Julie Davis's Reviews > America: The Last Best Hope, Volume 1: From the Age of Discovery to a World at War

America by William J. Bennett
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Jun 15, 13

Read from April 19 to June 14, 2013

This is just what I wanted. An American history that is even-handed and thorough, yet doesn't bog me down so I can never get the overall gist (such as telling all the details of every campaign that was fought during the French-Indian wars).

Also it is so clearly written and engaging that it is my breakfast reading and I often have to hurry through my remaining routine because I was too caught up in the book to keep track of time.

A few things I have learned about American history:

• I already knew that John Paul Jones "had not yet begun to fight." What I didn't realize was that the scrappy Scotsman took the naval fight to the British during the Revolution. Yes, believe it or not, he was attacking British towns! Now that is spunk!

• An incident and quote I'd never heard: When Benjamin Franklin witnessed a hot air balloon ascension in Paris, one of the witnesses asked him what practical use it was. "The most practical man on earth answered simply: "What is the use of a new-born baby?"

• I never realized that slavery was a big issue from the founding of our country onward. I mean to say, I knew it was a big issue coming up to the Civil War, but somehow when they're teaching kids about their country's history they don't start out talking about how the Founding Fathers had to make concessions right from the start so the states would all band together into a country. Fascinating and it makes a sad underlying theme to our country's first 100 (almost) years.

• Andrew Jackson was already on my black books for his treatment of the Cherokee Nation and rejection of the Supreme Court when they tried to enforce fair treatment as per their judgment. (Didn't he coin the phrase, "You and what army." Followed by, "Oh, right. I have the army.") Then I read how he sent the country into the Panic of 1837 because of his unreasoning hatred of the Bank of the United States, followed by his destruction of same. He had to go through two secretaries of the Treasury before appointing Roger B. Taney .. who we will hear from later for further infamy. Then Jackson left Martin Van Buren holding the bag. I now only have one good thing to say about Jackson which was that the "shoot" in his eyes allowed for no breaking up of the Union, even though he was sympathetic to the slave holders.

• Frederick Douglass -- who knew this guy was such a fire eater? Wow! I knew of his famous book which is one I mean to read someday. But he's in there mixing it up, refusing to back down, even teaching President Lincoln that although a black colony in South America sounds like a progressive, good idea, it is actually just as bad as slavery since these black men are Americans and have the right to live in their homeland. He was such a brilliant logician that he'd leave no one with a leg to stand on.

• I already admired Abraham Lincoln as a hero. I now can admire his powerful intellect, diplomacy, and good heart even more. I am struck more and more by the similarities between the fight against slavery and the current day fight against abortion. I especially liked this argument from his debates with Stephen Douglas:
"Although volume upon volume has been written to prove slavery a very good thing, we never hear of the man who wishes to take the good of it by being a slave himself.
• Raised a Kansan, it was a shock to move to Texas and hear the Confederacy justified by the argument of "states' rights." This was a new idea and one I didn't cotton to. Now having raised a generation of Texans, this argument still comes up (yes folks the Civil War can still start arguments between family members). So this was fascinating and also made me laugh.
The most important aspects of the Confederate constitution were, however, less obvious. For a movement that claimed states' rights,their constitution allowed no state the right to emancipate slaves. No state could even be admitted to the Confederacy from the old Union unless it agreed to maintain slavery always. And, a stunning development: the drafters of this constitution debated and emphatically rejected a passage that would have recognized a right of a state to secede from this Confederacy.

Finished!

Such a great, engaging book and one that explains complex situations very clearly. I have the second volume ordered and am really looking forward to continuing as this book ends on the eve of the Great War.
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Reading Progress

04/20/2013 page 65
11.0%
04/22/2013 page 95
16.0% "This book is a wonder in how the author gives the salient details to have already whisked us from Columbus to the end of the Constitutional convention in these few pages ... and yet given enough info that I feel I know the people."
04/28/2013 page 178
31.0% "Ok. Anyone who thought that our political campaigns are the most acrimonious in history, just hasn't been paying attention. I knew that already, but reading again about the Adams-Jefferson campaigns ... everyone was the worst. (Except maybe John Adams ... the bluff exterior covered a sensitive soul and that kind of hooked me. And evidently the author...)"
05/10/2013 page 230
40.0% "I'm still hanging onto understanding the political details while the larger stories of history are being told around them. Still really enjoying this book as I slowly work my way through. Andrew Jackson ... I'm not really sure about you, sirrah, despite your undying love for Rachel. We shall see."
06/04/2013 page 360
62.0% "Check the review for my latest thoughts on the book ... too many characters to be allowed in the status update."
06/06/2013 page 360
62.0% "Reading about Lincoln's assassination this morning ... I surprised myself by crying. What a well-written book. Without sentimentality, without dragging us through details, the author conveys the truth of the person, the mourners, and the times."
06/13/2013 page 458
79.0% "Rutherford Hayes ... I LOVE a guy who vows to only be president for one term so he can put his whole heart into the presidency. What a guy!"
06/14/2013 page 515
89.0% "Just a few pages from the end (that 573 page count includes tons of indexing and suchlike). Wow, this has been such a great book and it explains things so clearly. I now have a more nuanced view of Teddy Roosevelt and feel so sorry for his erstwhile friend Taft. I've ordered the second book. Found it online for $3! I may not begin it right away but ... then again ... I may!"
06/15/2013 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by booklady (new)

booklady Andrew Jackson is in my top ten of least favorite Presidents for all the same reasons you list. And Lincoln, well... they just don't make many like him! More's the pity! He's my all time favorite!


Julie Davis booklady wrote: "Andrew Jackson is in my top ten of least favorite Presidents for all the same reasons you list. And Lincoln, well... they just don't make many like him! More's the pity! He's my all time favorite!"

It's a real toss-up between Lincoln and Washington, though I think that Lincoln had a much more difficult job. It is nice to see heroes that remain heroes even when I'm older.


Jenny (Reading Envy) I've learned more about Jackson since moving to SC, just knowing that all of this land should be Cherokee land.


Julie Davis Jenny wrote: "I've learned more about Jackson since moving to SC, just knowing that all of this land should be Cherokee land."

That would make it even more of a heart breaker.


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