Sunday, May 23, 2010

Oshinsky on Okrent on Prohibition, Hollinger on Rakove on The Founders, and more in the book reviews

The 18th Amendment gets a new history in LAST CALL: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent, reviewed today in the New York Times. "On Jan. 17, 1920, America went dry," David Oshinsky writes. "The 18th Amendment had been ratified a year earlier, banning 'the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors' within the United States and its territories. Thus began the era of Prohibition, a nearly 14-year orgy of lawbreaking unparalleled in our history." Okrent
views Prohibition as one skirmish in a larger war waged by small-town white Protestants who felt besieged by the forces of change then sweeping their nation - a theory first proposed by the historian Richard Hofstadter more than five decades ago. Though much has been written about Prohibition since then, Okrent offers a remarkably original account, showing how its proponents combined the nativist fears of many Americans with legitimate concerns about the evils of alcohol to mold a movement powerful enough to amend the United States Constitution.
The rest is here.

"Refreshingly accessible and deeply informed," Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America by Jack Rakove "is just what you need when someone on the Internet or cable TV offers to give you the ideas about history now being offered by the Tea Party movement in exchange for those you got from well-trained teachers," David Hollinger writes in the San Francisco Chronicle. (The internet and well-trained teachers are, of course, not in separate worlds.) Hollinger continues:
The Federalist Papers an argument against a strong federal government that undercuts the policies of the Obama administration? Tea Party leader Dick Armey of Texas made this claim recently. When a skeptical reporter asked him about Alexander Hamilton, the chief author of the Federalist Papers, Armey declared that only "ill-informed professors" thought Hamilton was an advocate of a powerful national state. Ah, yes, professors.

"Revolutionaries" is written by a distinguished professor at Stanford who, unlike Dick Armey, knows the difference between a federalist and an anti-federalist....

But "Revolutionaries" is much more than a convenient inventory of truths by which the Tea Party version of the founding can be refuted. While Rakove does provide us with a cogent summary of what scholars know about the political history of the late 18th century, what gives his book real distinction is the skill with which he delivers this knowledge through a series of interlocking biographical narratives.
Continue reading here.

"How authentic can a war be when things don't blow up?" asks Jeff Stein in a Washington Post review of CYBER WAR: The Next Threat to National Security and What to Do About It by Richard A. Clarke and Robert K. Knake. "But the utility of cyber-tools in service of old-fashioned firepower ha[s] already been made clear." Nevertheless, "U.S. presidents have treated cyber-defense like spinach, picking it up and then putting it down....It will probably take 'an electronic Pearl Harbor' to wake us up, Clarke says."

Also reviewed this week: At the Edge of the Precipice: Henry Clay and the Compromise that Saved the Union by Robert V. Remini is discussed in The New Republic. The New York Times takes up THE BEAUTY BIAS: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law by Deborah L. Rhode, MAKING HASTE FROM BABYLON: The Mayflower Pilgrims and Their World: A New History by Nick Bunker, and THE LAST HERO: A Life of Henry Aaron by Howard Bryant.


Brett said...

To be fair, while this does seem to confuse the Federalists with the anti-Federalists, (Who proved to be remarkably prescient in their criticisms of the constitution.) anyone trying to implement Hamilton's idea of a powerful nation-state today would be called a wild-eyed anarchist. If he, the founder most in favor of powerful government, ever envisioned a government as intrusive as our own, he managed to keep it a secret. The federalist papers are an argument in favor of a "strong" government only in the context of the Articles of Confederation; In today's context, they ARE an argument for weak government, because the Federalists' notion of 'strong' government is nothing like what passes by that name today.

Shag from Brookline said...

It should be clear that the "Federalists" that Prof Rakove writes about in his new book differ from the current day self-described "Federalists" as represented by the Federalist Society just as the Republicans of Lincoln's day differ a tad from the Republicans of the 1960s to date with their Southern Strategy post-1960s Civil Rights Acts.

It's too bad Hamilton lost his duel to respond to Brett's mind reading. Too much has been written about Hamilton for Brett to come up with his wild eyed anarchist of Hamiltonian policy. Manifest Destiny could be said to have been inspired by Hamilton and this required a strong central government.

Buck Batard said...

If one wants to have a complete understanding of the Federalist Party, I would another book to your list. The book is decidedly anti-Federalist and explains in a very good way - by using actual newspaper accounts from Philadelphia newspapers, and most specifically, the Philadelphia Aurora during the period that John Adams was President - to explain how the Federalists came to enact the Alien and Sedition Acts (which made it a crime to criticize John Adams or the government among other things). The title of the book is "American Aurora" and was written by Richard Rosenfeld. If you need to keep your mind off of current political happenings and want to understand how tough politics was the late 1700, in many ways worse than today, don't miss this book. If you are a fan of John Adams it is likely that you will no longer be once you have read this book. Highly recommended. To get a more complete understanding of what is in the book, go and read the numerous reviews available on Amazon.

Shag from Brookline said...

I take Buck Batard's point but still admire John Adams for other things just as I still admire Thomas Jefferson despite some of his statements suggesting inferiority of African-American slaves. Both Prof. Rakove and Buck remind us that holding the Founders in reverence and awe avoids looking at them as humans subject to erring. Nobody's prefect [sic].