of weaving excerpts from letters and diaries of both officers and soldiers of the different regiments into the main narrative; these do not hang up the narrative thread the way such excerpts do, say, in Harry Pfanz� s otherwise excellent volumes on Gettysburg. Because Nolan is a very good if not outstanding writer, he does not get in the way of the material itself; the only problem I found is that by the nature of the history� that of a unit� and due to the casualties, there is sometimes a confusing array of names that wind up in the narrative, as the Brigade, like others in the Union Army, sought to fill gaps caused by battle.[return][return]The maps serve, although it is annoying to have to flip back and forth in the book since text in the last 2/3rds of the book may be dependent on a map on p. 48. The diagrams of the actual fighting are excellent; the movements of the regiments are very clear. Thus, together the maps and diagrams are more than adequate, unusual for a Civil War history where the constant complaint is a lack of such; the organization could have been somewhat better.[return][return]The Appendices list the regiments, their officers, and the counties in the three states from which the members of the iron Brigade came. The notes are well done.[return][return]All in all, this is an excellent book, quite professionally done, and written in such a way as to be accessible to a reader who has, say, read Shelby Foote� s narrative general history of the Civil War and who wants a more detailed look at a legendary regiment that played a critical part in the high drama of Gettysburg.[return][return]Highly recommended....more
I found this book incredibly dull. Well researched--no question that almost all of the known material on Caesar is summarized here--but does it have tI found this book incredibly dull. Well researched--no question that almost all of the known material on Caesar is summarized here--but does it have to be so boring? While reading it, I found myself constantly comparing it wih Colleen McCullough's 5 volume fictional work on Caesar; IMHO, her books are infinitely preferable to this one volume. Same material, better read.[return][return]For someone who is supposedly a military historian, it is beyond my power to understand how Goldsworthy could make the Gallic Wars sound so dull. It appeared to me thathe was bored by them. He seemed to pick up interest in the Civil War. I found his summary decent.[return][return]For me, a major problem was the style of writing--mostly simple, declarative sentences. Such monotony along with the appearance of a lack of real interest in his material made for heavy going.[return][return]Another very subjective complaint I have about the book is a lack of a point of view. I'm surprised that in 2007 someone can still make the statement in print of strivign to be entirely objective. That's a vain hope! No one is. In doing so, his material loses life. There is a saying in opera, "strong opinions, strong production". I think it applies equally well to writing.[return][return]Granted, any author of fiction has far, far more leeway than a historian. But McCullough brings her characters to life, which made it far easier for me to remember the material! Also, you can learn far, far more about Roman life, culture, institutions, etc from her glossaries which beat anything I have ever seen in novels.[return][return]Any really good general history ought to inspire the reader to go to original sources. I can't imagine desiring to read Caesar's Commentaries after reading Goldsworthy. Yet they are utterly fascinating.[return][return]The only reason why I didn't give this book the lowest rating is that it is useful to have the material all inone place. And it certainly helps to put one to sleep at night--a good cure for insomnia....more