Scars of Independence: America’s Violent Birth

Scars of Independence: America's Violent BirthScars of Independence: America’s Violent Birth by Holger Hoock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received this book via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers in exchange for an honest review.

The quaint, romanticized version of the American Revolution that many have grown up with through popular history and school curriculum is not the real life story that those living during those years experienced. In Scars of Independence, Holger Hoock looks past the good versus bad and underdog narratives so prevalent today to reveal the multifaceted struggle and very violent history of the American Revolutionary War from all its participants.

Hoock frames the American Revolution as not just a colonial rebellion, but first and foremost a civil war in which the dividing line of loyalties split family. The Patriot-Loyalist violence, either physical or political, began long before and lasted long after the military conflict. Once the fighting actually began, both the Americans and the British debated amongst themselves on the appropriate use of the acceptable violence connected to 18th century warfare and on the treatment of prisoners. While both sides thought about their conduct to those in Europe, the Native Americans were another matter and the violence they were encouraged to inflict or was inflicted upon them was some of the most brutal of the war. But through all of these treads, Hoock emphasizes one point over and over, that the American Patriots continually won the “propaganda” war not only in the press on their side of the Atlantic but also in Europe and even Great Britain.

One of the first things a reader quickly realizes is that Hoock’s descriptions of some of the events of the American Revolution remind us of “modern-day” insurgencies and playbooks of modern terrorists, completely shattering the popular view of the nation’s birth. Hoock’s writing is gripping for those interested in popular history and his research is thought-provoking for scholars. Another point in Hoock’s favor is his birth outside the Anglo-American historical sphere in Germany, yet his background in British history and on-off research fellowships in the United States has given him a unique perspective to bring this piece of Anglo-American history out to be consumed, debated, and thought upon.

Scars of Independence: America’s Violent Birth is a fascinating, intriguing, thought-provoking book on the under-reported events of the American Revolutionary War in contrast to the view of the war from popular history. Holger Hoock gives his readers an easy, yet detailed filled book that will help change their perspective on the founding of the United States by stripping the varnish away to reveal the whole picture.

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The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire

The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American EmpireThe True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire by Stephen Kinzer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The internal debate within the United States about how the country should act around the world, to either avoid or intervene in foreign entanglements, has been going on for over a century. However, neither the arguments nor the situations that bring them on have changed over that time. Stephen Kinzer in his book The True Flag looks at when this debate began back at the turn of the 20th Century when the United States looked beyond the Americas in the “Age of Imperialism”.

The political and military history before, during, and after the Spanish-American War both inside and outside the United States was Kinzer’s focus throughout the book. Within this framework, Kinzer introduced organizations and individuals that opposed the actions and outcomes promoted by those more familiar to history, namely Theodore Roosevelt, as the United States was transformed into a “colonial” power. Yet, while this book is about the beginning of a century long debate it is more the story of those who through 1898 and 1901 argued against and tried to prevent the decisions and actions that today we read as history.

Although the names of Roosevelt and Mark Twain catch the eye on the cover, in reality Kinzer’s focus was on other important figures on either side of the debate. The biggest promoter of “expansionist” policy was Henry Cabot Lodge, Roosevelt’s long-time friend, who gladly let his friend become figure that history would remember. However, Lodge’s fellow senator from Massachusetts, George Frisbie Hoar was one of the fiercest opponents and critics of the “expansionist” policy that Lodge and Roosevelt promoted. One of the enigmatic figures of the time was newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, who openly advocated and supported war in Cuba but then turned against the expansion when the United States fought the insurrection in the Philippines. Businessman Andrew Carnegie was one of many prominent individuals who founded the American Anti-Imperialist League to work against the United States ruling foreign territory. Amongst those working with Carnegie were former President Grover Cleveland and imminent labor leader, Samuel Gompers, but the strangest bedfellow was William Jennings Bryan. In Bryan, many believed they had the person in the political sphere that could stem the tide against the “expansionist” agenda but were twice stunned by the decisions he made when it was time to make a stand.

Kinzer throughout the book would follow the exploits and opinions of both Roosevelt and Twain during the period covered, however there was is a stark difference amount of coverage each has in which Roosevelt is in the clear majority. It wasn’t that Kinzer chose not to invest page space to Twain, it was that he did not have the material to do so. Throughout most of the period covered, 1898-1901, Twain was in Europe and out of the social and political landscape of the United States. However, once Twain stepped back onto U.S. soil his pen became a weapon in the cause against imperialism that Kinzer documents very well. Unfortunately for both the reader and Kinzer, Twain only becomes prominent in the last third of the book whereas Roosevelt’s presence is throughout. This imbalance of page space between the books’ two important figures was created because of marketing, but do not let it create a false impression of favoritism by Kinzer on one side or another.

History records that those opposed to the United States’ overseas expansion lost, however ever since the arguments they used have been a part of the foreign policy debate that has influenced history ever since. The True Flag gives the reader a look into events and arguments that have shaped the debate around the question “How should the United States act in the world?” since it began almost 120 years ago. This book is a fantastic general history of an era and political atmosphere that impacts us still today, and is a quick easy read for those interested in the topic.

I received this book for free though LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program in exchange for an honest review.

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Marlborough: His Life and Times (Book Two)

Marlborough: His Life and Times, Book TwoMarlborough: His Life and Times, Book Two by Winston S. Churchill

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The political and military life of John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, reached both its zenith and low in some of the most turbulent times of both Great Britain and Europe. Marlborough: His Life and Times, Book Two combines the third and fourth volumes of Sir Winston Churchill’s much heralded biography of his ancestor covering the last 17 years of his life, but focusing mostly on the decade between 1706-16.

From the beginning of the book, Marlborough’s approach to both his military and political zenith is fairly short, but the long slow decline towards political exile began to slowly eat away at his authority on the battlefield and gave encouragement to French court of Louis XIV. Churchill throughout the book, details the remaining six campaigns that Marlborough lead the Allies in Flanders during the War of the Spanish Succession with truly amazing detail to the battles of Ramillies, Oudenarde, and Malpalquet and their aftermaths. However, Churchill does not keep his biography in a bubble around Marlborough during the war as other theaters as well as actors–Prince Eugene, other British generals, and the various French marshals.

While Marlborough fought to unparalleled success, his power was undone not by military defeat but by the political forces–including his wife Sarah–at home that first undermined his trust friend Godolphin and later his relationship with Queen Anne. Churchill gives the reader a detailed account of the political climate and intrigue in London during the 10 years saw Marlborough’s political clout slowly begin to ebb then fall precariously after the fall of the Whig Junto to Harley’s Tory administration that used Marlborough has a tool on the battlefield to short shift the rest of the Grand Alliance with secret negotiations with France that lead to the undoing of years of Marlborough’s military success after his dismissal as Commander-in-Chief. Yet, upon the ascension of the Hanoverian George I, Marlborough returned to high political position after traveling to the continent in political exile but let a younger generation deal with the day-to-day details and policies while he enjoyed a restful existence as an elder statesman.

Written during the time of his own political exile, Winston Churchill gives the reader a thorough education of the late-Stuart political upheavals in Britain while at the same time giving them the political landscape of Europe at the beginning of the very turbulent 18th Century, especially the influence of Louis XIV and the dynastic politics of the Hapsburgs and republican Dutch. While a length of 1040 pages of text, not counting 40 pages containing a bibliography and index, may seem daunting to the any reader I can tell you that by the end you’ll have enjoyed learning so much.

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Marlborough: His Life and Times (Book One)

Marlborough: His Life and Times, Book OneMarlborough: His Life and Times, Book One by Winston S. Churchill

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first Duke of Marlborough during his life and afterwards was a controversial figure that tended to be seen in a rather bad light by history until Winston S. Churchill set about to fully rehabilitate the English/British general and statesman. Marlborough: His Life and Times (Book One) contains the first two volumes of Churchill’s four volume biography of his ancestor John Churchill that cover the first 55 years of the general’s life.

The first volume of Churchill’s biography of Marlborough covers the first half of the book from the Duke’s birth to the death of William III at the beginning of the War of Spanish Succession. Events and Marlborough’s actions throughout this period colored contemporaries views of him as well as later historian’s opinions of him. Yet this was a turbulent time in English history, as politics was first dominated by Roundheads and Cavaliers before becoming Protestant and Catholics along with Tory and Whig followed by Jacobite and Anti-Jacobite. Without the deep understand that Churchill gives the actions of Marlborough would make him look wish-washy. The second volume consists of the first four years of Marlborough’s time as commander-in-chief of the Grand Alliance as well as de facto co-Prime Minister of England. Throughout this second volume of Churchill’s biography, the life of the commander-in-chief of an alliance was not easy and many of Marlborough’s military plans were frustrated by the want of will by his allies, mainly the Dutch. But it wasn’t until Marlborough marched to the aid of the Holy Roman Empire that he was able to conduct the military operations that he wanted which gave him the first great English victory on the Continent since Agincourt, yet the next year his designs were once again frustrated leading to military and political unrest amongst the Great Alliance.

Given the author’s relationship to his subject and stated purpose to readjust the historical view of his ancestor, one could expect a true glorification of Marlborough but to Churchill’s credit he did not. While Churchill does take time give the reader an understanding of the changing political environment throughout Marlborough’s life and explained his actions in relation to them. When it came to Marlborough’s military operations, Churchill is actually balanced in his approach to his ancestor’s military decisions as well as “what if” scenarios when Marlborough was frustrated in his planning. Yet Churchill savages those who did frustrate Marlborough’s planning through either over caution or plain envy.

Marlborough: His Life and Times (Book One) gives an in-depth look at the second half of the 17th century and the early part of the War of Spanish Succession through the life of John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough. Winston Churchill writes engagingly and makes a full picture of events that leaves the reader in no doubt the facts surrounding an issue. After finished Book One, you’ll be wanting to start Book Two.

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The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan

The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of ReaganThe Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan by Rick Perlstein
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The Invisible Bridge is an apt title for the latest installment of Rick Perlstein’s historical series on the rise of modern conservatism in American politics. After the scandal of Watergate, the Establishment of the Republican Party was desperate to repudiate its former head and his politics while the right wing looked to give American “a choice, not an echo”. The showdown between President Gerald Ford and Governor Ronald Reagan was thought a cakewalk by the political and media establishment who had not learned the lessons from 1964 and beyond.

Like the previous two book in the series, Perlstein shows that politics and history do not occur in a vacuum as cultural, entertainment, and societal issues during the middle part of the 1970s are covered and how they related to political scene of the time as well. In the wake of Watergate and the resignation of Nixon, the Democratic Party was so certain of victory in 1976 that numerous candidates entered to win the nomination and a sure term as President, only for a complete unknown to the Establishment—Jimmy Carter—to come out with the nomination. Yet the main thrust of the entire book is the 1976 nomination fight between Ford and Reagan; how it came about, how it was contested, and how it ended at the Kansas City convention.

Although history and politics are central to this book, Perlstein doesn’t shy away from giving biographies of the three important individuals of the period: Carter, Ford, and Reagan. The portraits those biographies provide are for the most part not very pretty, especially for those who idolize Ronald Reagan as Perlstein doesn’t pull any punches about his life. But for those who think Perlstein out to get Reagan, the image Perlstein shows of Carter is anything but rosy or positive and gives a hint about how he’ll portray the 39th President in his next book which will not make Carter fans very happy as well. Of the three major figures in this book, Gerald Ford comes out the best though in a way Perlstein gives the impression that Ford was more an individual desirous of pity than praise.

I began this review by saying that The Invisible Bridge was an apt title for this book and the reason was that not until looking back from the perspective of 1980 and beyond did anyone see that in 1976 when Ford won the Republican nomination that it was pyrrhic victory by a moderate conservative of a party increasingly controlled by the far right conservatives. Only in hindsight could the pundits and historians see the once hidden bridge of how the crushed right wing of 1964 had taken over by 1976, that bridge was one man who it turned out won by losing.

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Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America

Nixonland: America's Second Civil War and the Divisive Legacy of Richard Nixon 1965-72Nixonland: America’s Second Civil War and the Divisive Legacy of Richard Nixon 1965-72 by Rick Perlstein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Is Nixonland a time or a place? Back in 2008, Rick Perlstein stated that between 1965 and 1972 when Richard Nixon rose to not only the Presidency but achieving the third-largest percentage in election history that Nixonland was brought forth and has been our country ever since. Over the past 8 year, Perlstein has been proven correct.

After the catastrophic defeat of Barry Goldwater in 1964, many assumed that the conservative wing of the Republican Party had been thoroughly reputed and would recede to the background of American political life. Then Watts occurred days after the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and liberalism started unravelling both domestically and in Vietnam. Watching these events was a man thought a political afterthought, Richard Nixon.

Through four elections cycles over seven years, Nixon used the remnants of the conservative insurgence still controlling the state party conventions and his own narrative message to achieve not only a political comeback but a historical reelection victory. But what ultimately helped Nixon the most was the division of nation in two between a progressive driven liberal “popular” culture and those reacting about how fast and how far those progressive steps had gone. It was this latter group that Nixon convinced to join him while the Democratic Party descended into chaos on the national level not once but twice over the course of two Presidential elections.

Over the course of 748 pages of text that covered mostly 7 years, showed how the political atmosphere of the time but of our time was born. The political rhetoric of 2008, 2012, and even 2016 is wholly seen in 1966, 1968, 1970, and 1972 born by the campaigns and speeches by one Richard Nixon and numerous Democrats. In fact the foolish of Democrats in response to this rhetoric that can sometimes still be seen today in 2016 is described in full detail within Perlstein’s text. Of the remaining 131 pages, it is stock full of notes and citations of a well-researched book about the birth of modern American political culture.

For those living the United States, we’re still in Nixonland and if you want to know how American politics entered this 24/7 heated political atmosphere then I recommend that you read this book.

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We the People: The Modern-Day Figures Who Have Reshaped and Affirmed the Founding Father’ Vision of American

We the People: The Modern-Day Figures Who Have Reshaped and Affirmed the Founding Fathers' Vision of AmericaWe the People: The Modern-Day Figures Who Have Reshaped and Affirmed the Founding Fathers’ Vision of America by Juan Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received this book via LibraryThing Early Reviewers in exchange for an honest review.

What would the Founding Fathers think about America today? Is the question that Juan Williams looks at in his new book, We the People. Yet in trying to find the answer, Williams realized that the Founding Fathers would not recognize the United States of 2016 given what has occurred over the past 240 years, so he shifted his focus to those individuals who have shaped the nation since World War II by how they interpreted the words of the Founding Fathers.

Through 18 chapters, Williams examined numerous individuals and how they affected issues and movements that affect the United States today. These new members of the Found Father “family” as Williams calls them range from the notable such as Kennedy brothers, Martin Luther King Jr., Ronald Reagan, and Earl Warren to the lesser known such as Harry Hay, Robert Ball, and Robert Morris. The issues these individuals range from immigration to gun rights to environmentalism to the debate between the living constitution and originalism.

In each chapter, Williams gives an unbiased history of the issue under discussion as well as a biography of the individual or individuals that contributed to how the issue became important for us today. Although this might sound like it could be a plodding read, Williams writes in a crisp and engaging manner that results in the nearly 400 pages of text to pass swiftly for the reader while so informing them of the issue and individuals that made them important for 21st century Americans.

If there is one thing I wish Williams had done was a concluding chapter that would have addressed how some of the issues he presented interacted with one another. This would have also afforded Williams the opportunity while showing the interaction between issues to parallel how the interaction of 21st century issues to show parallels about 21st century issues interacted with one another just as issues the 18th century during the Founding Father era interacted with one another. I personally believe this reinforcing of his argument as well as the synthesis of the previous chapters would have created a stronger conclusion to the text than just the normal chapter ending that the reader got.

We the People could be seen as one of those “popular history” genre books glosses over things, but Williams’ prose and material goes deeper to give the reader a better understanding as to how 21st century America came to be as it is. The nearly 400 page of text is very reasonable for the average reader and the information provided within them really packs a punch. I would wholeheartedly recommend this book for those interested in history and/or politics.

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