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Thomas Jefferson has had a rough few years. Since DNA established beyond a reasonable doubt that he fathered children with his slave Sally Hemings, Jefferson has been pushed into the shadows and forced to watch as his political rivals John Adams and Alexander Hamilton enjoy the limelight.
Paradigm shifts in historiography seem to come all at once rather than being spaced evenly along the disciplinary trajectory. The last such shift in writing about slavery and race (including civil rights) in the United States came between the late 1950s and the mid-1970s.
For many of us, the ongoing carnage in Syria is a self-evident humanitarian crisis. We do not need to be convinced that the children drowning at sea, the women and men, young and old, begging for entry into any country that will accept them are worthy of our help.
In his 2013 book, The Enlightenment: And Why It Still Matters, Anthony Pagden devoted a chapter to the European ‘discovery’ of ‘man in nature’, partly through their study of the individual men whom French and British explorers brought back from their voyages to the South Pacific.
In 1775, Samuel Johnson had already identified the central paradox of United States history. He notoriously challenged British readers to explain why ‘we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes’. Generations of historians have tried to answer that question. How could a movement espousing belief in liberty include so many slaveholders?
Gary Gerstle’s Liberty and Coercion is a tour de force account of American governance that manages to survey the chronological and geographical breadth of US history with a judicious depth of precise detail and example.
We are now a generation into an ‘Atlantic turn’ in writing early American history. Jordan Landes and Abram C. Van Engen make welcome, but different, contributions through their arguments about emotions in Puritan New England and networking by London Quakers.
The Devils We Know: Us and Them in America’s Raucous Political Culture brings together a fine selection of James A. Morone’s essays combining the two areas to which he has devoted the last 25 years of his career: American political thought and American political development.
Scholars of contemporary religious history, of art history, and of the immigrant experience will find much to interest them in this fine volume from Samantha Baskind of Cleveland State University, Ohio.
The title of Richard Brookhiser's biography of the 16th President indicates the innovative nature of its perspective. Brookhiser contends that new light can be shed on Lincoln's personal and political evolution by tracing his regular reflections and adaptations of the ideas of the Founding Fathers of the United States.