Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 27, 2006
By: Amy Sullivan

HELP WANTED....Our founding editor, Charlie Peters, often bemoans the feeble grasp of history that plagues most everyone under the age of 50, and particularly the editors he has nurtured over the past few decades. When he sat down to write his latest book, Five Days in Philadelphia, he hoped to bring at least one crucial period in American history to the attention of the young, unmoored-from-history, masses. Alas, he is not sure he accomplished this task, so he sends us this missive:

When I began this book, my main motive was to restore Wendell Willkie to the place in history that he deserved by demonstrating his crucial role as the Republican leader gave a Democratic president the courage to make politically dangerous decisions in an election year, decisions that were vital to the survival of democracy. As I was writing the book, however, I realized there were differences between the country in 1940 and the way it is today that I wanted to explain so that young people would understand that we can do better, a lot better than were doing now.

But I have failed. Although the book was generously reviewed and I have received far more enthusiastic phone calls, letters and emails from readers than for any of my eight other books, Ive had to face the fact that except for a handful from younger Monthly alumni, these messages came from no one recognizably under 35.

So I ask for your help and advice in figuring out how to reach these young people, and urge you to write me with your advice care of the Monthly. The points I want to emphasize most are that we can have leaders like Franklin Roosevelt and Wendell Willkie, we can be willing to sacrifice by drafting ourselves into military service and paying higher taxes. We can have a dominant Christianity that supports liberal programs, and we can have a country where too many people seem not to be trying to demonstrate that they are richer, smarter and have better taste than the next guys, but where instead theyre trying to find common ground with their fellow citizens. It can happen, because it did happen. We can not only do better, we can be better. Not that we wont still be recognizably human, with our share of failings. Even FDR had his weaknesses. But they and we were able to rise to behavior characterized by considerably more idealism and generosity than is evident today.

Amy Sullivan 10:21 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (125)

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Comments

I'm 41, and a history junkie. But I'm fully aware most people, even shrewd, educated types, aren't really interested in ongoing study of history's lessons.

We're all human, and we usually want it neatly categorized into Great Moments (victory highlights, etc.). All the context and cultural relevance gets ignored.

I had the benefit of some excellent teachers. I don't know that our younger generations have that, in America's current public-education and political climate.

We could use an updated-for-today Schoolhouse Rock series, dealing with great unsung-heroes moments in history.

Posted by: Jeff (no, the other one) on February 27, 2006 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK

I am reasonably sure that back in 1940, adults were bemoaning the fact that young people didn't care about history.

Posted by: Peter on February 27, 2006 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

I'm also 41 and majored in history at college. I read avidly and follow politics closely. However, I have not read a single pure history book in over ten years and may not read one again in the next ten.

One reason is I work. Another is that there are many better ways for me to learn about history and the world than by reading stodgy old historians, especially those who may well have a political agenda they are not revealing.

I agree with Peter that "I am reasonably sure that back in 1940, adults were bemoaning the fact that young people didn't care about history."

I also would like to turn the question around and ask why I should waste my time with his book when there are so many better ways that I can earn about the world at less cost and more easily.

Posted by: Jack on February 27, 2006 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

Flash movie!

Posted by: Jim Lund on February 27, 2006 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

I hadn't even nopticed this quote:

"So I ask for your help and advice in figuring out how to reach these young people, and urge you to write me with your advice care of the Monthly."

Is it not obvious that you are reaching them through a blog and that this comments section is a far better way to hear back from people than having you write it all down for him (to probably ignore anyways).

Posted by: Jack on February 27, 2006 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

The major problem is, that other than the universities, there are no major societal venues for getting the word out to younger people on societal obligations and public regardedness. TV, the major incubator of American values, is all about self and personal fulfillment.

I suggest doing the public radio talk show circuit, particularly campus stations. Another venue is religious institutions, which have guest speakers. Corollary with this, is appearing before religious groups on campus. Let me give one little example: the Ethical Society here in Philadelphia.

Posted by: Carter on February 27, 2006 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure how many under-35s read scholarly histories, but they do watch movies. My 23 year-old son and his friends have watched "Band of Brothers" more than a few times and, judging from the comments I've heard, seem in genuine awe of the heroism and sacrifice of the soldiers portrayed. The same goes for "Saving Private Ryan."

It's not just the fact that these are action movies; there's something about the way that history is seen through the eyes of the people who lived it.

It may be simplfied history, but it's has taught them about the "Greatest Generation" in a powerful way. What it leaves out is the story of the leaders that generation believed in.

An HBO series of WWII with FDR and Churchill as the two central characters would be a good start. Not as cardboard figures, but as compelling and fascinating men (warts and all) who helped bring out the best in the Greatest Generation and, between them, helped save the world.

Posted by: ZakAttack on February 27, 2006 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

Years ago, when I was stationed overseas, we had normal U.S. programs on television.

But all of the advertisement breaks were filled with "useful" information: security reminders, snippets of military history, U.S. history, portraits of states, information on how to get along with other cultures...

Some of it sticks.

There needs to be a steady flow of information to our citizens of the world around them, of their government, of history. And it could be done in a small amount of time - 3-5 minutes every hour adds up.

But I don't think our "leaders", Democratic or Republican, actually care about the common good enough to do something that would take back from the corporations what they have been given from the public commons.

Posted by: Wapiti on February 27, 2006 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

Sigh. Peters is engaging in "back in my day" cooterism.

Kids back in the 40's were openly ignorant about wide swatches of American history, if not civics, the lack of which is really what Peters is bemoaning.

Civics were more dutiful back then, I would guess, but history was whitewashed.

I share his concerns over idealism and generosity and the state of American life, but as a member of the generation he's desparing over, not his sepia-toned generational nostalgia.

Posted by: Jay Brida on February 27, 2006 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

This serious intention to reach out to the younger genration moves me. But I don't have an answer to Peters' missive. Maybe a Hollywood movie would help in raising awareness, but on the other hand I doubt that, for instance, "13 Days" has been a hit with the younger population. Maybe it's true that the interest in history only reaches a critical level at ages 40 and above?

Posted by: Gray on February 27, 2006 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

You need the proper environment to bring out people like FDR, Wilkie and our parents/grandparents.

Try sending a lot of troops overseas so they can bring back a pandemic influenza strain, as WW1 did.
Try concentrating wealth among a small group of white eugenics fanatics, sending much of the money overseas, and advertising how rich the rich are and how little they care. Get the economy to where people are starving in their homes.

People will notice eventually, but you have to prepare the environment first. We're working on it.

Posted by: me on February 27, 2006 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

Peters central argument -- that a set of conditions can exist together now because they did in the past -- is questionable, at least as a practical matter; especially if one takes it as presuming that we can recreate the combination of features we like from that time without any of the features we don't like.

And certainly, while there may have been some great leaders at that time, I can't agree with the implicit problem that we were -- that American society was -- as a whole any better in the time Peter points to than now.

And, age aside, I'd think you'd have to be pretty white to think so.

Now, I agree that we can do and be better, and I agree that some elements of the behavior of some people at that time might point to how we can do so, but its certainly not a matter of recreating what we, as a nation, had in the past -- its a matter of learning from the past to build a new and better future that isn't a mere recreation of some mythical past Golden Age.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 27, 2006 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

We need a book that I have been thinking about. It would be called "The history of the 20th century." In this book, each decade would get a very short treatment, with web links to other sources.

The idea would be to SKETCH in the 20th century, not get all the details. Most young people do not see the great sweep of that very important century. Going from the 1910s, when 70 % of Americans lived on farms, to 2000, when 2 % do, is just part of the huge changes that have happened. The wars, the changes in technology, and so forth and so on.

For instance, here is a question that has contemporary relevance: What happened in the years 1965-1973, which still has relevance today, and played a large but background role in the elevation of S Alito to the SC?

Young people need a simple, easy-to-digest and simple version, and then they will be interested in learning more.

Posted by: POed Liberal on February 27, 2006 at 10:57 AM | PERMALINK

I think the attitude he is highlighting seems a manifestation of the common experience of the Great Depression, and it's affects on public perception of the role of civic institutions.

Wait ten years, and you might have that attitude back, but might not be happy about the social circumstances that bring it about.

Posted by: dglynn on February 27, 2006 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

The points I want to emphasize most are that we can have leaders like Franklin Roosevelt and Wendell Wilkie, we can be willing to sacrifice by drafting ourselves into military service and paying higher taxes. We can have a dominant Christianity that supports liberal programs, and we can have a country where too many people seem not trying to demonstrate that they are richer, smarter and have better taste than the next guys, but where instead theyre trying to find common ground with their fellow citizens. It can happen, because it did happen. We can not only do better, we can be better. Not that we wont still be recognizably human, with our share of failings. Even FDR had his weaknesses. But they and we were able to rise to behavior characterized by considerably more idealism and generosity than is evident today.

This doesn't sound like history, it sounds like nostalgia. I'm skeptical how applicable it is as a model today, and I'm certain it doesn't describe in any meaningful way beyond what you can get from a Saturday Evening Post cover what the U.S. in 1940 was like. FDR didn't "discover" a pre-existing consensus, he fashioned it, and he did it by beating senseless his political opponents, both the feckless and divided ones on the Right and the organized and desperate ones on the Left.

So maybe that's part of your answer--if he stops pretending that Roosevelt was anything other than a cold-eyed political operative (Bush and Rove in one person, essentially) and maybe start to examine how out of such naked ambition and amorality Roosevelt and his bunch fashioned an essentially new nation where many more of its people could reap its benefits than ever before, maybe then he'd catch our collective ear. We've lived through the aftermath of Watergate and Vietnam, the Iran Hostage crisis, Milli Vanilli, and Clinton's ribald antics and the ensuing witch-hunt, I'm sure we have the mettle to take on the hagiography surrounding FDR. Otherwise, he just comes across as an old-timer pining for the "good old days."

Posted by: KevStar on February 27, 2006 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

Is there a Wendell Willkie ringtone I can download?

Posted by: Generation Zzzzzzzzzzz... on February 27, 2006 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

Sorry, I live in Alabama where history began in 1860 and ended in 1865

Posted by: Martin on February 27, 2006 at 11:11 AM | PERMALINK

dglynn beat me to it.

You either need a preface about the Great Depression or you just need to wait 10 years or so for publication. Today even JFK's "It's not what your country can do for you, . . ." and Johnson's "We have talked long enough in this country about equal rights . . ." seem like cynical political posturing.

I'm hoping the next president chooses to run on actual convictions about the role of community in American society.

Posted by: ranaaurora on February 27, 2006 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

Hmm, I may have been worng with my assesment that "13 Days" only attracted an elderly audience. A reciewer states:
"Word on the street is that it's also skewing younger and pulling in a larger audience of viewers like myself (18-49)."
http://www.filmsinreview.com/Film%20Reviews/13days.html

But on the other hand, are Hollywood movies a good way to teach history to a younger audience? The restrictions of this medium lead to a distortion of facts, in this case by adding fictional WH aide Kenny O'Donnell. But at least it raises interest for the topic and some movie watchers may be inclined to check books for the real facts...

Posted by: Gray on February 27, 2006 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

It all seems so crystal clear in hindsight doesn't it? But it wasn't back then. Remember the America Firsters and Lindberg? Bob Taft? Roosevelt got lucky in that the GOP was divided and settled on Wilkie as a compromise candidate. Roosevelt was also lucky in that the press was complicit in hiding much from the American public.

We are living in far different times now -- in someways better, in some ways worse. We cannot go back, we can only move forward. The challenge then is not to convince us of some mythical time that may or may not have existed but to figure out how to reach "the kids" to help them become the next "greatest generation".

Posted by: HokieAnnie on February 27, 2006 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

Is it possible that Americans aren't the problem? Maybe the book was no good.

Lots of historians write well AND sell tons of books. Joseph Ellis, David McCullough come to mind. Krauthammer.

What a whiner Charlie Peters is.

Posted by: MountainDan on February 27, 2006 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

i just wanted to point out that it is YOUR generation that is in power, not mine. how about you educate YOUR generation before bemoaning the supposed ignorance of mine.

Posted by: chris on February 27, 2006 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

I don't have much confidence in a country where "Dancing with the Stars" massively outrates the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics...

Posted by: GAB on February 27, 2006 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

You can't get serious and sincere people into politics today because of the character assassination that begins the minute someone becomes a serious threat to the other side's power.

But is there any period in American history in which that hasn't been true? Maybe I'd know if I were over 50, but unfortunately, I'm just an ignorant 49-year-old.

It seems to me, from my position of profound ignorance, that politics is a profession pursued by politicians, all of whom are venal and ambitious and, when required, cunning and remorseless.

History treats some of them better than others, but as I understand things, all four of the guys on Mt. Rushmore were vilified by various parties when they were in power.

Some thought Washington was too formal and Euro-centric in the way he ran his administration. Jefferson had a bitter rivalry with Hamilton, until Jefferson's gun-happy vice president took care of the problem. Some thought Lincoln was a despot. And Teddy Roosevelt was the worst nightmare of many of the elite of his time.

I'm sorry Mr. Peters is disappointed by the impact his book has had. I too write books, and not one has has had the sort of impact Mr. Peters expected from his latest. I don't worry about it, however, because the only times books seem to have that kind of power is when they're full of made-up stuff presented as fact. (Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, for example.)

Posted by: bokonon on February 27, 2006 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

"i just wanted to point out that it is YOUR generation that is in power, not mine. how about you educate YOUR generation before bemoaning the supposed ignorance of mine."

Hmm, imho that's a valid point, especially regarding the fact that the voters pool is increasingly getting older...

Posted by: Gray on February 27, 2006 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

Victor Davis Hanson seems to be selling alot of books.

Peter's complaint sounds like sour grapes from a failed author who was expecting to be on book tours and getting alot a praise.

Posted by: Paddy Whack on February 27, 2006 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

"Lots of historians write well AND sell tons of books. Joseph Ellis, David McCullough come to mind. Krauthammer."

Dunno the others, but isn't Krauthammer a shrink??? I would trust a book on history written by him as much as a TV diagnosis by "Doc" Frist...

Posted by: Gray on February 27, 2006 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

You can't get serious and sincere people into politics today because of the character assassination that begins the minute someone becomes a serious threat to the other side's power.

But is there any period in American history in which that hasn't been true?

Nope. And I have to echo some similar sentiments above--not really sure how genuine this concern is with history education, when he's whoring his own history book at the same time.
He sounds rather condescending too--"hey, no people who sound young have contacted me to tell me how great my book is, so young people must not have a real interest in history!"

Gimme a break.

Posted by: Ringo on February 27, 2006 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

Hmm, all here calling Peters a whiner miss the central point of his missive. He doesn't complain about not enough attention for his book, quite to the contrary. But he is depressed that only an elderly audience (k, 35 and up) is interested. All the other "succesful" examples here, do they have many "twen" readers? Any demographics?

Posted by: Gray on February 27, 2006 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

I'm 46 and just laid off. I won't care about history until I get employed again.

.
.
...have a job for a writer?

Posted by: Darryl Pearce on February 27, 2006 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

My   great nephew Ethan told    me about this site, and I have to agree with Peters.     He might be a whippersnapper, but he's on     the right track.

-- Zeke

Posted by: ZekeWhittle on February 27, 2006 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

Hmm. So: (A) People these days are increasingly disengaged from politics and American history because (B) they don't really care about Wilkie and (C) don't pay enough attention to the whining author of a book about him. A-C all happen to be true, and A is a serious problem, but it's still not a valid syllogism, whatever the truth tables say. Fortunately, Roth is planning a sequel to his last novel in which this time Wilkie wins the election and has the Washington Monthly editor's face on the dollar bill, and we all live happily ever after.

Posted by: artcrit on February 27, 2006 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

Are you sure the Republican's didn't choose to walk away from isolationism because of a Kerry/Lieberman/Clinton finger to the wind political calculation about whether or not they would be successfullly smeared as unpatriotic Hitler lovers by their opponents?

Because I think there are a lot of 18 year olds that would understand that.

Posted by: ranaaurora on February 27, 2006 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

"It all seems so crystal clear in hindsight doesn't it? But it wasn't back then. Remember the America Firsters and Lindberg? Bob Taft? Roosevelt got lucky in that the GOP was divided and settled on Wilkie as a compromise candidate. Roosevelt was also lucky in that the press was complicit in hiding much from the American public."

Very true. He was also lucky Huey Long was assassinated eliminating a threat from the Left in 1936.

Posted by: Campesino on February 27, 2006 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

Peter's complaint sounds like sour grapes from a failed author who was expecting to be on book tours and getting alot a praise.

Exactly. What's the most he could have expected anyway? An hour on C-Span 2?

Posted by: Ringo on February 27, 2006 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

I actually squeeze in under the 35-year benchmark Peter mentions...in terms of "reaching young people", I'm sure there must already be a sig # that are already highly engaged in political affairs and possessing a reasonably sophisticated knowledge of history, so I wouldn't get too despondant.

In terms of reaching out to young people to expose them to history, it seems to me that many people are actually quite interested in the past, as demonstrated by viewership for history doc's on TV. I believe that high-quality TV shows present one of the most effective ways of engaging people in historical discussions. A major challenge is to get beyond the "one damn thing after another" school of history and offer richer analysis, however. I understand that one issue here concerns protection of intellectual property rights. Its simply not affordable for broadcasters to cover some very important recent historical events. To cite one example, the King family has made it impossible for doc's to use footage of MLK's speeches, thereby creating a major problem for anyone wanting to cover the civil rights movement. Apparently, part of the reason that the hostory channel replays endless shows about WWII is simply that this footage is not subject to such protections.

Posted by: aidan on February 27, 2006 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

If you want young people to re-engage, reinstate the draft. There is something about the iminent possiblity of joing combat for a cause that you do not care about that refocuses and reinvigorates the mind.

Posted by: NeilS on February 27, 2006 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

"A-C all happen to be true"

Dang, what's wrong with you people, can't you read? All these statements are untrue! The point here is that Peters bemoans a missing interest by YOUNGER readers, not by the general readership.

Posted by: Gray on February 27, 2006 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

But he is depressed that only an elderly audience (k, 35 and up) is interested.

He doesn't really have any idea who's reading it, only that the people who told him how great it is seem to be over 35--then he proceeds to smear an entire generation based on this limited anecdotal evidence.

He makes himself look like an ass. It just seems like a variation of the "why aren't people talking about my pet issue" complaint, with a financial motive added to the mix.

Posted by: Ringo on February 27, 2006 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK

I'm in the under-35 category (for a couple more years at any rate) and I teach American history. It may not give me greater wisdom than any of the othetr commentators, but it does offer me a slightly different perspective.

My suggestion to Mr. Peters is that he needs to reconsider what is history to today's students. They're interested in history, but the history they're interested in is what us older folks call living memory. Often the most interest I percieve comes when I start talking about the post-Watergate period (the personal computer revolution, Ronald Reagan, the growth of consumer spending, etc.). This is this history that the encounter most because this is the history that their parents talk about. While I don't deny Willkie's role in U.S. history, students today are as likely to be curious about him as they would be about Horace Greeley or Lucretia Mott. What they want is relevancy, and the further one goes back the less relevant that it seems.

Posted by: mbk on February 27, 2006 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

"it seems to me that many people are actually quite interested in the past, as demonstrated by viewership for history doc's on TV"

Sure, those documetaries from US channels are also shown in german TV and quite popular here. But are the ratings equal for all ages? Did you find any dempgraphics on this?

"the King family has made it impossible for doc's to use footage of MLK's speeches"
Hmm, I have heard about a controversy, but don't know much about this. But copyright laws doen't prohibit citing parts of a speech or an article.

Posted by: Gray on February 27, 2006 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

When life gets too dull in class, I begin retailing anecdotes about life when Adlai Stevenson was president. Usually wakes up a few people.

Posted by: Buce on February 27, 2006 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

This is typical BS from the old-time Democratic party about how bipartisanship is possible and we can all cooperate and so on. All of that is over. The Republicans are in this to win and we have to be as well.

Posted by: Rich Puchalsky on February 27, 2006 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

I guess I fall into the category trying to be reached, being in my mid-20s.

I'm a scientist and took vanishingly few history courses as an undergraduate. One that I took in my last few quaters turned out to be extremely thought provoking and life changing. Since then, I have read numerous biographies and history books--even joining the History Book Club, probably to the chagrin of my PhD advisor.

During high school, I was never interested in history because I had no reason to be interested in it. All our founding fathers were god-like with no foibles. All the presidents since were similarly god-like. Nothing was brought into context and compared to current events.

I became fascinated with History as I've gone more in depth and attempted to put it all into context rather than sitting down and memorizing the names of all the godlike figures who signed the Delcaration of Independence. Reading the Federalist Papers is much more interesting when it is put into more context and the characters, large and small, are discussed. The fight between Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians was something that I don't remember learning about but to me is fascinating. (Admittedly, I haven't read Five Days in Philadelphia, but I'm still working through reconstruction so I hope I'm forgiven.)

I know bright people who don't read history but love drama on TV and in movies. History is filled with so much drama. Perhaps discussing past leaders as humans with vulnerabilities trying to make difficult choices rather than placing them on some American Olympus would make interesting more dynamic--movies would probably help. But waiting until people are in their twenties with jobs and lives is probably too late. (I essentially have no life so I read.)

Posted by: gq on February 27, 2006 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

I'm under 35 and am quite aware of the time period Peters writes about. I just have no interest in reading about the man who robbed Tom Dewey of the 1940 GOP nomination. Heck, even Bob Taft would have made a better president.

Posted by: beowulf on February 27, 2006 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

I think Wendell Wilkie was a legitimate political hero, although whether you believe his story is relevant to today's events probably hinges on whether you believe the current war to be justified. Who knows, maybe someday when George W. Bush is on Mount Rushmore, Joe Lieberman will be viewed as today's Wendell Wilkie.

There is a recent and fascinating book by a British historian called Nineteen Weeks which details the run-up to WWII in America and the political difficulties a pro-war administration faced in dealing with an isolationist public. I highly recommend this book.

Posted by: Steve on February 27, 2006 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

The point here is that Peters bemoans a missing interest by YOUNGER readers, not by the general readership.

And as I said, he bases this conclusion on extremely limited evidence--young people aren't kissing his ass.
Last I checked, just about every college and university has a history department, so there must be thousands of young people still interested in history beyond watching the occassional documentary.

Posted by: Ringo on February 27, 2006 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

If his book is written like that exerpt up there I can see why people don't read him. Wow, but that is full of long, winding and hard to read sentences.

Your editor should get an editor.

And, I knew well about Wilkie and Roosevelt long before I passed 35.

Posted by: Nathan on February 27, 2006 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

Lots of historians write well AND sell tons of books. Joseph Ellis, David McCullough come to mind. Krauthammer.


Posted by: MountainDan

Krauthammer? Sooner poke myself in the eye with a sharp stick.

James MacGregor Burns, Barbara Tuchman, Abraham L. Sacher, Claude Manceron, Norman Davies, Jonathan Spence ("God's Chinese Son - The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan"), Bruce Catton....

Posted by: CFShep on February 27, 2006 at 12:02 PM | PERMALINK

When my wife worked at Washington International School, she would try to get authors to talk to the students during events (National Poetry week, Black History Month, etc) In most cases, the students were very enthusiastic.

You could try working with a teachers or school libraries to discuss the book and the events it covers, especially in context with the coming election cycle.

Posted by: S. Kelly on February 27, 2006 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

Can't leav out: Boorstin, Daniel J. or for reasona of state pride T. Harry Williams or Joe Grey Taylor.

Joe Grey Taylor on the Scots-Irish in America:

"They came to this country determined to keep the Ten Commandments....and anything else they happened to lay hands on."

Posted by: CFShep on February 27, 2006 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

Further to the issue of restrictions on the use of MLK's speeches, the LA Times had an good overview in their obit of Coretta Scott King. I don't know whether this sort of problem arises with other recent historical materials, but it wouldn't surprise me if it did.

http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/la-me-king1feb01,0,4046052.story

"The King family sued to enforce the copyrights on his writings and speeches and offered his archives at one time valued at $30 million for sale to the highest bidder. Their actions engendered debate over who King's ideas belonged to his estate or the American public and how much more his survivors should be expected to sacrifice...The King estate sold the rights to the Rev. King's "I Have a Dream" speech for use in cellphone commercials while it limited access to his papers by serious scholars and journalists. It forced USA Today, for example, to pay $1,700 plus legal fees after the newspaper published the text of the historic speech. It also sued CBS for selling a video documentary that made extensive use of the network's own film of the Rev. King and the March on Washington."

Posted by: Aidan on February 27, 2006 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

"Their actions engendered debate over who King's ideas belonged to his estate or the American public"
Blah. "Mickey Mouse" and "Donald Duck" are as american culture as it gets, but they still belong to the Disney empire. Some hypocrisy and double standards here.

Posted by: Gray on February 27, 2006 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

You could try working with a teachers or school libraries to discuss the book and the events it covers, especially in context with the coming election cycle.

I think this is a good idea. The younger people I know (like my brother in H.S. and his friends) love technology and things like webcasts. Having some sort of webcast with live Q&A/discussion might be worthwile. But then again, we probably would need balance and have to have Michelle Malkin and her praise of internment camps be similarly presented.

Posted by: gq on February 27, 2006 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

"Adlai Stevenson was president"

Yup, those were the happy days!!!
Whuahahahahaha hehehe

Posted by: Gray on February 27, 2006 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

ZakAttack - try this - go to the web sites and get the history of these military units , also read the posted sites
of men who lived these lives .
history of 82nd division from ww1- ww2 until present . the 101 from ww2 till now
11th airborne div. history and many , many more .

Posted by: TRY THIS HISTORY on February 27, 2006 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK
The King estate sold the rights to the Rev. King's "I Have a Dream" speech for use in cellphone commercials while it limited access to his papers by serious scholars and journalists. It forced USA Today, for example, to pay $1,700 plus legal fees after the newspaper published the text of the historic speech.

Its interesting that the examples of "journalists and serious scholars" are all in the former category; it suggests that the story is more about infotainment companies whining about being treated the same as other for-profit commercial entitities looking to commercially exploit the King legacy.

There is a difference between serious scholars working from the speeches to do critical analysis and discuss historical importance and people simply reproducing the speeches with little-to-no original work as part of a profit-making operation. The former are unlikely to be inhibited much by the kind of demands outlined in your excerpt, and are largely protected by the structure of copyright law, whereas the latter have neither legal nor moral claim to a free ride on the work of others.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 27, 2006 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, those were the days. "Buce," he said, "be careful about the Japanese at Pearl Harbor." "Oh, bosh, Wendell," I replied. But is it relevant to recall that he /was/ a Dem before the GOP coopted him?

Posted by: Buce on February 27, 2006 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

Two words... Alternate History.

Novels, that is. Harry Turtledove probably has more readership (and *young* readership) for his series of alternate histories starting with the
civil war up through nearly modern times (I think he's in up to the 50s now) than all non-fiction history books put together.

I myself - not a history buff - eagerly await each one and devour it upon receipt.

How would the U.S. and the world be different if Wendell Wilkie had NOT been the Republican leader? What if he'd died in the flu outbreak? What if he'd been so upset at his loss that he vowed to "take down" Roosevelt insted of becoming his friend and advisor? What if... Well, you get the idea.

Posted by: KarenJG on February 27, 2006 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

I'm 40, so I'm a bit outside the target audience, but I tend to be really wary of any history whose author feels so emphatically that there's a particular lesson I ought to be learning. In my experience, polemic leads to weak history even when I agree with the point being made. It's possible that Mr. Peters would do better to just go ahead and write the polemic about modern politics supported with historical examples, and find a better audience.

A friend of mine, the same age as me, has a 25-year-old girlfriend, and says that the girlfriend has a tough time trusting history because she's so used to it being both faked (or skewed so heavily it might as well be) and rigged in the presentation so as to turn fact into morality tale. If Mr. Peters' book has the agenda shown here, she'd take it as one more confirmation that she's not to be trusted with the past, but only spoonfed what someone else wants her to believe. By contrast, she grooved happily on Joseph Ellis' Founding Brothers precisely because it left her with a sense of vivid complexity and individual experiences, about which she can now reach some conclusions of her own - she ended up going back and re-reading the Declaration and Constitution and thinking freshly about some of her American history studies.

Also, there's at least room to question whether in fact we actually should be thinking "oh, sure, backroom deals that toss out the people's democratically expressed desires are just fine as long as it's my agenda". Building mass movements is harder, and building them honestly harder still, but I feel that there's a very appropriate skepticism over the means and assumptions revealed in things like FDR's and Churchill's crusade to bring the US into war, Willkie's subversion of his party's convention, and the like. They're just too close to what we've got at the moment, and maybe that moral society Mr. Peters misses went away partly because his chosen elite rotted it from the top.

Posted by: Bruce Baugh on February 27, 2006 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

Honestly, he's prolly right.

But I still don't think Wilkie had anything to do with anything other than a weak Republican party which had nothing to offer the people then, and doesn't now.

The only difference is that the conservative racists are in their party instead of the Democratic party.

Posted by: Crissa on February 27, 2006 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

"Exactly. What's the most he could have expected anyway? An hour on C-Span 2?"

Maybe he was hoping for some nubile Gen-Y history groupies?

Posted by: MJ Memphis on February 27, 2006 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

The problem with studying history is that it's inevitably historicist; beyond a consensus agreement on the broad facts, there is simply no such thing as a stable history. Everybody has a perspective; Beard and Hofstader are much more interesting in the light of the Founding Fathers hagiographies that preceded them. Social history is a welcome antidote to the consensus theory that preceeded it. The study of any historical subject is almost literally limitless ... Nothing illustrates the ol' Hegelian dialectical process quite like the endlessly cycling through of historical perspectives.

I guess maybe this makes some people uncomfortable (and I won't deign to generalize who save to say that it's probably trans-generational) because, more than in any other field, this represents the intellectual triumph of relativism. People were righteously offended when Po-Mo theory took on the classics; no matter how difficult it is to talk about, there seems to be a deeply-felt consensus that something is truly *there* in Shakespeare or Beethoven that is context-transcending. With history, OTH, context is absolutely *everything*.

Because of the endless kaliedoscope of perpsectives informing other perspectives (the history of the history), it's almost impossible to reach a saturation point, to feel fully informed on any given subject. Even Civil War buffs, military historians and Thucydides fans find new things to argue about every year.

And my guess is that some people find this call to omnivorousness kind of intimidating -- wishing to be well-informed but not the slave to a particular perspective demands endless study ...

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on February 27, 2006 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

I am sympathetic to KevStar above.

One tradition of the modern world has emphasized and lamented the perceived passing of community, solidarity, Christian brotherhood and selflessness, oneness with the truth of Nature- human and otherwise- and the virtuous love of the true state and legitimate authority. Some romantics in the 19th century thought they preferred the beautiful solidarity of the Middle Ages (a myth) to the naked ruthlessness of the age and iron and capital. In the 20th century political and moral thinkers on the left (Max Weber, Georg Lukcs etc) and the right (Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss etc) have decried the aimlessness of modern life, individualism, consumerism, commodification and rationalization. The electorate in liberal democracies has been a perennial disappointment because they choose sheepish consumer mystification over fighting the enemy, real politics and revolution. This is the long lament of the politically frustrated across the ideological spectrum. You could say that ideology is intended to remedy the modern condition of blind passivity and to give value to life. The concerned ask How do we undo the technical culture capitalism has created?. And How do we make men men and not slaves?

Posted by: bellumregio on February 27, 2006 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

bruce baugh, "I tend to be really wary of any history whose author feels so emphatically that there's a particular lesson I ought to be learning."


You haven't read enough. All writers will feel that way no matter how dry and pedantic they seem. A good writer who is a good scholar who wants to drive his point home will leave you with something, though you might need to read another book to clarify your disagreement with him.

Posted by: cld on February 27, 2006 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

Its interesting to think Peters as Wilkie Republican, thats where there is the center-left is now.

Posted by: jimmy on February 27, 2006 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

I'm 36, a rather jaded Gen-X type, but I've come to recognize that my historical family was lifted into the middle class through the New Deal programs that brought millions out of poverty. All my life, child of the '80s that I was, I've been told that "Government doesn't work." Well, it is time for me to take up the challenge.

So I did what someone above suggested that we do -- I wrote a novel. And I wrote it to the audience that I believe, like Peters, needs to hear it most: young readers. Based upon true stories taken from my family's history in WV, my young adult novel THE MINER'S DAUGHTER is the story of a moment in time when government, churches and humanitarian organizations worked together for the greater good through Eleanor Roosevelt's Homestead Act. This program, considered a "failure" even at the time, went on to change the lives of thousands of people, all the way to my generation today.

My comfortable life is a direct result of the efforts, officially and familially, that occurred long before my birth. Writing novels like this one and speaking on this subject in our schools, libraries and churches is my way of saying thank you to those who went before, and reminding us that there is still so much worth doing.

Keep the Faith,
Gretchen Moran Laskas
THE MINER'S DAUGHTER (forthcoming from Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers Spring 2007)
www.gretchenlaskas.com

Posted by: Gretchen Moran Laskas on February 27, 2006 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

Wendell Wilkie occurred at a unique moment, when the old Republican Party was dead, but the modern Republican party hadn't yet formed. All the people who vote for Republicans were still there, however, and, by sheer accident, the party functioned democratically, though only such occasion in its long and sordid history. A difficult and unlikely moment to return to without some fundamental national calamity.


Watching Amistad a few weeks ago reminded me that the BBC often produces such excellent small scale historical dramas, while American tv has to be grand, romantic and stupid almost always, like that miniseries about 'George Washington as you've never seen him before!', where he did it all for the love of a good woman.

The White House scenes in Amistad remind one so vividly how US history has extraordinary drama and remarkable characters, most altogether forgotten.

Posted by: cld on February 27, 2006 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

bellumregio:

Are you familiar with Slovaj Zizek?

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on February 27, 2006 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

I'm a fairly engaged reader of history and just under the "35" cutoff, but I have to admit I don't quite understand from Peters' comments or from the Amazon description what exactly the book is about. What exactly did Wendell Willkie do, aside from taking advantage of GOP disunity and then lose an election? Or I guess, more to the point, what are the comparisons between today and 1940 that make Willkie's actions a relevant moral lesson in political cooperation?

Posted by: Halfdan on February 27, 2006 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

If only the generous are required to give, then the greedy wind up owning everything, ruling over the generous.

Posted by: ferd on February 27, 2006 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

I'm 54 -- I've got some experience I'd like to share. My company has succeeded at the very task Mr. Peters wants to achieve.

I helped create the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library in Springfield, Illinois. The feasibility folks predicted we'd get 300,000 folks the first year. So far (year's not over yet) we've gotten more than 800,000. Kids find Lincoln and the Civil War fascinating and relevant, because of the way the story is told.

Here's the most controversial (and successful) area of "Lincoln's Journey", a walk-through of Lincoln's life. I was tasked to come up with someway of making the Campaign of 1860 something that school kids could "get" immediately, and that they'd find interesting. My solution was to put it into the language they understand -- television. Here's how it works:

You round the corner, and come into a kind of television studio. Tim Russert comes on -- tomorrow's the 1860 election. Russert then shows "attack" style ads for each candidate -- 30 seconds, done in the style of modern ads. LINCOLN -- Union! Douglas -- The people choose whether they want slavery. Breckenridge -- Get the government out of your life! (Based loosely on the infamous Jesse Helms "You didn't get the job..." ad) Bell -- Tradition!

The answer, Mr. Peters (I believe) is as follows:
1) Put it into the language they understand -- 2006 television
2) Embrace what most historians shy away from -- the emotion. The battles. The fighting. The risks. The strenghs and foibles of the players.

SUCCESSFUL EXAMPLES OF MAKING HISTORY IMMEDIATE AND FASCINATING:
a) "Titanic"
b) "Good Night and Good Luck"
c) "Seabiscuit"

I think someone should bring back the old "You Are There" CBS documentary show, covering, for example, the take-no-prisoners campaign of 1800 in modern terms, with interviews from folks like Karl Rove and James Carville.

This stuff is fascinating -- we have to labor long and hard to make it boring.

Posted by: drprocter on February 27, 2006 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

One can make a case for Wilkie as a different figure: the person who led to our current politics, where, on many issues, the GOP and Democrats don't seem to differ too much at all.

William Manchester once said that FDR was, to put it kindly, a dissembler. I'll go farther: FDR lied through his teeth, often, and the press played along and covered up for him. The country would have been better off if the GOP nominee in 1940 had been Taft. Taft would have almost certainly lost, but he would have presented an alternative to FDR, and the debate would have been a lot more rigorous.

I find it very hard to lionize Wendell Wilkie. I don't see him as having saved democracy: I see him as the first of many "moderates" who checked opinion polls and offered a lot of policies that were the same as his opponents.

FDR had plenty of courage, and he didn't need Wendell Wilkie to give it to him.

Posted by: Marty Busse on February 27, 2006 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

Dear Mr. Peters, I challenge you to a history contest.

24 year old, MNPundit

Also, how is Goodnight and Goodluck a successful way to make a historical movie? It's made crap gross (though it's got a 200% return in net) and that means not too many saw it. Personally, I refuse to because 1) I am well aware of the actual historical facts of the movie 2) glorifying the media in anyway, even deservedly makes me want to vomit due to the excesses of today. However my gf is a journalist so when she recieves the movie on DVD I'll watch it for free.

That said, DrProcter is right. History can be a huge rush, or an interesting occurences, etc.

Posted by: MNPundit on February 27, 2006 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

My parents, who are retired, read books and watch movies and take cruises.

They have a lot of time and no money worries.

That's not true of most people under 35. I imagine there is still an intellectual elite of men and women who have graduated from Ivy League type institutions or who have graduate degrees who read history and have friends to discuss it with. I'd guess most of those people would be liberals with negative feelings about Christianity since it was co-opted by the far right. They're not going to be interested in the man you've described.

But if it's not all about Wilkie, but about searching for a kind of Christian activism, then you should go to the source. Find a charismatic minister whose ideas mirror your own and then promote him through guest blogging and radio appearances, etc. Provide the alternative.

Posted by: catherineD on February 27, 2006 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

It's sorta sour grapes coming from me, but it's worth noting that Charlie is more a part of the problem than many folks (including him) might think: he trained most of a generation of writers about policy and politics to use a formula. There's always a fire breathing dragon, a damsel in distress, and a knight in shining armor. Look closely at Easterbrook and Kinsley, Fallows and even Glastris, as well as the vast #s of folks who learned from them, and you'll see the pattern.

Contrast conservative writers, who consciously think of themselves as part of a movement. They genuinely bitch about liberal bias in reporting news or writing history, but feel no obligation to be objective, since after all they are part of a movement.

So when Charlie wonders why younger people aren't getting the lesson that once upon a time, men were expected to serve in the military and everybody understood the obligation to pay taxes, he's just looking at the fire breathing dragon he always expects to see, and wondering when the knight in shining armor that he's called for will show up. (Let's not even THINK of who's the damsel in distress here; the image is too awful.)

A movement conservative who looks at FDR sees a bad guy on economics (the New Deal didn't end the Depression!), a flawed hero on national security and foreign policy (he knew about Pearl Harbor before it happened! Stalin took him to the cleaners at Yalta!), and at best, regards Wilkie as a well-meaning loser. The movement conservative (who has far more influence on youth culture these days) is not burdened by a formula, he doesn't have to look for a dragon, a damsel, and some guy in a shiny metal suit.

But everything he sees is part of his Movement perspective. That perspective doesn't include the notion of an obligation to serve in the military (a volunteer army is good, especially if you don't volunteer), much less to pay taxes (only the little people do THAT.)

Charlie's dragon, damsel, and knight formula isn't an alternative to the conservative movement perspective; it's more like a complement. 'See, that IS what they think....'

Posted by: theAmericanist on February 27, 2006 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

I read extensively, actually buy books on historical topics from time to time, and am well over 35. But Peters' book doesn't sound very interesting to me, and the missive Amy reprints sounds like anti-sales.

You're asking people under 35 to get excited about "drafting ourselves into military service and paying higher taxes"? I think that we will have to pay higher taxes given the massive imbalances in the budget, but I don't expect people to like it, or to be interested in buying the book based on this "take your medicine" pitch.

But I'm not that excited by Peters' idealism: this kind of thinking helped Bush launch the Iraq war.

Posted by: Joe Buck on February 27, 2006 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

This complaint has been the standard one about up and coming generations for thousands of years.

Also, I dispute whether or not people aged 50 and above really know that much about history. Often, with people this age, I've found that their grasp of history is, inevitably, tied to their lifespan.

Finally, I myself have found that most historical conversations tend to revolve around time periods within current human lifespans, which somewhat masks "real" historical knowledge.

Posted by: Tony Shifflett on February 27, 2006 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

"SUCCESSFUL EXAMPLES OF MAKING HISTORY IMMEDIATE AND FASCINATING:
a) "Titanic"
b) "Good Night and Good Luck"
c) "Seabiscuit" "

Brrrrrr! Haven't seen "Good Night" yet, but the others are awful examples. Why didn't you add "Pearl Harbour", that's in the same class of 'lousy history lessons'? Movies like these just repeat cliches, they don't give any new insight. No, really, I had not these examples in mind when I wondered about a positive influence of Hollywood movies.

Posted by: Gray on February 27, 2006 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

You know what? I feel exactly the same way about this country. It confuses and pains me where we're at politically and culturally because, all of the negatives, we've visited them all before. We've had these battles before and yet we don't seem to have learned any lessons. Whenever I try to talk politics with someone around my age (33) my message, I guess, is that things don't have to be this way. Gvoernment doesn't have to be corrupt and only interested in entrenching the rich, public schools don't have to suck, we don't have to go to wars that make no sense, and taxation is not theft, goddamnit! But it largely falls on deaf ears.

Why, I think, is due to a profound misunderstanding of what government is, what role it plays. Most young people I know are attitudinally libertarian. They don't understand what government does so generally they think it does nothing. They think, basically, it's all one big joke and we really don't need any of it.
They see no reason to pay taxes. Beyond paving roads, they really don't know what government does.

A large part of their attitude is fed by technology. Somehow being able to email photos by cellphone says to them "there is no such thing as infrastructure". This also feeds their libertarian bent because they believe technology and the information age make regulation unnecessary. Their general idea is everything is wired and therefore open, so nothing can really hide, everything must float on its own merits. They actually believe the playing field is level.

They are profoundly ignorant of history. I don't know much myself, but compared to most people I meet I'm a freaking Rhodes scholar. Since they know no history they have no sense of context and therefor no understanding of how the word works, they only understand the mile wide, inch deep media-scape they live in. Call it Generation Myspace.

In a way they're right. Their world can be completely contained within their technological sphere. Their friends are online, their shopping is online, they may make their living online and not even have a job in the "real world". I don't mean to say these are all pale shut-ins at their computers 24 hours a day, I'm saying these people are completely connected to what they consider the world. It's so complete, they can dismiss anything outside of it.

Politics are the first thing to go. They're so unnecessary and so abhorrent, they're not even worthy of a cursory glance. I know so many people who didn't vote because "it doesn't really matter", and the ones who offered who they would have voted for if they would have bothered said Bush. Why? Well, it's complicated, but mainly they see Democrats and liberals as caring about government and Republicans and conservatives are not caring about government. Not caring is more attractive to them and makes more sense. It's really unnecessary, so why not vote for the people who hate it too?

Also, they believe what they read. Because they're so wired in to so many phenomenon all over the world they think of themselves as very sophisticated consumers of media. But they're so ignorant they lack the capacity the judge their ignorance. So while they have the idea that cable news is junk, they still absorb it and largely end up believing most of it. I know so many people who deride Fox News but basically end up repeating whatever Fox News has to say. Or often they'll glom onto something like the Drudge Report or Reason magazine and take it for truth because they hate politics too... or something. Simply they lack the ability to critically evaluate all this media they consume. They've made the mistake of thinking mass consumption equals sophisticated thinking.

So how to reach them? I have no idea. I was basically the exact same way until about 5-6 years ago. What made me wakeup and made me understand I really had no idea what was going on? I read Manufacturing Consent. Seriously, it was that simple. That book explained clearly how what I read may not exactly be what is happening and gave me the tools to critically evaluate what I saw and heard. And not in a shallow way. I already thought I saw through all the bullshit and everyone was just a sucker, etc. That book actually illustrated my own stupidity to me. It attacked my assumptions, about sophistication, understanding, critical thinking, and took them apart one by one.

And I'm not a Chomsky apologist. After reading MC I actually lost esteem for Chomsky because I could read his books more critically and see the flaws of his method. But Manufacturing Consent reall opened my eyes and actually got me interested in politics. I realized it was profoundly stupid to think I knew all I needed to know about politics and government.

So my personal view is the people you're trying to reach are much further away than you think. They simply can't see "truth" when it's in front of them. Call them jaded, stupid, ignorant, whatever, they simply don't have critical thinking skills. They think they do, in fact they think they're the most sophisticated thinkers in the world (and that idea is constantly reinforced by a media that takes technological sophistication as evidence of cultural sophistication), but the fact is pretty much everyone my age I meet, good friends even, most simply cannot think critically. Plugged in allover, sure, but capable of objective analysis as a reflex? Not when it comes to anything important.

How to reach them? I don't know. Somehow they've got to be shown how stupid they are and why it's important they accept that fact. It ain't gonna be easy.

[A good example of who these people are is imagine The Poor Man if he didn't understand politics and wasn't a critical thinker. All that wit and snark and mighty internets sophistication, all devoted to bitching about how gay politics are. He'd be a pretty formidable idiot and a tough nut to crack. Good thing he's smart.]

Posted by: The Tim on February 27, 2006 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

I think you have to make an interactive video game out of it. Wendell's men have to identify the delegates that are nazi agents and neutralize them before they spread false rumors about his relationship with an intern or successfully assasinate him with poison darts, explosives, or umbrella guns. They only way to win is to make sure history goes as it did.

Posted by: B on February 27, 2006 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

This pretty much nails it to the wall.

>>Call them jaded, stupid, ignorant, whatever, they simply don't have critical thinking skills. They think they do, in fact they think they're the most sophisticated thinkers in the world (and that idea is constantly reinforced by a media that takes technological sophistication as evidence of cultural sophistication), but the fact is pretty much everyone my age I meet, good friends even, most simply cannot think critically.

This is absolutely the critical issue. The inability to reason.


Gore Vidal on Ronald Reagan: "A tribute to the embalmer's art."

Posted by: CFShep on February 27, 2006 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

I hate to say it, but the biggest problem is that it is precisely the people under 35 who were the victims of the Education Establishment when they decided that a person could learn to read by "osmosis" - I speak of the "whole language" movement these otherwise-uemployable morons (and I know whereof I speak, having spent two years in the #2 "Teachers Training School" in the country and seen who becomes a Professor of Education) foisted on us starting around 20 years ago. No wonder the people under 35 are the least-likely to read things like this book - they actually can't! Or at least not well enough to feel comfortable at it.

As to History, I can recall a few years ago when The History Channel got taken over by Viacom and the executive suite was then filled with the graduates of MTV, and those of us with grey in our hair and a committment to doing as much real History as possible were dropped, because "our demographic doesn't care about all that," as I was told to my face by one of these idiots. The result is the garbage you see on The "History" Channel, going on about fundamentalist creationism (as if it is real), the predictions of Nostradamus (as if they matter), etc., etc.

But it really comes down to a generation or two that cannot actually read, and a culture that says those things aren't important. For the current power structure, having a population without an understanding of what has gone before is the perfect "memory hole" - no one has anything to judge them against and find them wanting and therefore desire any change.

Posted by: TCinLA on February 27, 2006 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

we teach history in a linear fashion. It doesnt make it interesting or exciting.

Consider this.
We think before we go to school right?
We think from the moment of birth?
Whats that light? That sound? You figure it out eventually on your own dont you? And all your parents said was Blah blah blah..Goo goo gah gah.
Right?
So Shouldnt we first work on thought?
To teach our children first what thinking is, and how Bias can affect it.
Instead we teach about wars that were caused of Resources, or religions. Groups. Either your with one or your not. Democracy is about Individuality?
Correct? Saper Aude? to stand on your own two feet?
Now I ask you as a fellow History Buff, did you become interested in History because of the School Books? Naw, you wondered, likely, why did they fight? What caused this? dont they realize they are just men? You look without Bias.

Mind first- History Second

Make it intersting.
Here I have a magnet and some Iron Filiings and a sheet of paper,I sprinkle the Iron dust, it follows the curves of the Aether right? the Flux the Flow?
North and South? The Middle the Bloch line.
the Earth as a Magnet?
Did not Thales think a magnet could Hold a Soul?

Have we not thus breached science history and a balanced thought? Did not this small example cover vasts periods of time? and history?
Did your mind not just flower at the possibilitiesof this clever Taurus of thought time and history and science.

How so could a Magnet hold a Soul?
one now asks..

Aye that Socrates was a Smart man.
He knew that he had no Wisdom, for Wisdom comes from that space between the teacher and the student...
the Aether inbetween --mr ho

Posted by: mr ho on February 27, 2006 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

we can have leaders like Franklin Roosevelt and Wendell Willkie, we can be willing to sacrifice by drafting ourselves into military service and paying higher taxes. We can have a dominant Christianity that supports liberal programs, and we can have a country where too many people seem not to be trying to demonstrate that they are richer, smarter and have better taste than the next guys, but where instead theyre trying to find common ground with their fellow citizens.


We can live in a dream world.

(Just kidding.) But not really -- my poetic acuity and precision wants to leave you alone with just that one sentence.

I agree with your aim -- generally. I can get your/(his) book out there. There's a good argument to be made as to why those goals will never to come to pass.

We can live in a dream world.

We can petition the Lord with Prayer.

AGain, I actually agree. But I can also come up with irrefutable reasons why I'd never want those goals to be achieved -- and I actually agree with them!

I prefer a military draft. You'll also never get my support for one until you can get every Dem & Repub in Congress to sign their name in blood to swear allegience to uphold the Constitution. These guys aren't under 35 -- they're not even under 45. Put simply, as long as the Constitution is seen as something that lawyers can rationalize away with cheap, treasonous rhetoric, then nothing will be accomplished even if you achieve all of your goals.

The rot is not generational -- it's institutional. It's Bush and Spectre and Cheney and Rumsfeld that have forgotten the common values here.

The youngsters who are already repairing this rupture in the social fabric simultaneously a) have every hope and tool at their disposal as they already move to accomplish your aims; and b) are frantically scrambling for the few remaining viable avenues for survival.

Because they know no one's going to meet them halfway.

Posted by: SombreroFallout on February 27, 2006 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

Good decisions are the product of experience.

Experience is the product of bad decisions.

This generation is getting a crash course of experience. They'll come around -- but not because of Wendell Wilkie, but because of George W. Bush and Karl Rove. The rising tide of bad outcomes eventually swamps the marketing spin. We are raising a generation of sharp-eyed realists. We just don't know it yet.

Posted by: Robin Harris on February 27, 2006 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

I am also 41 and really first became addicted to history in college...

Posted by: SombreroFallout on February 27, 2006 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

Hmm, let's hope so. Nice to have some optimists around...

Posted by: Gray on February 27, 2006 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

On what I was saying earlier, its even worse. I was thinking about this conservative friend of mine and whenever we talk about politics, without fail he knows nothing about the subject. On estate taxes he said is that the one where a guy works his whole life saving up for his kids and then the government takes it away? I dont agree with that. I spent 20 minutes laying it all out for him as best I could, going into what the gilded age was, what it did, why T. Roosevelt believed in the estate tax, etc., I connected all the dots for him and at the end, I cant remember exactly what he said, but basically he just came up with something, pulled something out of his ass, and said what about that? It was something like well what if his kids open a business with that money and need it to hire people. I stopped trying to talk politics with him at all because thats what he always did- just pull something out of his ass and argue that as if it had as much weight as 100 years of history. Is that stupidity? Its something.

And my liberal friends do the same thing. And everyone I freaking meet. Any subject, they dont know what theyre talking about so they just make shit up and argue as if its of the same weight as actual factual information. If you point out they dont know what theyre talking about, then they win the argument by default because youre just an arrogant know-it-all who cant argue reasonably. So many young people truly do not know the difference between opinion and information. They truly believe every political argument out there is just one side against another, and at the core theyre both substantially the same. All political arguments are just the result of someone choosing a side and sticking to it. That strikes them as shallow, so they choose not to pick sides.

Its abysmal. No critical thinking skills whatsoever.

Posted by: The Tim on February 27, 2006 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

Judging from Mr. Turtledove's output alone, just in terms of poundage, if not the rapidly diminishing quality, I'm about to conclude he's taken a page from Tom Clancey and farmed out most of what is printed under his name to a collective of drones who are paid by the page.

The drones cut-n-paste a lot.

Guy's trained as a Byzantine historian. His early work such as the Lost Legion series and the Vendessos cycle are intelligent, literate and informed. They're based on the Byzantines, after all.

I've taken a couple of runs at some of his recent releases and I'm pretty sure he's gotten Anne Rice's editor.

So laden with padding and repetition. Bloated even. Oy.

Want to say:

"You don't have to tell me something ten times in twenty pages, Harry. Got it the first 5 times. Really.

Harry, did you even read this tripe?"

Posted by: CFShep on February 27, 2006 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

Welcome to the fact that Americans as an aggregate are stupid, uncurious, and apathetic.

Posted by: cdj on February 27, 2006 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

Are you familiar with Slovaj Zizek?

Only in passing. As I understand it, he has quite a following. But I have never read his work or seen him speak. Is he relevant to our subject? I thought he was a follower of Lacan and post-structuralism.

The idea that Gen-X or Gen-Y is somehow less politically aware than boomers or the progressives of the Roosevelt years is simply ridiculous. That is a TV version of history and politics. Alas, there was no golden age. There was no era of virtue. (except, perhaps, with the founders who do seem to have had an uncommon amount of good will). It is true that fewer Americans belong to civic organizations than they did in the early part of the 20th century but there have always only been a tiny minority that engaged in real politics. Yellow journalism foxing the public, the booboisie, the lost generation, the silent generation, all this is ancient history now. Mark Twain pretty much worked out American politics well over 100 years ago. Sad as it may be, our poplulations are far more educated and aware than at any time in the past. Could it be better? Sure.

The ruling class may be headed the other way.

Posted by: bellumregio on February 27, 2006 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

My experience has been that people under 40 are actually far more aware about history, but that that knowledge primarily comes from pop culture. When I was coming of age in the early 70s, the most popular radio stations were Top 40 and there were only four TV networks. Kids today, just because of their television options, have a much wider view of the world-- and the internet enhances those options all the more. They may have less common knowledge, but more knowledge about niches.

The fellow who joked about a Wendell Wilkie ringtone to download actually hit the nail on the head. First off, "Wendell Wilkie" is a funny-sounding name, perfect for pop culture. If he wanted to raise awareness, he should try to sell Wendell Wilkie paraphernalia and then work in some historical accuracy as he goes.

Posted by: withrow on February 27, 2006 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

I echo some of the frustration of The Tim. We're the same age and have met the same people, although I think I've done a better job of seeking out the thinking people and surrounding myself with them. It can be done.

I also agree that history could be presented better. History is taught as just that -- history -- when it's more interesting presented as human stories. Isn't it the Holocaust Museum that has you follow a persona to make it relevant? You can write all the books you want, but as long as history is taught as dry, boring, and rote, it's an uphill battle to get people interested.

Personally, I love history, and I credit my parents' dinner table stories. My fave: My mom's sorority house mother wore a black armband when Goldwater lost, and put the house flag at half mast. The university was not amused.

Regardless of my desire to learn, it's a rare history (or any non-fiction) BOOK that I will read. I'd rather invest in a series of articles that will give me a basic knowledge of a whole bunch of topics than spend that same time reading hundreds of pages on one topic, no matter how fascinating.

Posted by: snarktini on February 27, 2006 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

If Mr. Peters knew more about history, he might not feel so upset. In 1940 the U.S. was a third-rate military power. Americans had just seen the most powerful military machine in history, led by a totalitarian fanatic, rip through France, which, they had comfortably assumed, would hold Germany at bay for three or four years, as had happened in WWI. We simply don't need the vast draft armies of the past, and we can afford to borrow all the cash we need. (Yes, in five years things will be very different, but that's then, and this is now!) Simply moaning about the good old days does not show much sense of history, or much good sense.

Posted by: Alan Vanneman on February 27, 2006 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

Mark Twain pretty much worked out American politics well over 100 years ago.

Indeed.

"Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself." Sam L.

Posted by: CFShep on February 27, 2006 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

Why does Charlie Peters hate freedom... the freedom to be a shitty, third-rate country packed with people proud of their ignorance and simply looking for the next distraction?

If you can't package and sell your ideas, what the hell good are you? Facts are stupid things, the business of America is business, and history is bunk. (Boy, those presidents were enlightened, weren't they?) And apparently, the only book worth reading all the way to the end is "The Pet Goat".

Posted by: Kenji on February 27, 2006 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

If you simply can not, for whatever reason, take your history straight up, allow me to recommend George MacDonald Fraser's 'Flashman' series.

Highly entertaining, risque, well written, and underpined by the viewpoint and erudition of a generally respected historian.

Anything G. M. Fraser has written is well worth the time invested. Knocks Mr. Turtledove ass over teakettle.

Posted by: CFShep on February 27, 2006 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

Only in passing. As I understand it, he has quite a following. But I have never read his work or seen him speak. Is he relevant to our subject? I thought he was a follower of Lacan and post-structuralism.

The idea that Gen-X or Gen-Y is somehow less politically aware than boomers or the progressives of the Roosevelt years is simply ridiculous.

Too many complicated Idealisms rehashed, again =)

Whats energy?
=-+ three forms of the same?
So what is thought?
is your mind left right and center?
At that center then..neutrality?
thought without Bias?
Isn't that Peace?
I see much comparison here, Whom said what. And I have read much of those same things.
Like Calling Fascism neo-cons, fooled alot of people, yet its the old game.
Who learned? Certainly not pro-Bush groups.

Thought.
Its not concrete, nor can you touch or smell it.
Tell me its color?
And Im not speaking of Sophists or Theosophists.
Energy is thought.
Can you see electricity in a Wire?
But you know its there right?
Your Compass tells you thus as well.

In my View, we wont ever have world peace until one learns to remove bias, and think neutrally.
As the Center of that magnet (example) is not north or south, nor left or right, its the point between, Neutrality that holds it togther.
The magnet once broken in half, creates a new center bloch line in each piece.

Call it whatever Philosopher name you like.

All life is based on that simple example of Flow of energy.

From the Center of the Galaxy to the Energy of earths Fields to the energy of ones mind thats used to create thought, our lungs heaving, and our hearts pumping. Energy

Does not a small spark make your heart beat?
Or a Nerve sense?
Why make things so difficult with many extravagant words?
Teaching By Rote is BORING!

Posted by: one eye buck tooth [X^8 on February 27, 2006 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK

George chopped down the cherry tree....

Asleep I fell at the Lie
And you here, remind me why.

Yet I have no credentials, as you might.
My words, you grin, hey ya know, he could be right.

School was Lost. So were my teachers
though they talked the course they were trained

never any imagination sparked any a brain
We werent taught to use our imagination
but things of old war riidden mental stagnation.

Groups of men whom couldnt stand on their own
riches gotten, opinions enforced thru royal crown

Saper Aude!
Teach them not to think as you teach them to think on their Own!

Democratus -The smallest Indivisible part-
A-Tom
One man One Vote
Democracy.

Posted by: one eye buck tooth [X^8 on February 27, 2006 at 3:59 PM | PERMALINK

Its a joke right? Wilkie?

Posted by: jimmy on February 27, 2006 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

Tell them its a story about the guy Zell Miller was talking about during his rant at the RNC. Back then politicians loved America enough to avoidtearing down the incumbent with lies and fabrications just to destroy our war effort for partizan advantage.

Posted by: wks on February 27, 2006 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

Wilkie comic books?

Posted by: bobbyp on February 27, 2006 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

bellumregio:

Zizek's very relevant, I think, because he's a thinker looking for a way out of the End of History. While he's a cult stud guy, he ran for president of Slovenia. He very much wants to keep a cogent leftist critique of globalism alive.

He has a piece in the Guardian today about how the TV show 24 enables torture. If part of the problem is that younger people are so immersed in media, you need people to inspire us to examine the deeper meanings.

Zizek's not a Derridaian and has mocked Deconstruction. He very much wants to revive the Frankfurt School tradition of linking (a la Marcuse) a crtique of capitalism with Freud's drive theory.

And because he's an academic rock star capable of drawing SRO crowds to his lectures, I think this shows something about the hunger there is out there for ways of understanding our current dilemma.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on February 27, 2006 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

He very much wants to keep a cogent leftist critique of globalism alive.
Wha??
Leftist?
Rightest?
These folks only see money and they never make political statements.
Where have you Historians been?

Why do you think we are Stupid?

These Elites of the Global order consider themselves Redustists.

Trotsky wasnt Trotsky he was Bronstein.
How can you discuss Global left and right cogent critique when your version of history is possibly flawed?

Sure, I Dont speak as 'eloquently' as you here "polishing dialectic as golden cherubim might"
Likely you will place a name upon me as Heathen because I do not.

If one might traverse that slippery path of knowledge and credentials, one would have erred in so doing. Perhaps I have none of the latter yet much of the former bypassing your 'Collages'
Typical of the Neo-con crowd, here.
Ask for Ideas or Opinion, then belittle or Ridicule those whom dont share the narrow view you wish to change.

Good Luck with this Age Old Ivey League Green Mouldy thing.
Sounds as if many of you here are part and parcel of the 'leftist gloablization' disaster you, and your greedy B school types, have helped to create.

Worse, Your History hasnt even crossed the obvious facts concerning the Liars. The Khazars. The Edomites, The False Jews, The Zionists Benjamin Fredman etc..Warburgs, and their media publications, have spread Lies and fomented Wars across decades, perhaps centuries, the Thirteenth Tribe, and how you 'OLD' ways people.
----------------------
Cannot you, here, get your Proverbial head out of your derrier?
Wtf?
Update your History because only HALF of the people, thats the MEDIA Junkies you speak of VOTED for Bush. Yes the Jerry Springers Love hate TV and Rush Limbaugh..Gee Bias President. of course they got what they wanted..
What the FECK does that tell you about FOX news, and all their other crap BIASED MSM Right Wing Media Rupert Murdoch Kristol Media?

Posted by: one eye buck tooth [X^8 on February 27, 2006 at 5:13 PM | PERMALINK

It says dont watch it

Posted by: mr ho on February 27, 2006 at 5:16 PM | PERMALINK

the end of the old figs will be welcome by many
for they hang on the true producing nothing
yet they hang on dearly sucking from the tree
power is all they now seek
the power to hang on whatever the cost
lie to the other figs tell them anything
it will be called noble to die for me, he says
said the most powerful prune as he held fast
he lied telling the other figs the ground was heaven but really it was just a war he fell upon

Posted by: mr ho on February 27, 2006 at 5:26 PM | PERMALINK

I'm 22, an English major with minors in History and Film Studies. I have plans to pursue a PhD in Religious Studies next year. There are thoughtful, liberal young people to be had. I promise.

I think that lack of knowledge about anything among the youth set can be traced back to two issues.

The first is the state of the American high school classroom. American History stops for some reason in 1945. It's as if Korea, Vietnam and both wars in Iraq never happened. As a high school student, I spent so much time being preached to about the "greatest generation" it's a wonder I ever picked up History credits in college for having been so bored. The specter of Hitler is fading fast. More emphasis needs to be placed on the sixty years that happened after Roosevelt and Churchill saved the Western world--the fifty years that have brought us to where we are now. Our national Nostalgia for the good war is sinking the ship.

Second, colleges are no longer about higher education. A degree is a ticket to the middle class and that's about it. Our universities have become clearinghouses for little George Babbitts: people with degrees but nothing to talk about but their bank accounts. We might call ourselves the MBA generation. Liberal obsession with universal higher education is part of the problem. The people who really care about things like history are being cloistered into evermore neglected liberal arts programs while the non-education of mediocre minds sucks up all the funding. We've got to realize that there needs to be a way of living comfortably in America without crowding our college campuses with people who've never heard of Wilkie and have only a vague notion of who FDR was.

P.S. And dont talk to me about sacrifice. I may not have to face the draft, but I will have to help shoulder the burden in the aftermath of the Baby Boomers, a most wasteful and greedy demographic.

Posted by: Clint Bland on February 27, 2006 at 5:54 PM | PERMALINK

CFShep:
I've taken a couple of runs at some of his recent releases and I'm pretty sure he's gotten Anne Rice's editor.

More like, no editor, I think. This happens to most writers when the hit the "top" of the list - they stop getting "agressively" edited and the resulting book suffers. Rice, McCaffrey, Clancy - once they hit that "star" status with the publisher, the editor -- if they even have one -- is much less likely to press them for needed clean up and revisions.

"You don't have to tell me something ten times in twenty pages, Harry. Got it the first 5 times. Really.

With all this talk about how today's youngins lack critical thinking and analytical skills, I'm not sure your ability to "get it" the first five times is universal. That said, yes, Turtledove's works are very skimmable. On the other hand, I tend to read so fast that I might miss the first five references. ;-)

If you simply can not, for whatever reason, take your history straight up, allow me to recommend George MacDonald Fraser's 'Flashman' series.

I'll give him a shot. I'm an omnivorous bibliovore.

Posted by: KarenJG on February 27, 2006 at 6:19 PM | PERMALINK

Well, Wendell Wilkie is a hard sell, but the larger point about getting young people more interested in history and current events (isn't that what we are talking about) comes down to convincing them that these forces actually affect them. I'm 53, yes a a hated baby-boomer or so Clint would have you think. The fact of the draft politicized american youth in the 60's. It had that effect on me. We 'grew up' fast, though not necessarily well. But in any case we were forced to focus on unpleasant facts when we probably would have preferred to just drink and try to get laid. Of course we did that as well. In 1971 I went to Germany to live for a year. I was struck by how much younger Germans of my age seemed. The difference was that american youth were converted from a social group into a political group because of outside forces and in particular the possibilty of being drafted and going to Vietnam. This concept is dealt with Marx and is crucial to understanding history. The war in Iraq doesn't polticize people (young or old) because they can avoid involvement if they wish. On the other hand even reinstating the draft won't increase the readership for a Wilkie biography all that much.

Posted by: NeilS on February 27, 2006 at 6:23 PM | PERMALINK

The story, message, and image of Democrats is outdated. It is like listening to swing in the age of rock. It is not the vision that is wrong but the resonance.

Part of it is the delivery of our message, part is our hypocrisy, and lots has to do with how we let those who claim to represent us quickly sell out.

The best we seem to be able to convey is a.) we are similar to Republicans but not as bad and b.) if we keep trying we can bring the "New Deal" style politics back into vogue.

We can write music for the current and future generations wants to hear yet we must move on beyond the New Deal style of posturing for votes. Our vision has to go beyond what we fear the public will accept. Our issues have to more creative then just abortion rights, social security, and public health care. We can't show ourselves to be different to the GOP when we are owned by most of the same masters. We can't expect reforms in politics when we can't reform our own party.

I could go on with loads of concrete examples (instead of generalizations) yet I don't want to make this to long.

Posted by: Carl Granados on February 27, 2006 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK

... Joseph Ellis, David McCullough come to mind. Krauthammer ...

... James MacGregor Burns, Barbara Tuchman, Abraham L. Sacher, Claude Manceron, Norman Davies, Jonathan Spence ("God's Chinese Son - The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan"), Bruce Catton ...

... Boorstin, Daniel J. or ... T. Harry Williams or Joe Grey Taylor ...


Lewis Menand.

Posted by: McVouty on February 27, 2006 at 6:57 PM | PERMALINK

Make American history a required course (at least a full year) in all American high schools. It isnt now. Make history a subject that is tested on the ACT and SAT college entrance exams. It isnt now. Encourage high school and college history teachers to use Howard Zinns A Peoples History of the United States as one of their required readings. Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper around significant liberal anniversaries, such as - the March on Selma, Brown v. Board of Education and the passage of the Civil Rights Act, reminding people of these very significant liberal victories that made this country a better, more equitable place. It sure wasnt conservatives like Barry Goldwater, Joseph McCarthy or Father Coughlin that made this a great country. And as CSNY sang, Teach your children well.

Posted by: Stephen Kriz on February 27, 2006 at 7:07 PM | PERMALINK

Lewis Menand.
Posted by: McVouty

Okay, somebody had to stump me eventually.

How about these guys?

James Burke ("Connections" and "The Day the Universe Changed"), Jacob Bronowski ("The Ascent of Man") and Sir Kenneth Clark ("Civilisation")

What they all have in common is that these were marvelous series on PBS. Where are the history/cultural history series of this caliber?

The 'great unsung-heroes moments in history." method Jeff seems to advocate just contributes to a pervasive inability to tie events and people together in a coherent manner. It does not provide the vitally essential sense that history is a living thing which is a part of everyone's life everyday and that, as James Burke demonstrates, for one small example, Renaissance water gardens made the carburetor possible.

Posted by: CFShep on February 27, 2006 at 7:20 PM | PERMALINK

Kriz: Make American history a required course (at least a full year) in all American high schools. It isnt now.

Wow. Really? How sad.

We had to have a full year of American History and a full year of World History to get within smelling distance of a diploma. A full year of what used to be called Civics, too.

Posted by: CFShep on February 27, 2006 at 7:32 PM | PERMALINK

CFShep:

Ahhh, Connections ...

The Jacquard loom as the prototype of the computer punch card :)

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on February 27, 2006 at 8:20 PM | PERMALINK

The first thing to is never to say to a young person, "...they and we were able to rise to behavior characterized by considerably more idealism and generosity than is evident today." Not only does it sound like a wheezy old fart bemoaning the glory days of his youth, but its pure horseshit besides. While I wish I could vote for a president as great as FDR, I also know that the 1930s and 40s were also a time of Jim Crow and the KKK and Father Coughlin and Japanese detention camps and virulent anti-semitism, so spare me the sermon on how generous people were way back when. The only reason things got done then was because tragedies like the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl and World War II had put America on the brink of chaos, and so it was out with Hoovers and in with the Roosevelts. If George W. Bush's presidency leads to World War III or economic collapse (sadly, both of these things are possible), the FDR years will suddenly have a terrible relevance.

Posted by: Utek on February 27, 2006 at 8:56 PM | PERMALINK

If you are going to read overviews, you should try to divide your reading concerning any particular period between authors from as many different intellectual camps as possible. But never, never, never forget to read as much verifiable material from original sources as possible. Generalist simplifiers of history should generously quote original sources, not just boilerplate makeovers of whatever interpretation of history was popular when that author was in graduate school.

One good example--George Armstrong Custer. Tons of stuff written about him, much of the recent material downright sneering, nasty, and shallow. I happen to think that there is nothing what-so-ever about recent points of view that is particularly immortal in the sense of absolute correctness. But Custer himself wrote an article about the Native American situation in Atlantic magazine and of course his wife and many contemporaries wrote about him. A lot of people today want to sneer at whole generation of people in the past, I guess on the assumption that they themselves and their contemporary pet peers are so remarkably flawless in their historical perceptions that, don't you know, their body wastes do not even possess odor!

Read original sources whenever possible. Read all of Will Durant or at least check any controversial issue against his interpretation because he provides wonderful indexes.

Posted by: Michael L. Cook on February 27, 2006 at 9:34 PM | PERMALINK

Television changed everything. The internets changed everything else. Deal with it.

Posted by: dr sardonicus on February 27, 2006 at 11:41 PM | PERMALINK

>So I ask for your help and advice in figuring out how to reach these young people, and urge you to write me with your advice care of the Monthly

You could:
a. Get Jon Stewart to read the audiobook and put chapters out on iTunes.
b. Get George Clooney to snag the movie rights.
c. Convince Oprah that your book should be the next choice in her book club.

I know its too late for the Oscars, but see about putting your book in some hollywood award ceremony gift bags.

Posted by: bartkid on February 28, 2006 at 9:25 AM | PERMALINK

M Cook: Read all of Will Durant

I have all XI volumes. I have read a couple of them. They're easily distinquished from the others because they're missing their dust covers.

II, III, V, VII, VIII, X and XI

Whew.

Mostly they serve as reference to get a quick fix on something I might wish to look more closely into or as a 'fact checker' to shoot down all the bogus the "Ghengis Khan sacked Baghdad' junk which crops up over here.

Thing is, I already know it's bogus, because I have a good working knowledge of world history, but I want to get my ducks in a row before I start troll bashing.

Knowing history vs making it up out of John Wayne movies.

BTW - Slate nominated "Conquerer" as one the top 3 worst historical films. John Wayne as Ghengis Khan. Yikes! Shooting fish in the proverbial barrel.

Posted by: CFShep on February 28, 2006 at 9:49 AM | PERMALINK

Fact-checking can be dicey even with ancient authors. Let us suppose that, 3,000 years hence,humanity has just survived a series of dark ages. A rumor persists that man once reached the moon and walked on it. Intense research also uncovers ancient sources that claim that the whole moonwalk thing was faked in Hollywood. Some videos are found, which may or may not have been faked.
The only way future historians can really check the facts is to go to the moon, where if they are lucky they find a golf ball. Even then, some people will claim the golf ball got there because the ancients (us) had taken sports steroid experimentation to incredible levels!

Posted by: Michael L. Cook on February 28, 2006 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK

So true.

Even then, some people will claim the golf ball got there because the ancients (us) had taken sports steroid experimentation to incredible levels!
Posted by: Michael L. Cook

>>>laughing

Still it suffices for the purposes of troll thwacking.

I have always wished the Durants were better writers though. Or that there were a more concise version.

I'll continue to cleave to to my much battered 2nd hand bookstore copy of H. G. Wells "The Outline of History", a gift from a TA in the history dept. of my alma mater (aka Goat-roper U) which harbored, if somewhat grudgingly, two very top-rate historians.

I had lost sight of him, but when my sister came home from USL, as it was at the time, raving about her amazing history prof, a moment's inquiry served to unmask him as my old friend from my undergrdd days of playing poker with the English faculty and football games with the grad students of the history dept...gadzooks.

Posted by: CFShep on February 28, 2006 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

Wendell Willkie? The guy who changed parties just because his electric utility couldn't compete with the TVA? The guy who flip flopped on the draft? Who never held public office? What's to restore?

Posted by: buermann on February 28, 2006 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

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