Monday, December 31, 2007

CRITIQUE & REVIEW: "America: The Last Best Hope (Volume I): From the Age of Discovery to a World at War" by William J. Bennett

America: The Last Best Hope (Volume I): From the Age of Discovery to a World at War is Bill Bennett’s first installment of a journey through the first 500 or so years of American history. The work is unabashedly and refreshingly pro-American, no Zinn-ister indictments here; though the darker aspects of our heritage are not whitewashed.

Those familiar with the American Story will find interesting perspectives on supposedly long-settled historical conclusions. One such revision concerns our eighteenth president, Ulysses S. Grant. The Bennett’s portrait of the Union War Hero turned commander-in-chief is rather positive, if you set aside the scandals that rocked his administration. You learn that those scandals were more “Republican” or “Congressional” or “Establishment” scandals rather than “Grant” scandals. Grant was never seriously linked to them personally. They would have happened in some form or another with or without him in the White House. Likely, a less honorable president would have made them worse. Grant’s legacy ought to highlight his lonely efforts to support the freed slaves against white Southern reaction. I’ll be searching for a good revisionist biography of Grant’s post Civil War career to read.

It’s a longish book at 592 pages. I also own it’s companion volume which picks up where this one ends, on the eve of American entry into World War I, and concludes with victory in the Cold War (I think, haven’t read it yet, so I'm not sure.) The second book comes in at 608 pages. That’s 1,200 pages between them… far too much for me to tackle back-to-back and remain sane. I’m reading a non-U.S. history book next.

I have a nice Bill Bennett shelf developing in my personal library, the two America books plus The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories, Moral Compass: Stories for a Life's Journey and Our Sacred Honor: The Stories, Letters, Songs, Poems, Speeches, and Hymns that Gave Birth to Our Nation. All are a must to have on hand.

One criticism is not entirely fair; it’s too general and fails to burrow down into some of the more interesting vignettes Bennett ably summarizes. But, as with the Grant experience recounted above, it does offer the reader a fine survey and reminder of subjects worthy of further study.

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