Books Books - articles brought to you by History News Network. Fri, 22 Feb 2019 20:54:14 +0000 Fri, 22 Feb 2019 20:54:14 +0000 Zend_Feed_Writer 2 ( Revisiting the Wright Brothers and the History of Human Flight

William Hazelgrove summarized the premise of his book, Wright Brothers, Wrong Story, (Prometheus Books), in the title of his December 2, 2018, prepublication news release: “We’ve Been Celebrating Two Wright Brothers When We Should Be Celebrating Just One.” By his measure, only Wilbur Wright deserves credit for inventing controlled heavier-than-air powered flight in 1903.


Hazelgrove’s hypothesis is emphatically wrong. Wilbur was the more articulate and cerebral of the Wright brothers, while Orville was more reflective and mechanically inclined, but essential contributions of both men made possible the December 17, 1903, flight at Kill Devil Hills that begat practical aviation.


Hazelgrove’s briefs for Wilbur and against Orville rely on elisions of facts that contradict his verdict. He resorts to fictional scenes, invented conversations, imaginary soliloquies, and misdirection throughout the book. He connives to prejudice readers by retelling salacious gossip about private indiscretions attributed to Orville, originally published nearly sixty years after they supposedly occurred, which, even if true, had no bearing on Orville’s part in the (much earlier) invention of the airplane.


Archived letters and published articles by both Wrights refute Hazelgrove’s story. In a two-page letter dated January 8, 1904, on Wright Cycle Company stationery, Orville Wright gave Carl Dienstbach, American correspondent for the German journal Illustrierte Aëronautische Mittheilungen (Illustrated Aeronautical Correspondence) a first-hand report of the December 17 events. The brothers had taken turns, Orville flying first, Wilbur last, in four flights. The test flights ended when Wilbur crashed on the fourth flight. In order to portray Wilbur as the more skillful pilot, and to diminish the importance of Orville’s iconic first flight, Hazelgrove omits mention of Wilbur’s crash landing. 


So much for Hazelgrove’s assertion (page 26), “Neither brother had ever put pen to paper. Neither brother had said this is the way it happened, so there was a vacuum. Orville could say this is how it happened, and no one could question him. The dead asked no questions.” Hazelgrove also does not quote from the most important article the Wrights published, “The Wright Brothers Aeroplane,” which the editors of The Centurymagazine called “the first popular account of their experiments…” 


A great deal of that article could be excerpted to refute Hazelgrove’s distortions of the brothers’story point by point, but this passage lends insight into the importance of collaboration to their eventual success: 


As we were not in a position to undertake a long series of practical experiments to discover a propeller suitable for our machine, it seemed necessary to obtain such a thorough understanding of the theory of its reactions as would enable us to design them from calculation alone. What at first seemed a simple problem became more complex the longer we studied it. With the machine moving forward, the air flying backward, the propellers turning sidewise, and nothing standing still, it seemed impossible to find a starting-point from which to trace the simultaneous reactions. Contemplation of it was confusing. After long arguments, we often found ourselves in the ludicrous position of each having been converted to the other’s side, with no more agreement than when the discussion began.


It was not till several months had passed, and every phase of the problem had been thrashed over and over, that the various reactions began to untangle themselves. When once a clear understanding had been obtained, there was no difficulty in designing suitable propellers, with proper diameter, pitch, and area of blade, to meet the requirements of the flyer.


Hazelgrove is also wrong about the process the brothers went through to invent movable vertical rudders connected to the wing controls. No historian or biographer disputes that Wilbur’s vision, study, correspondence with aviation experts (Octave Chanute most of all), wind-tunnel experimentation, and glider flights at Kill Devil Hills between 1900 and 1902, solved the initial series of challenges, up to the need to add and test a movable vertical rudder. That invention has been credited to Orville for more than a century. Hazelgrove calls Orville’s contribution a myth (pages 146 and 147), which he says began with the 1943 publication of The Wright Brothers: A Biography Authorized by Orville Wright by Fred C. Kelly.


To support his argument, Hazelgrove quotes Wilbur’s deposition in a patent lawsuit, in which he didn’t mention Orville by name (page 149), and Wilbur’s 1903 presentation to the Western Society of Engineers, in which he again did not credit Orville by name (page 157).


On those arguments Hazelgrove rests his indictment. If Orville wasn’t responsible for the hinged rudder, he cannot be recognized as a co-inventor of the airplane. The corollary of his logic, however, is that because Orville did originate the idea, which became an essential element of controlled flight (and remains so), Orville must be recognized and honored for his indispensable contribution to the brothers’ invention.


In other parts of his book and in his bibliography Hazelgrove has cited the documents that verify Orville’s contribution — Orville’s 1902 diary and Wilbur’s 1915 Aeronautics journal article “The Story of Flight” — so one must draw the conclusion either that he was a careless reader or that he intentionally omitted the pertinent quotations in order to bolster his case against Orville. 


Hazelgrove also plays fast and loose with the details of the Wrights brothers’ personal lives. He wants his readers to regard Orville in later life as a lying hypocrite, not as the pitiable recluse described in Lawrence Goldstone’s Birdmen: The Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtiss, and the Battle to Control the Skies. To support this contention he relies on a selection of 1990s newspaper columns written by a Dayton local historian that discusses the Wrights brothers’ personal secretary Mabel Beck. One of the columns quotes a source who claimed that as a young boy he had seen Orville Wright kissing Beck. Another column provides vague details of a cache of letters from Wright to Beck that might or might not have existed.


Excellent biographies of our aviation pioneers are widely available, most recently The Wright Brothers by David McCullough, published in 2015. My shelf always has room for authors who present fresh discoveries, perspectives, and insights, but Wright Brothers, Wrong Story fails to satisfy those criteria.


I wish I could end by writing something positive about Hazelgrove’s book — some stray Wright brothers episode I had not encountered previously — but I can’t. This is the proverbial “new good book,” whose new parts aren’t good and whose good parts aren’t new. Save your money for a better one.

Fri, 22 Feb 2019 20:54:14 +0000 0
Marie Colvin: an Amazing Woman Whose Life Was Cut Short Trying to Present Us with the Truth

2018 was an annus horribilis for freedom of the press.  Reporters Without Borders announced that 63 professional journalists were killed, of whom 49 were specifically targeted for death by an army or rebel group. 


The most famous journalistic killing came on October 2, when agents of the Saudi government murdered and dismembered Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident and columnist for The Washington Post. 


The conditions endured by journalists in war zones are portrayed in chilling detail in Lindsey Hilsum’s new book on war correspondent Marie Colvin. A staff reporter for The Sunday Times of London, Colvin died on February 22, 2012, aged 56, in Homs, Syria. The Syrian army, honing in on her satellite phone, targeted an artillery strike on the building where she was reporting from. 


At the time, Colvin was arguably one of the best-known war correspondents at work.  With her distinctive black eyepatch, flak jacket and wavy hair tied in a bun, she was familiar to many Americans through her frequent appearances on CNN and other news outlets. 


She lost her left eye after getting hit by a rocket propelled grenade while covering the Tamil insurrection in Sri Lanka in 2001.  She had been the first reporter in six years to report directly from the Tamil rebels’ besieged enclave on the island nation. International monitors estimated that more than 80,000 people had died from shelling, hunger and disease. Colvin’s near death at the hands of the Sri Lankan Army drew world attention to the slaughter which had been conducted in secret. 


Although Colvin died eight years ago, her career and tragic death have gained new attention with the publication of Hilsum’s book and a recent biopic, A Private War, starring Rosamund Pike. 


Marie Catherine Colvin grew up near Oyster Bay, Long Island, one of five children in a middle-class Irish Catholic family. Her father, an ex-Marine, was an English teacher in the New York city public schools.  


After graduation from Yale where she wrote for the campus newspaper, she went to work at UPI’s Washington Bureau. From her first days in the newsroom, she told her friends she wanted to emulate female journalists such as Martha Gellhorn, who had covered the Spanish Civil War, World War II and Vietnam and Oriana Fallaci, who covered the Middle East and obtained candid interviews with world leaders including Henry Kissinger, Deng Xiaoping and Lech Walesa. 


As a young war correspondent in the 1980s, Colvin’s looks and manner were a magnet for men including those in power.  In 1986 she was the first reporter to interview Muammar Gaddafi after the U.S. air strikes on Libya. A dozen other western correspondents had traveled to Tripoli to see the “supreme leader,” but he chose Colvin for an exclusive sit-down discussion.  


Later, she became one of the few western reporters allowed to travel privately with PLO leader Yasser Arafat. He granted her a number of interviews and cooperated in a BBC documentary she produced about him (to the irritation of the Israeli government).   


From her base in London, Colvin covered the wars in Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Chechnya. At one point, traveling with Chechen rebels and cut-off by Russian Forces, she hiked 40 miles in snow over Caucasian Mountain, subsisting on canned milk and crackers, finally reaching safety in the Republic of Georgia. 


Author Lindsey Hilsum, writing her own first-hand knowledge of war zones, weaves a compelling story. Hilsum, currently serving as the international editor for Channel 4 News in Britain, has covered conflicts in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq and Kosovo. She knew Colvin socially and worked alongside her in Syria.  In researching this book, she gained the cooperation of Colvin’s family, and had access to the reporter’s personal diaries and notebooks. 


The result is a deeply moving, very personal biography. Colvin was as adventurous in her love life as she was in her reporting. She was married three times and had numerous, stormy love affairs. She tried twice unsuccessfully to conceive a child. Several of her lovers openly betrayed her, leaving her humiliated and deeply depressed for long periods of time.


Her difficult emotional life was exacerbated at times by an increasing dependence on alcohol. She tried on several occasions to stop drinking but was never successful. Despite her high alcohol intake, she was an empathetic interviewer and a skilled writer with a keen eye for detail. She rarely missed a deadline even writing under fire. 


Underlying the glamor of celebrity and the adrenaline-rush of dodging gunfire was a committed humanitarian. In a 2010 diary entry written in October 2010 in Afghanistan, she recorded her wish to “Use my skills as a writer to help those who can’t find justice anywhere else. Acting without fear – it matters. Show world what it cannot see firsthand. No death wish. I have too much to live for.”


Colvin rose to fame during the 1990s, before the rise of the Internet. During that time, she competed primarily with print journalists and television reporters from CNN and other international outlets. She covered the Egyptian revolution of 2011 from Tahrir Square and noted the new importance of social media in rallying opposition to authoritarian governments. She continued to believe in the importance of print journalists going out to the battle-zone, conducting interviews and presenting compelling stories to British and American readers.


As avid consumers of news, we often take the difficult work of journalists for granted. The murder of Jamal Khashoggi briefly focused attention on the dangers faced by reporters working in hostile environments. In Extremis is an instructive look at the motivations and operating methods of these men and women.  Readers will come away with a deeper understanding of the brutality of modern dictatorships and an appreciation for an amazing woman whose life was cut short trying to present us with the truth. 

Fri, 22 Feb 2019 20:54:14 +0000 0
Book Review: Andrew Roberts, Churchill: Walking with Destiny (2018)

On 15 March 1938, Adolf Hitler returned to the capital of his native Austria as a conqueror. Rather than guns, the Fuhrer, who received an ecstatic welcome from tens of thousands of rabid followers, incorporated Vienna into the Third Reich (Anschluss) through stirring irredentist rhetoric, revanchist propaganda and appeals to German-Aryan racial unity.  Emboldened by his uncontested victory, Hitler turned to the post-WWI created-state of Czechoslovakia (1918) and demanded territorial concessions.  In an attempt to contain Nazi ambitions, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier travelled to Munich and acquiesced to the Nazi annexation of the largely German-populated Sudetenland.  As Hitler had publicly stated his willingness to forgo further geopolitical claims, Prime Minister Chamberlain returned home one day later and confidently professed to a crowd outside 10 Downing Street “I believe it is peace for our time.” (434) While most Britons praised Chamberlain and hailed the agreement, Winston Churchill (1874-1965), an established public servant with a somewhat checkered reputation, offered a sharply dissenting view of the diplomatic course of events on 5 October:

I will begin by saying what everybody would like to ignore or forget but which must nevertheless be stated, namely, that we have sustained a total and unmitigated defeat, and that France has suffered even more than we have. (435)

In stark contrast to the members of his own government, Churchill had long-characterized the Fuhrer as a dangerous tyrant and a threat to both the Continent and civilization. For his supreme insight and principled cry to thwart Hitler’s ambitions by force, Churchill, who became prime minister on 10 May 1940, enjoyed unprecedented popularity for his courage, resilience in the face of defeat and skills as a wartime leader and subsequently achieved iconic status thereafter.  Although more than one thousand books have been written on his life, the recently-published Churchill: Walking with Destiny (2018) by Andrew Roberts merits consideration as the newly definitive one-volume biography of its subject due to presenting unequaled scholarly analyses of 1) the symbiotic relationship between Churchill, race and the British Empire and 2) a superlative, balanced evaluation of Churchill as statesman.

Churchill, Race and the British Empire

From the outset, Roberts adroitly situates Churchill within the transcendent tide of race-based science and sociology in the mid and late nineteenth century. (deleted phrase) Scholars of the period debated the capacity for “lower” races to advance educationally, socially and technologically by Western standards.  As a liberal imperialist and racial progressive relative to the regnant structure-of-thought, Churchill believed all races capable of “improvement” and worthy of respect and fundamental rights.  

In July 1900, delegates from around the world convened the first Pan-African Conference in London to boldly assert: “The problem of the twentieth-century is the problem of the colour line.”  For Churchill and European-born individuals of nineteenth-century, however, the “colour line” existed as a concrete reality instead of a “problem.”  While Voltaire (1694-1778) and Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) segmented humanity into separate and distinct races, Samuel Morton (1799-1851) and his disciple Josiah Nott (1804-1873), who earned medical degrees at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Pennsylvania respectively, altered nineteenth-century intellectual thought by successfully promoting and widely-disseminating the concept of an extant racial hierarchy in the state of nature from their scientific investigations.  As notions of Anglo-Saxon superiority, African inferiority and other non-European races as middling or semi-developed became socially and intellectually normative, Churchill and his generation embraced the racial-ideological rationale behind the British Empire, which “covered more than one-fifth of the earth’s land surface” at the fin de siècle, to “uplift” the peoples of the world.  

In Chapter Two, Roberts perfectly captures Churchill’s formative worldview with a quote from his first public address on 26 July 1897: “then shall we continue to pursue that course marked out for us by an all-wise hand and carry out our mission of bearing peace, civilization and good government to the utter-most ends of the earth.” (46) Unlike many other Englishmen and Europeans, Churchill sought to extend the Empire as a vehicle of beneficent paternalism – a view that would later lose legitimacy due to an increasing rejection of race-based concepts in the scientific community and a wave of worldwide activism after the First World War.  

From his travels through Mumbai, Bangalore and other parts of India as a Second Lieutenant in the late 1890s, Churchill lauded British-sponsored infrastructure improvements, which included the creation of roads, bridges, a railway system and a modern communications network, and the enforced prohibition of sati(or suttee) – an ancient Indian ritual whereby newly-widowed women committed suicide upon the death of their deceased husband. In the summer of 1898, Churchill, who had been redeployed to eastern Africa, fought with distinction at the Battle of Omdurman, outside of Khartoum, in a bid to avenge the heinous killing of Major-General Charles Gordon and to defeat the armies of Abdullah al-Khalifa.  By employing Maxim (machine) guns to full effect, the British cut down his forces in short order.  After General Kitchener refused to treat the enemy wounded – allowing the Khalifa’s soldiers to suffer gruesome deaths, Churchill became privately outraged but withheld criticism out of political expediency.  How did Churchill partly justify the imperial conquest of Sudan? From his prodigious research, Roberts produces a quote excised from the text of one of Churchill’s books (1902): 

The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property – either as a child, wife, or concubine – must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a Great Power among men.  Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities…but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it.(62) 

For Churchill and many (if not most) Britons, fanatical and hyper-patriarchal forms of Islam represented a form of “barbarism.” 

When Dutch Afrikaners rebelled against British rule in the Second Boer War (1899), Churchill traveled to South Africa and gained international renown by making an intrepid and improbable escape from a Pretorian jail, rejoining the fight and liberating the inmates of his former prison the following year.  In his account, Roberts notes a crucial dissimilarity between the antagonists.  Although both the English and the Afrikaners deemed black Africans inferior, the latter condoned their subjugation due to possessing more rigid racial views.  Churchill spoke for many of his countrymen by paternalistically stating that in the future: “Black is to be proclaimed as white…to be constituted his legal equal, to be armed with political rights.” (68) 

In April 1919, the decision of Brigadier General Reginald Dyer to unleash the firepower of his soldiers on an unarmed, peaceful assembly of men, women and children in Amritsar, India for refusing to disband also exposed the fissure between racial paternalists and non-paternalists in Britain.  Despite cruelly ending the lives of approximately one thousand innocent civilians, Dyer received widespread support from those unsympathetic to “inferior races.” Speaking for the government and the majority, Churchill declared: “It is an extraordinary event, a monstrous event, an event which stands in singular and sinister isolation.” (272)  After an official inquiry, Dyer was forced into an ignominious retirement.  In delivering a remarkably clear, accurate and incisive portrait of Churchill as a product of an era marked by archaic science (racial hierarchy) and high ideals (human rights), Roberts illuminates the contours of the British imperial mind.  

Churchill: Visionary and Flawed Statesman

Throughout the more than one-thousand-page tome, Roberts renders an extraordinarily judicious account of Churchill as both a prescient and at times – a wholly misguided statesman. One-quarter of a century before Chamberlain’s fateful trip to Munich (1938), Churchill began demonstrating his keen insight into the vicissitudes of Continental politics with particular respect to the rise of German militarism and questions related to the balance-of-power. Shortly after Berlin dispatched the gunboat Pantherto the port of Agadir (Morocco) to challenge French influence in 1911, the young British Home Secretary interpreted the provocative act as a portentous sign of aggression. To counter the looming threat, Churchill not only predicted Germany would “violate Belgian neutrality” in order to defeat France in a future war, but he also urged Whitehall to check German power by forging closer alliances with Paris and Moscow. (154-158) When German Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz rebuffed a third offer by London to negotiate a treaty limiting the production of battleships in early 1914, Churchill, who had been appointed as First Lord of the Admiralty, urged increases in naval armaments to prepare for war.  In August, the Kaiser fulfilled his prophetic warnings by ordering German armies to invade and plunder Belgium en routeto Paris. (170-181) By 1924, Churchill began forecasting the possibility of a second world war as a result of the crippling sanctions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles (1920) and the concomitant rise of National Socialism (Nazism).  

If the author commendably succeeds in portraying Churchill as a sage prognosticator with respect to Wilhelmine and Nazi Germany, Roberts also masterfully details his failed political appraisals.  In 1927, Churchill met Mussolini in Rome and publicly congratulated the Italian fascists for “[rendering] service to the whole world.” (325)  Six years later, Churchill called Mussolini “The greatest lawgiver among men” and woefully depicted Japan as “an ancient state, with the highest state sense of national honour and patriotism” despite its atrocity-laden invasion and occupation of Manchuria. (366)  From his faith in the paternalistic beneficence of the British Empire for “lesser races” (technological advances, parliamentary government, expansion of trade etc.), Churchill colossally misjudged nationalist aspirations on the Indian subcontinent and – out of frustration – blasted the Home Rule for India campaign as “criminally mischievous” and labelled Mohandas Gandhi as “seditious” and a “danger [to]…white people.” (342-352) How did Churchill politically survive these egregious miscalculations and gaffes?  In short, he possessed the capacity to admit error, alter his views to a degree, and temper his remarks.  

A Churchill for His Time…and Our Time

In measuring Churchill’s quasi-progressive record as a Minister of Parliament, support for Irish Home Rule, tenure as military strategist, unyielding stance against Nazism, sympathy for Zionism, obstinate resistance against independence for India, problematic relationship with Stalin and second term as Prime Minister (1951-55) between the bounds of his character and the generationally-accepted, tripartite prism of racial hierarchy, paternalism and belief in the world-historical mission of the British Empire – a mission replete with coercion and violence upon indigenous populations, Andrew Roberts has brilliantly reconstructed the life of a titanic figure of the twentieth century within the intellectual context of his times.  As such, Churchill: Walking with Destiny (2018) constitutes a first-rate, authentic work of historical scholarship for our time.

Fri, 22 Feb 2019 20:54:14 +0000 0
Review: Showtime at the Apollo: The Epic Tale of Harlem’s Legendary Theater

I have an aversion to graphic books of all shapes and sizes. Why do you need to combine all the graphics of a comic book to tell a story when you can just publish a standard book, the kind printing presses have been producing for 500 years?

I have changed my mind, thanks to Ted Fox’s just plain wonderful Showtime at the Apollo: The Epic Tale of Harlem’s Legendary Theater, a brand-new, delicious graphic book from Abrams ComicArt, illustrated by artist James Otis Smith. It is not only a graphic book, but a graphic history book, and there are few of them around.

It is the story of the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York, a 1,000 plus seat house on 125th Street that for generations has been a showcase of black entertainment in America. It has featured just about every African American star: Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Diana Ross, Moms Mabley, Lionel Hampton, the Jackson 5, the Four Tops, the Temptations, Sammy Davis Jr., and Stevie Wonder, among others, plus white performers, too. The book is being published now to commemorate the 85th anniversary of the theater.

Fox’s work is a new, illustrated version of his 1983 book Showtime at the Apollo: The Story of Harlem’s World Famous Theater.

Fox takes the reader all the way back to 1914 and discusses entertainment in Harlem, and New York City, in that bustling era when vaudeville was sill king to set the stage for the debut of the Apollo in 1934.

This is a history book but Fox and Smith have turned their stars into very personable people that you come to admire and get to know well in its pages. They have ‘novelized’ non-fiction history and give you an engaging, rich tale of one of America’s musical landmarks and the performers who made famous.

Do not be put off by a graphic novel presentation of entertainment history. It is like sub-titles to a movie – in five minutes you get used to it.

The story of the fabled Harlem theater is full of ironies. As an example, it was built and run for twenty years as Hurtig and Seamon’s Burlesquer house prior to its opening as the Apollo, a white only emporium. Throughout the years, some of the big acts for the black theater were white performers, such as Tommy Dorsey and his swing band, Buddy Holley and Guns ‘n Roses.

The family that ran the theater for a predominantly black audience, Frank Schiffman and his descendants, was white. While the theater is famous for its many commercial acts, it is even more famous for its gospel shows.  While it was home on many nights to superstar African -American actress/singer Lena Horne, it was also a theater attended by Marilyn Monroe. The theater, famed as an African-American showplace, always had a 40% white audience in the 1940s. The theater, a long distance from the Broadway theater district, draws an impressive 1.3 million fans a year.

The Schiffmans not only created a world famous showcase, but a ‘mom and pop’ business in which everybody helped everybody else. As an example, Schiffman would pay an act, say, $300, but write down $1,000 on their contract so they could show that contract to other theater mangers to earn more money from them.

The strength of the book is not just its entertainment story, but the way in Fox and Smith fit that story into New York City and American history and cover strikes, protests and riots in Harlem, such as the 1935 riot over a white staff beating of a black shoplifter in a department store across the street from the theater and a 1943 riot over the shooting of a black man by a cop. There is the story of pickets who forced Harlem department stores to integrate their all-white sales force. That history gives the book its heft.

You learn fascinating pieces of information about the theater, its workers, its audience and its stars. This was an era in which you performed at the Apollo in five shows a day, minimum, and worked your butt off to keep your spot in the line-up and get invited back. Some of the more interesting anecdotes:

  • Josephine Baker had a special dressing room built for her right off stage.
  • Dionne Warwick lived in an apartment at he pricy Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
  • The Spinners started off as an opening act and were so good as the show’s opener that whenever the Apollo needed an opener, or the opening act canceled, they just called the Spinners, who always came.
  • All new first timers, no matter how famous they were, got dressing rooms on the dreaded fourth floor and had to walk all the way up those stairs after the show.
  • Ella Fitzgerald always provided tables full of food for everybody whenever she played there.
  • One music lover who would frequently show up, unannounced, and spend the whole day watching the show from backstage was Muhammad Ali. 
  • In the 1930s and 1940s nationally renowned stars would perform at the Apollo but could not eat at restaurants right across the street because of segregation. 
  • Each week during World War II the Apollo sent its stars - people like Lena Horne, Bojangles Robinson and Cab Calloway – to the local USO to meet soldiers. 

There is a special chapter on Lionel Hampton that tells the marvelous story of the night that, at the end of his performance, Hampton led his band out of the theater followed by the entire audience, and marched down 126th street to the applause of everyone in the neighborhood.

Fox decided to break the book up into decades and that helps the story tremendously because, decade by decade, the music changed, Harlem changed and New York City – and – America – changed. It also permits him to carry his performers through the story over the decades and re-create the rich history of the theater. Within this format, the author tells the story of fabulous, oversized characters such as Dizzie Gillespie, but also the stories of many people you never heard of who were the backbone of the theater, such as Amateur Night emcee Ralph Cooper.

The Schiffmans invented Amateur Night, the theater’s signature showcase, on Wednesdays, when anybody could perform in hopes of winning the $25 first prize. The winners list read like a who’s who of American entertainment – Sarah Vaughn, Pearl Bailey, Gladys Knight, Leslie Uggams, Dionne Warwick, Jimi Hendrix, King Curtis, Michael Jackson, Frankie Lymon, Wilson Pickett and James Brown. Brown cut a live album at the Apollo in 1962 that became a huge hit. Amateur Night became a television show in the late 1980s.

The theater was closed in 1976 and re-opened, under new management, in 1981, losing none of its fame or luster. Oh, the ghosts that could play jazz and dance there every night!

Fri, 22 Feb 2019 20:54:14 +0000 0
What Dinesh D’Souza's "Death of a Nation" Gets Wrong About Martin Van Buren

In the recently published Death of a Nation: Plantation Politics and the Making of the Democratic Party, Dinesh D’Souza takes Democratic party founder Martin Van Buren to task for creating a racist political party in the 1820s. According to D’Souza, “based on his observations of the rural plantation–and the similarities he noted between slaves in the South and newly arriving impoverished immigrants in the North–Van Buren adapted the Democrats’ plantation model to urban conditions.” In doing so, Van Buren “helped create new ethnic plantations based in the cities, populated by immigrants who were dependent and exploited by the Democratic Party in the North in somewhat the same manner as the slaves were by the Democrats in the South” (18).


Like many nineteenth-century northern politicians, Van Buren was contradictory when it came to race. One the one hand, he held views at times that appeared anti-slavery. In 1822, Van Buren, then in the U.S. Senate, supported a legislative amendment that would have made it difficult to bring enslaved people into the new state of Florida. Three years later, he called the slave trade “detestable.” When nominated as the presidential candidate for the antislavery Free-Soil party in 1848, Van Buren argued against “the evils of slavery.” 


On the other hand, Van Buren was no saint when it came to race. Early in his political career, he owned an enslaved man by the name of Tom. During his presidential campaign of 1836, Van Buren came out against congressional interference with slavery in the nation’s capital. As civil war threatened to divide the nation toward the end of James Buchanan’s presidency, Van Buren shared the perspective of many proslavery northern Democrats and wished the “slavery agitation,” but not the institution itself, would simply disappear. It was a position that he had held since the Missouri Crisis of 1819.

D’Souza largely ignores Van Buren’s documented views on, and actions regarding, race. Instead, he pushed forward the argument that Van Buren created the Democratic party to perpetuate a racist welfare state. His main piece of evidence for Van Buren’s intentionality in this regard centers on the New Yorker’s 1827 letter to Richmond, Virginia, newspaper editor Thomas Ritchie. In this famous letter, Van Buren outlined his plan to construct what became the Democratic party and the two-party system that persists today. He argued that the original partisanship of the founding era had disintegrated into factionalism, allowing sectional jealousy and antagonism to emerge as a divisive force that threatened the Union. Van Buren’s solution was to create a national party comprising “the planters of the South and the plain Republicans of the north.” “Party attachment in former times furnished a complete antidote for sectional prejudices by producing counteracting feelings,” he argued to Ritchie.


Instead of seeing a fairly straightforward description of political party organization, D’Souza sees Van Buren working to strike a nefarious bargain with proslavery southerners to protect a reprehensible system of exploitative labor. He crafts a story that has Van Buren traveling secretly through the South in the 1820s, skulking in the background as he sought to strike bargains with prominent southerners such as Ritchie and Vice President John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. In D’Souza’s words, Van Buren “was an unscrupulous man in the process of creating an unscrupulous party” (84), and he charges “progressive admirers,” such as historians Robert V. Remini and Ted Widmer, for covering up or excusing Van Buren’s motives, all to mislead an unsuspecting public (83).


D’Souza’s most damning claim is that Van Buren used the Democrats to create an “urban plantation” model, exemplified in the urban political machine (75). In his words, “Van Buren had an idea, one that could only have come from a complex, conniving brain such as his. . . . Why not re-create the Democratic model of the rural plantation in the Northern cities? Why not make the new immigrants just as dependent on the Democratic Party in the North as the slaves were dependent on the Democratic planters of the South?” (86) 


At this point, D’Souza reveals his intellectual bankruptcy. What is the evidence for his claim? “We have to tread carefully here,” he cautions, “because nowhere did Van Buren write his idea down.” “If he did,” D’Souza continues, “it must have been in the manuscripts that he–ever the circumspect strategist–subsequently destroyed” (86). So, how does D’Souza know that Van Buren had this idea for creating an urban plantation modeled on the slave plantations of the South? “The idea can be seen in its implementation,” he concludes, which took place via the urban political machine that Van Buren created. This machine “demanded the complete allegiance of organizers and constituents from the state right down to the local level. . . . The machine told them how to vote and required them to campaign for its entire slate during election periods” (87).


Here, D’Souza attributes to Van Buren a number of thoughts that are unsupported by evidence. According to him, Van Buren saw “the distinguishing feature” of immigrant groups as “a clannish solidarity that was based on their origins” (87). The New Yorker also “saw that the slaves, in a parallel if not similar situation, had created precisely this sort of communal solidarity on the plantation” (87). D’Souza then asserts, “from the immigrant yearning for survival and security that he well understood, and from their collective ethnic identity that he carefully observed, Van Buren realized the possibility for creating the same type of enduring dependency he had witnessed on the slave plantation but this time in Northern cities” (87). He concludes, “These clans, Van Buren figured, could then be ruled by Democratic Party bosses who would demand ethnic loyalty in exchange for political patronage” (88).

The historiography of the Jacksonian era, and of U.S. history, bears out D’Souza’s argument that political parties have appealed to immigrants’ ethnic identities in order to bind them to a partisan identity. But what D’Souza imputes to Van Buren in Death of a Nation is something different. He says that Van Buren observed enslaved people on southern plantations and, based on that experience, used his upstate New York political machine–the Albany Regency–to create a parallel experience among immigrants in the northern cities. From that, D’Souza argues, flows the Democratic party’s treatment of non-white voters today. That is a huge claim to hang on zero evidence.


The irony of D’Souza’s portrait of a malevolent Van Buren is that the purported architect of the urban plantation model failed to use his genius to his advantage. Yes, Van Buren won the presidency in 1836, but his victory showed significant weaknesses within the Democratic coalition. He narrowly won Pennsylvania and Virginia, two states that, given D’Souza’s argument, should have been solidly behind Van Buren. Four years later, Van Buren decisively lost his reelection bid to Whig candidate William Henry Harrison in an electoral catastrophe for the Democrats. Seeking another shot at the White House in 1844, Van Buren was unable even to secure the nomination of his party, losing to James K. Polk at the Democratic national convention. For such an alleged mastermind of the urban political machine, Van Buren was an abject failure at making it work in his favor.


Death of a Nation contains many problems, and D’Souza’s flawed presentation of Van Buren is emblematic of the book’s main issue. Since he believes that modern-day Democrats are exploiting race to their political advantage, then it only appears logical, to D’Souza at least, that this alleged racism stems from the party’s origins. In embracing this claim, he wrongly contends that the Democratic and Republican parties of the twenty-first century possess the same ideologies, principles, and motivations as those of their nineteenth-century predecessors. To make this ahistorical argument work, he has to ignore the shifts that have occurred as the two major political parties have developed and transformed. D’Souza’s inability, or unwillingness, to ground his case in actual evidence calls into question his motivation and suggests that he wants to use history as partisan propaganda, not as a way to illuminate the past.

Fri, 22 Feb 2019 20:54:14 +0000 0
Review of Michael Beschloss’s “Presidents of War”

Michael Beschloss has written a highly readable, but deeply flawed account of our nation’s war-making presidents. The book follows the traditional, Euro-centric narrative of American history, emphasizing the noble motives of our 19th century Presidents and ignoring the major impact of African slavery and territorial expansion on our nation’s history. Becshloss may have written a bestseller, but he has missed an opportunity to educate readers about the importance of racism in forming our nation’s early foreign and domestic policies.

An expert in the post-World War II era, Beschloss has written six books, including the riveting, May Day: Eisenhower and the U-2 Affair (1986).  During this period of American struggle against communism, good and evil was clearly defined; so perhaps he can be excused from trying to tackle the complex and contentious issue of how African slavery shaped our American republic.

In his preface, Beschloss states his book is about the eight presidents who took America to war and their “motivations…their struggles with Congress…and efforts they made to search for lessons from the American past.”  But by turning a blind eye to racism of our early leaders (six of our first seven presidents were slaveholders), he has failed to break any new ground. Instead he succeeds in merely repackaging the now discredited vision of the unselfish, aristocratic Southern president, acting without self-interest to defend a young, freedom-loving democracy.  

Sven Beckert, Harvard history professor, has written that “a new consensus is emerging, one that treats slavery as the interstate highway system of the American past.” Between 1800 and 1860, the number of slaves in the United States jumped from 400,000 to 4 million.  In Presidents of War, however, the reality of the slaveholding republic is basically ignored. It is treated like a small blemish in the corner of a magnificent portrait.   

Presidents of War begins with James Madison, whom the author portrays as a “man of straw’ easily manipulated by his predecessor, Thomas Jefferson.  Madison, a short, thin man weighing barely 100 lbs. compensates for his diminutive appearance by wearing expensive clothes and riding around the capital in a luxurious carriage. A “hypochondriac” who was frequently ill, he is easily out-maneuvered by the wily, British diplomats and stumbles into the disastrous War of 1812. 

Beschloss skips over the next war president, Andrew Jackson and instead highlights the cunning James Polk. A veteran Tennessee congressman, Polk owned a large plantation in Mississippi and bought and actively sold slaves while in the White House. This crime is overlooked in favor of depicting Polk as a “charmless wheeler-dealer” who skillfully bypassed Congress to start a war with Mexico. 

Beschloss omits any discussion of the implications of the vast expansion of slaveholding territory that resulted from the war. The first stirrings of the abolitionist movement and the introduction of the Wilmot Proviso are relegated to a short paragraph. 

The author avoids any discussion of the presidency of Andrew Jackson. This is a major omission in any book that claims to deal with the war presidents.  Jackson, of course, was the most famous general of his era and a popular president who presided over a major expansion of executive power. He also waged a series of wars against the Southeastern Indian tribes, which resulted in the death or forced removal of some 50,000 Native Americans. Their removal freed up fast new lands for a rapid expansion of slavery. 

Instead, Beschloss jumps from 1848 to April 1861. In chronicling the outbreak of the Civil War, he begins with a scene of the newly elected Abraham Lincoln struggling with how to respond to the siege of Fort Sumter. He shows the anguished Lincoln dealing with his cabinet of outspoken, veteran politicians. He leaves out any discussion of the historic events preceding the siege at Charleston. The book avoids any mention of Frederic Douglass, the abolition movement, the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the formation of the Confederacy. 



The impact of slavery on American national identity is finally addressed in Chapter 7 with a discussion of the Emancipation Proclamation. This decision, which impacted four million enslaved African Americans, is treated as a simple political decision by a president concerned about re-election.  Knowing the proclamation would be controversial, Lincoln decides he can only make it official only after a major victory by the Union Army.

In the second half of the book, which deals with the Spanish-American War of 1898 and the wars of the 20th century, Beschloss is on more familiar ground. He uses his considerable narrative skills to craft a compelling story about modern American presidents struggling to steer American foreign policy in a tumultuous world. By 1900 America has emerged as one of the most powerful nations on earth at a time when technological advances in killing (e.g. machine guns, artillery, radio) made warfare deadlier and more unpredictable.   

Both Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt campaigned on the promise that they would keep American boys from fighting in foreign wars. Yet both wound up reversing themselves and leading the nation into costly world wars. 

Beschloss also shows how both presidents, when faced with powerful domestic opponents, used their executive powers to stifle dissent. Wilson imposed loyalty tests on federal employees and pressured Congress to impose draconian espionage and sedition laws. Roosevelt authorized domestic wiretaps and authorized the internment of 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, most of whom were American citizens. In one of the few passages in which he addresses the inherent racism undergirding many American government policies, Beschloss describes the casual discussions among FDR’s cabinet members about the Constitutionality of imprisoning “disloyal Japs.” 

The author’s exhaustive search of presidential archives hit pay dirt when he found recently declassified reports on the Vietnam War.  In a disturbing revelation, he reports that William Westmoreland, the top American commander, secretly initiated a plan to move tactical nuclear weapons into Vietnam in early 1968. The secret program, code-named Fracture Jaw, would have positioned atomic bombs on ships ready to use by local commanders in the defense of Khe Sanh, a major American base. Walt Rostow, LBJ’s national security advisor, learned of the plan and warned the president, who immediately cancelled it and rebuked Westmoreland.  

In his conclusion, Beschloss states “those who wrote the Constitution could not foresee the invention of nuclear weapons.” He adds they would have been “thunderstruck” to learn that the ability to destroy human civilization now rests “on the whim of a President.”

This is interesting speculation, but is it the most important lesson to draw from 250 years of presidential history?

No nuclear war, thank God, has taken place.  Yet our nation continues to suffer from the impact of a century of African slavery and discredited white racist thinking.  By failing to address this aspect of our nation’s history, Beschloss has written a commercially successful, but one-dimensional view of the American presidency.

Fri, 22 Feb 2019 20:54:14 +0000 0
Review of David Rapp's "Tinker to Evers to Chance: The Chicago Cubs and the Dawn of Modern America" Now that the World Series is over, baseball historians are already at work trying to determine where the 2018 Boston Red Sox, winners of 108 regular season games and 119 altogether, rank among the best teams of all time.  The most recent entry:  the 1998 New York Yankees, winners of 114 regular season games, who then went 11-2 in the postseason.  And, of course, there are the 1927 Yankees, Murderers’ Row, featuring Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, who won 110 games (out of 154), then swept the Pittsburgh Pirates.  

Veteran Boston Globe sportswriter Bob Ryan thinks the 2018 Red Sox may not even be the best Red Sox team ever:  he nominates the 1912 edition, which featured Hall of Fame centerfielder Tris Speaker, who hit .383., and pitcher Smoky Joe Wood, who went 34-5 with a 1.91 ERA and pitched 35 complete games.  That team won 105 games and lost only 47 in the regular season, then defeated John McGraw’s New York Giants in eight games (Game 2 ended in a tie).

As long as we’re going back that far, however, let’s move to the heartland and consider the Chicago Cubs of the 20thcentury’s first decade: who won 116 games in 1906 (and then, oops, lost the World Series to the cross-town White Sox, the “Hitless Wonders”), and took the Championship in 1907 and 1908.

Political journalist and publisher David Rapp may have been based in Washington, DC, for 30 years, but he seems to have left his heart in Chicago:  his knowledge of Second City baseball and the city itself is deep and intensive.  By 1905, he notes, the city’s population exceeded two million, with “an urban culture that was intoxicating and vicious, aspirational and vainglorious, all-embracing and insular.”  And at the same time baseball was truly becoming the “national pastime, a product of colliding and merging local cultures represented, in Chicago, by the most famous members of the team, shortstop Joe Tinker, second baseman Johnny Evers, and first baseman Frank Chance, the ‘Peerless Leader.’” The book’s first chapters sketch their varied backgrounds:  Evers learning “the Irish Game” in Troy, New York; Tinker coming out of a hardscrabble background in Kansas City; and Chance emerging from Fresno, California.  Chicago newspapers ramped up their sports coverage and amped up their civic boosterism, creating a sense of community that celebrated the team as the representative and epitome of the city.  

The infield threesome hardly did it alone, and their relationships with one another were fraught (Tinker and Evers barely spoke for years).  They were surrounded by highly competent teammates, including Harry Steinfeldt (who became the answer to a famous trivia question).  But only pitcher Mordecai “Three-finger” Brown, who won 29 games in 1908, made it to Hall of Fame with them.  

Skeptics have insisted that they were “immortalized” primarily by Franklin P. Adams, a newspaper columnist in New York City (oh, the irony), whose poem “That Double Play Again” famously lamented how the Cubs’ infielders put the Giants out of the 1910 pennant race:  “These are the saddest of possible words: / ‘Tinker to Evers to Chance.’ / Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds, / Tinker and Evers and Chance. / Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble, / Making a Giant hit into a double-- / Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble: /  ‘Tinker to Evers to Chance.’”  They don’t write ‘em like that anymore.

Whether the trio of bear cubs belong in the Hall of Fame has long been hotly debated, but the skeptics may be right.  Tinker was a lifetime .262 hitter; Evers was not much better, at .270.  Chance at least batted .296, and the “Peerless Leader” also managed the team (in his eight years with the Cubs, the team went 768-389, won four pennants and two World Series).  A look at reveals that their stats by today’s metrics, such as OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage), aren’t any more remarkable than their traditional measures.

Although Rapp obviously finished his book long before the 2018 season ended, he could have used some recent trends to highlight the differences between those days and these days. Again consulting The longest game of the 1908 World Cubs-Tigers World Series lasted two hours and ten minutes; the shortest game of the 2018 World Series ran exactly three hours.  (And we won’t even mention the more than seven hours that went into the 18-inning third game.)  This fall the victorious Red Sox used a total of 10 pitchers in the five-game Series; the Dodgers, 12.  Needless to say, none of them pitched a complete game.  In 1908 the Cubs’ four pitchers had three complete games, including two by the wonderfully-named Orval Overall.  The Tigers used only five. The Red Sox hit eight home runs; the Cubs only one.  The 1908 Cubs hit .293 as a team, garnering 48 hits and striking out only 26 times.  The victorious 2018 Red Sox hit only .222, got 42 hits, and struck out 53 times.  (In this connection, it’s worth noting that the 2018 season was the first ever in which, across the Major Leagues, there were more strikeouts than hits.)  If novelist L. P. Hartley had been a sportswriter, he might have said, “The past is a foreign ballpark.  They play things differently there.”

Rapp doesn’t stress the contrasts between baseball then and now, nor does he settle the Hall of Fame debate.  (Nobody, not even Bill James, will do that.)  But he does something just as good:  by bringing the turn-of-the-century national game and the nation’s urban heartland to life, he tells an engrossing story that will hold the interest of baseball historians and even the most casual baseball fan.

Fri, 22 Feb 2019 20:54:14 +0000 0
Review of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Leadership: In Turbulent Times” There was, once upon a time, an extremely popular genre of American biographical literature, going back at least to Parson Weems’s hagiography of George Washington, written with the explicit purpose of inspiring young boys (and only boys) to emulate the example of great leaders and accomplish great things. That genre is now regarded with amused condescension if not contempt and state US history curriculum standards, often echoing the ideology of Howard Zinn, identify few if any praiseworthy individuals in our history—in or out of the presidency. 

Doris Kearns Goodwin is far too nuanced a historian to be taken in by either of these extremes. The four presidents explored in Leadership: In Turbulent Times have already been the subjects of Goodwin’s lengthy and extensively documented biographies: Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream(1976), No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: the Home Front in World War II(1994—which won the Pulitzer Prize), Team of Rivals: the Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln(2005) and The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism (2013). Clearly Goodwin’s latest work is different. One prominent historian expressed concern about Goodwin’s use of italicized “self-help bromides,” “bullet-point banalities” and “conference-room poster slogans” typical of the “leadership studies” curriculum in schools of business and public administration—in contrast to the rich narrative histories typical of her earlier, widely-acclaimed biographical work. (There is a 3-page bibliography on “Business Books on Leadership Skills” included after the 13-page historical bibliography.) Likewise, sundry responses on Internet opinion sites have also expressed reservations because Goodwin never explicitly mentions the current political situation and the Trump presidency. 

This reviewer has known Goodwin since the early 1980s when she was researching The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys: An American Saga (1987) at the JFK Library in Boston (where I was Historian from 1977 to 2000). She often made herself available to speak to visiting groups about her research and particularly enjoyed dramatically recounting bringing to light previously unknown archival evidence that required completely rethinking a particular event. I was, at that time, listening to the White House missile crisis tape recordings and discovering that Robert Kennedy’s book, 13 Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis, published posthumously in 1969, was an extremely misleading and inaccurate account of those historic meetings. One morning, as Goodwin was about to speak to an Elder hostel group, I chatted with her, in confidence, about my finding; she was fascinated, as a historian naturally would be, and urged me to follow the evidence wherever it led. 

This personal experience, as well as my own historical instinct, suggest that she chose this time to write a very different type of book—one which steers clear of an explicit critique of the Trump presidency; instead, she opted to analyze several didactic and compelling historical episodes that contrast vividly in both style and substance with Trump’s leadership and which, by comparison, reveal the threat to democratic norms posed by his presidency. 

Admittedly, there is not a great deal that is new or original in Leadership; the great majority of the historical material is available in countless other secondary works. However, Goodwin’s goal this time is to extract and identify the common chords of leadership that unite the four subjects of her previous work. In doing so, Goodwin, in fact, does not ignore Trump; he is referenced and exposed, though unnamed, by contrasting example on virtually every page of her dissection of democratic leadership. 

I am convinced that she approached this book as a public historian and educator rather than as a scholar writing primarily for other scholars and even the more discerning history-reading public. In that spirit, she cites Theodore Roosevelt’s conviction that democracy can succeed only when there is “the fellow feeling, mutual respect, the sense of common duties and common interests, which arise when men take the trouble to understand one another, and to associate for a common purpose.” Likewise, Goodwin emphasizes Lincoln’s “emotional intelligence, his empathy, humility, consistency, self-awareness, self-discipline, and generosity of spirit" as well as his "sensitivity, patience, prudence...tenderness and kindness."“Is leadership possible,” she asks, “without a purpose larger than personal ambition…[and] guided by a sense of moral purpose”?”Lincoln’s leadership, especially “his patient resolve and freedom from vindictiveness,” she insists, is pertinent today, allowing us “to gain a better perspective on the discord of our times.” Goodwin’s historical judgment is all but inescapable despite her decision to only indirectly confront the divisive politics of the Trump era: in temperament and democratic vision and values, Trump is the anti-Lincoln. 

The book follows a simple formula; it is divided into four sections with chapters on each of the four presidents: the first examines each individual from childhood through entry into public life; the second deals with the personal early-to-mid adult crises that each man had to face and overcome; the third section, the substantive core of the book, analyzes their successful mastery of democratic political leadership in the White House: for Lincoln, the subject is his careful preparation and judicious implementation of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862; for TR, the topic is his politically and constitutionally unprecedented intervention in the economy to resolve the 1902 coal strike; for FDR, the emphasis is on his bold but pragmatic response to the ravages of the Great Depression during the first hundred days in 1933; for LBJ, the focus is on the traumatic transition of power after the JFK assassination in November 1963 and later on his brilliant guidance of the 1964 Civil Rights bill through Congress. (The fourth section, on the legacy of these four leaders, is rather cursory—except for the moving personal memories of her experience in Texas helping the former president to write his memoirs.)

But there is likely a more subtle formula also at work in this book. Goodwin may be evoking the so-called “improvement” (or “improving”) literature of the 19th century; in fact, Leadership unashamedly aims to inspire, not unlike the hagiographic biographies mentioned above, by examining specific lessons on how these four men exemplified the character and values suited to governing effectively in a democracy. In our nation’s current situation, this book may be far more necessary and valuable for its potential use in our schools and colleges than just one more scholarly presidential study. “It is my hope,” Goodwin asserts, “that these stories of leadership in times of fracture and fear will prove instructive,” especially, from the perspective of this reviewer, for teaching young Americans about the tumultuous story of our democracy and, by counterpoint, exposing the dangers we face today. 

In 1990, I initiated the American History Project for High School Students at the JFK Library. The program consisted of three in-the-school classroom discussions of the study of history and historical methodology and culminated in a two-hour session at the JFK Library in which the students and teachers analyzed a set of documents about the June 1963 confrontation between the Kennedy administration and Governor George Wallace over the desegregation of the University of Alabama. If Leadership had been available at that time, it would have provided an invaluable addition to the core educational purpose of the project. Of course, before Trump, it is very unlikely that Goodwin would have even considered writing what can be viewed as a 21st century version of a 19th century “improvement” book. 

Goodwin’s use of the subheads selected below, especially those in italics, would indeed have been out of place in her earlier narrative biographies. But this is clearly “no ordinary time,” and Goodwin, in the judgment of this reviewer, has chosen to write an out of the ordinary book:

Abraham Lincoln in 1862: Transformational Leadership

*Acknowledge when failed policies demand a change in direction

*Exhaust all possibility of compromise before imposing unilateral executive power.

*Assume full responsibility for a pivotal decision

*Refuse to let past resentments fester

*Set a standard of mutual respect and dignity; control anger

*Keep your word

Theodore Roosevelt in 1902: Crisis Management

*Secure a reliable understanding of the facts, causes, and conditions of the situation

*Use history to provide perspective

*Be visible. Cultivate public support among those most directly affected

*Keep temper in check

*Share credit for the successful resolution

Franklin Roosevelt in 1933: Turnaround Leadership

*Restore confidence to the spirit and morale of the people

*Infuse a sense of shared purpose and direction

*Tell people what they can expect and what is expected of them

*Lead by example

*Tell the story simply, directly to the people

Lyndon Johnson in 1963-64: Visionary Leadership

*Honor commitments

*Master the power of narrative

*Know for what and when to risk it all

*Identify the key to success. 

*Put ego aside.

*Set forth a compelling picture of the future

Our democracy is currently in uncharted political and constitutional waters. Leadership’s didactic topics and subheads could, in what is admittedly a best-case scenario, provide imaginative teachers with a classroom source capable of awakening and nurturing an interest in history in their students. That transformation will require, as Goodwin has done, exposing the chasm between the democratic political leadership of Lincoln, TR, FDR, and LBJ and that of the current President of the United States—with or without mentioning his name.

Fri, 22 Feb 2019 20:54:14 +0000 0
Review of “Impeachment: An American History” by Jeffrey Engel, Jon Meacham, Timothy Naftali, and Peter Baker In hindsight, the impeachment of Andrew Johnson appears to have been overly political. He was charged with violating the Tenure of Office Act, a hastily conceived federal law that may have been unconstitutional. Johnson’s opponents also accused him of bringing “into disgrace, ridicule, hatred, contempt, and reproach, the Congress of the United States.” Surely that last accusation was far too trivial to result in a president’s removal from office. 

Senator Charles Sumner, who judged Johnson guilty on all counts, believed there was much more at stake than just party politics, however. He described the impeachment of Andrew Johnson as “one of the last great battles with slavery.” The President, according to Sumner, represented the former slave owners, who had overseen “one of the most hateful tyrannies of history.” Speaking to his countrymen, Sumner warned, “The safety of the Republic requires action at once. The lives of innocent men must be rescued from sacrifice.”

Many Americans today, like Charles Sumner 150 years ago, think the safety of the Republic requires action at once. According to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, 49% of Americans said Congress should begin impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump compared with only 46% who said Congress should not begin proceedings. With the quite real possibility of Trump being impeached in the not-so-distant future, it’s instructive to consider the history of impeachment in this country. As Jeffrey Engel notes, in the new book Impeachment: An American History, “the time is ripe to renew our understanding of the thing that binds even divided Americans most – our shared past.” 

Engel has collaborated with Jon Meacham, Timothy Naftali, and Peter Baker to craft a well-written and important book on impeachment. Consisting primarily of four essays, there are chapters devoted to the impeachment cases of Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton, as well as an especially insightful chapter titled, “The Constitution,” written by Engel. We learn that the founders believed impeachment was an essential safeguard in the new democracy in the late 18th century. On impeachment’s necessity, James Madison wrote, “In the case of the Executive Magistracy which was to be administered by a single man, loss of capacity or corruption was more within the compass of probable events, and either of them might be fatal to the Republic.”

This book rarely mentions Trump, but his possible impeachment lurks in each of the chapters. If Trump is eventually found to have committed “high crimes and misdemeanors,” then he can be removed from office, under Article II, section 4 of the Constitution. History shows that bringing an impeachment case against a sitting president will be extremely difficult and disruptive, however. Richard Nixon was the only president to be removed by the impeachment process, and he resigned before formal charges were voted on by the full House of Representatives.

Impeachment has been so rare in our history that it’s unwise to generalize too much about it — the sample size is just too small. Both Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton violated specific laws, though it’s debatable whether or not they should have been removed from office. The case of Richard Nixon was far more clear-cut. Most historians agree that he was guilty of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” regardless of how that somewhat ambiguous charge is defined. Toward the end of his presidency, Nixon’s colleagues were concerned about his mental health. In The Final Days, by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, we see the President walking the halls of the White House late at night “talking to pictures of former Presidents — giving speeches and talking to the pictures on the wall.” In Nixon’s case, the right outcome was achieved. The United States Constitution prevailed in the end. 

Jon Meacham does a fine job discussing the fascinating and highly complex case against Andrew Johnson. Radical Republicans were desperately looking for a reason to get rid of Johnson, who they found to be detestable and dangerous to Congressional Reconstruction. Meacham wisely asks, “Should Congress — could Congress — remove a president for political and temperamental reasons, or was impeachment to be reserved for unambiguous violations of established law?” Here is one of the first big lessons from the book. Meacham believes that a clear violation of the law must occur before a president can be removed from office. Presenting the arguments of the man who cast the decisive ballot in favor of acquitting Johnson, Meacham writes, “For better or worse, the framers intended America’s to be a popular, not a legislative government. The voters acting through the electoral process, not lawmakers in parliamentary setting, were to determine the occupant of the presidency.” This assumes, of course, a possibly delinquent president would allow the voters to make such a determination. In the case of Andrew Johnson, Charles Sumner had his doubts. 

Timothy Naftali’s essay on Nixon reads like a page-turner, even though we know how it all turned out. The evidence against Nixon was overwhelming. And his countless lies and attempts to obstruct justice were astonishing. Nixon’s resignation was never a sure thing, however. Naftali writes, “Law enforcement and the judiciary had evidence of Nixon’s criminal behavior eight months before he left office, and yet there was no predictable way to ensure his removal.” This is another important lesson from the book. Modern presidents have tremendous power and can use it to stymie investigations. 

A rare moment of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill during the summer of 1974 ultimately led to Nixon’s resignation. As Nixon’s approval ratings plummeted, several Republicans withdrew their support for the President. “For four weeks in 1974,” Naftali reminds us, “a handful of elected representatives found that something greater than partisanship could guide them when the fate of the country hung in the balance.” One can’t help wondering if contemporary politicians are still capable of coming together in a moment of crisis. The authors imply that the American people and their elected representatives will eventually do the right thing if the evidence of Trump’s wrongdoing is compelling enough. I don’t share their optimism. Perhaps that’s my only criticism of this excellent book — its overall outlook represents the triumph of hope over (recent) experience. 

Two months after Andrew Johnson had been acquitted by just one vote in the Senate, Thaddeus Stevens considered introducing additional charges against the President. Stevens, who shouted after the Johnson verdict, “the country is going to the devil,” couldn’t rest until justice was achieved. Yet, Stevens knew it was a quixotic effort, declaring, “I have come to the fixed conclusion that neither in Europe nor America will the Chief Executive of a nation be again removed by peaceful means.” Stevens, who was dying, nonetheless felt it was necessary to restate the case against tyranny. Pleading that “we must remember not to place our trust in princes,” he warned his fellow Americans that even the richest heart “may be the abode of malignity, avarice, corroding lust, and uncontrollable ambition.” Stevens decided against bringing new charges, in the end. He died several weeks later. In 1875, Andrew Johnson would return in triumph to the institution that almost convicted him, as a United States Senator from Tennessee. 

Fri, 22 Feb 2019 20:54:14 +0000 0
Review of Francis Fukuyama’s “Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment” Francis Fukuyama is not one to shy away from large concepts. He achieved worldwide attention in 1993 for his book, The End of History and the Last Man. He argued that with the collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War, we had reached the final stage of global ideological evolution and that western liberal democracy was on the verge of a permanent triumph throughout the world (i.e., the end of “history”). 

Fukuyama then followed up with more ambitious works including, The Great Disruption: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order (1999) and Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution (2002). The author, a Harvard PhD. holder, briefly advised the Reagan Administration in the 1980s, but now serves as a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. In 2008, he supported the election of Barack Obama and, as demonstrated in his current book, been consistently opposed to populism and immigrant bashing. 

His latest work tackles another big idea, human identity, and contains a serious warning about the rise of nationalism and racism around the world, particularly in the United States and Europe. 

While other authors examining the rise of populism might cite economic statistics and voting trends to make their case, Fukuyama instead quotes widely from Socrates, Plato, Hegel, Marcuse and Nietzsche. 

Fukuyama sees citizen identification with their own nation state as an important part of liberal democracy. In contrast to most progressive leaders, he does not view multiculturalism and the celebration of different ethnicities and sexual orientation as a step forward to more personal freedom. Instead, he sees these new demands for individual identity as destabilizing to modern nation states. 

Fukuyama states that “demand for recognition of one’s identity is a master concept that unifies much of what is going on in world politics today.” 

This demand for recognition of individual identity, whether based on race, religion or gender, has been accelerated by the explosion in international trade and travel and the rise of the Internet and social media. The latter communication tools have “facilitated the emergence of self-contained communities, walled off not by physical barriers but by belief in shared identity.”

Fukuyama argues that the left has made a serious mistake in abandoning its traditional concerns with demanding economic equality and worker protections in favor of promoting “a wide variety of groups perceived as being marginalized…blacks, immigrants, women, the LGBT community.” In response, the right in many countries redefined itself as “patriots who seek to protect traditional national identity.”

One result is the rise of conservative governments that seek to socially ostracize or even physically expel minority populations. 

What actions can liberal democracies take to protect minorities while strengthening their traditional freedoms? 

Fukuyama proposes the development of “creedal national identities.” In this scenario, individuals would strongly identify with the “core values” in their country rather than on “shared personal characteristics.” 

Fukuyama believes that the United States is ahead of many countries by requiring citizenship tests that include a basic knowledge of English, an understanding of the nation’s history and democratic principles. Many European countries do not impose similar requirements for citizenship. Instead, the European Union has encouraged “multiculturalism” and “downplayed the importance of integrating immigrants” into a specific “national culture” that emphasizes that country’s history and democratic values.

Thymos and recognition

To help readers understand the drive for identity in Western Civilization, Fukuyama coins two new terms, both based on the Greek word thymos, which he explains as “the part of the soul that craves recognition or dignity.” 

His first term isothymia, he defines as “the demand to be respected on an equal basis with other people.”

His second new word, megalothymia, is “the desire to be recognized as superior.” 

The tension between these two drives is present in all liberal democracies, which seek to deliver equal respect to all individuals. In practice, many groups, particularly religious or ethnic minorities, can feel marginalized or denigrated by the ruling majority.

Megalothymia becomes a major problem when an aggressive majority group takes power and seeks to socially ostracize or even exterminate a minority group. Nazi Germany is the ultimate expression of this trend in the 20th century. 

Fukuyama follows up his examination of identity politics with a series of recommendations. The title of his last chapter, “What Is to be Done?” is an ironic reference (he is no Marxist) to Lenin’s famous 1902 political pamphlet. 

In the United States, progressives should “adopt an assimilationist agenda.” This would include “strengthening external borders” while providing a clear path to citizenship for the 12 million undocumented men and women now in the country. He also wants public education to phase-out bilingual education and focus on teaching all students English language skills. He cites the “thirteen different languages taught in the New York City schools” as a divisive factor, weakening a national identity and fostering segregated communities.

Fukuyama also proposes universal national service for all young people, as a “powerful way of integrating newcomers into the national culture.”

He chastises the Democratic Party and progressives in general for “undermining the legitimacy of the American national story” by suggesting that racism and gender discrimination are “intrinsic to the country’s DNA.” 

This has allowed the Republican Party and other conservative ideologues to redefine themselves as “patriots who seek to protect national identify.”

He advises progressives to return to the traditional working-class issues of economic redistribution and improved government services (e.g. education, child care). 

Is Fukuyama right? Should progressives try and recapture white, working class voters by downplaying minority rights and espousing a national creedal identity?

While universal national service is not likely to show up on any Democratic candidate agendas, many do seem to be emphasizing economic issues like a higher minimum wage and “Medicare for all.”

Whether you agree with his solutions or not, Fukuyama’s analysis is insightful and provides plenty of food for thought. It is a welcome antidote to the many pessimistic, hand-wringing books now appearing about the rise of Trump. 

Fri, 22 Feb 2019 20:54:14 +0000 0
Review of Manuel Pastor‘s “State of Resistance: What California’s Dizzying Descent and Remarkable Resurgence Mean for America’s Future” On Wednesday morning, November 9, 1994, Governor Pete Wilson stood before a jostling crowd of TV cameras in a downtown Los Angeles hotel. Smiling and buoyant after his surprisingly large re-election victory the night before, he held up an executive order he had just signed. The directive implemented the first stages of newly passed Proposition 187: it cut off prenatal care and nursing home services to undocumented immigrants. 

Wilson’s campaign had made the punitive ballot measure with its race-baiting message a core element of his campaign. Called the “Save Our State” initiative, it prohibited undocumented immigrants (often referred to as “illegal aliens” by advocates) from a range of social services including health care and public education.

Proposition 187 had won in a landslide; its angry, anti-immigrant message resonated with a predominately white electorate. The measure’s popularity propelled Republicans into four out of five statewide offices. Wilson beat Democrat Kathleen Brown by 15 percentage points. The Republicans also gained a 50-50 split in the state assembly and won half of the state’s Congressional seats (contributing to the new majority that elected Newt Gingrich speaker).

Conservatives in other states quickly took note. Within a decade, half-a-dozen other states had passed anti-immigrant laws. California, which had given the nation surfing, the free-speech movement, and psychedelic rock, had launched yet another trend. 

According to Manuel Pastor in his new book State of Resistance: What California’s Dizzying Descent and Remarkable Resurgence Mean for America’s Future, the proposition’s anti-immigrant message was a turning point for the nation. The image of Latino immigrants “flooding” across the border and threatening white, working class workers had been injected into the national political conversation. It led ultimately to the 2016 campaign of Donald Trump and his refrain of “we’ll build a wall and make Mexico pay for it.”

The passage of Proposition 187 in 1994 was the result of a two-decade surge in immigration to California. Between 1970 and 1990, the share of the foreign born in California jumped from just nine percent to nearly 22 percent.

As Pastor notes, “In essence, the rest of the country was shielded from the demographic wave as California absorbed the bulk of the flows” of new immigrants from Latin America. 

Contributing to the anti-immigrant attitude was the continuing stagnation of the state’s economy, leading to charges (basically false) that immigrants were coming to take advantage of the state’s relatively generous welfare benefits.

The final “shock” to white voters came with the massive riots and looting in parts of Los Angeles in 1992, following the acquittal of four police officers in the beating of black motorist Rodney king. Many older white TV viewers cringed at the images of blacks and Latinos running out of discount stores with televisions and cameras in their hands while police were nowhere to be seen.

The November 1994 victory for Wilson and Proposition 187 proved to be a highwater mark for Republicans in the state. In 1998, federal courts declared Proposition 187 unconstitutional. In the backlash to the measure, Latino activists staged massive rallies around the state and launched voter education drives. Between 1992 and 2000, more than one million Latinos registered to vote. 

Minority majority

By 2000, California became the first mainland U.S. state to have a non-white majority. The 2010 census recorded the state’s population as 38 percent Hispanic, 40 percent white, non-Hispanic, 13 percent Asian and 6.2 percent black. 

Politically, California was now a solidly “blue” state by 2016, with Democrats holding all statewide offices, a commanding majority in the legislature and 39 of the state’s 53 congressional seats. 

Pastor, a professor of sociology at the University of Southern California, also serves as the co-director of the school’s Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration. He has co-authored several previous books includingEquity, Growth and Community: What the Nation Can Learn from America’s Metro Areas.

The USC professor warns that while liberals see California’s current high-tax, immigrant friendly policies as a model for the nation, conservatives see the state as a “cautionary tale, what can happen when you have too much diversity … too many [liberal] voters.” 

The USC professor advises that while other parts of the country “may hate to hear it, the demographic, economic and social trends (e.g. more immigrants) reveal a simple truth: California is America fast-forward.” 

Pastor notes California’s eight-year economic surge and suggests that progressives across American learn from the state’s example of encouraging racial diversity and income redistribution. Despite a high minimum wage ($10 now, rising to $15 in 2022) and steep taxes on high income earners, the state continues to spawn new companies and attracts skilled workers from around the world who form a growing “creative class.” This new California model provides an example that other states can emulate and offers “a sign of hope that the current national craziness will end.” 

While he cites an impressive number of California election returns, unemployment statistics and demographic shifts to make his case, Pastor stumbles when it comes to offering specific solutions. Like many university professors, he is skilled at researching and analyzing trends, but less able to formulate practical solutions that are easily understood by the general population and adoptable outside the hothouse environment of university campuses. 

For example, Pastor advises progressives that they must “untangle the rules that bind” and build “intersectional movements that are less susceptible to infighting.” Exactly how these obscure objectives are to be carried out is never clearly defined. 

Nevertheless, Pastor’s book is insightful and a valuable contribution to Democrats and progressives who are struggling to come to terms with the election of Donald Trump. By focusing on how progressives lost power, then regained it in California, he offers a positive object lesson. While other recent books on the Trump phenomenon have indulged in handwringing about the flaws of the Clinton campaign and the “loss” of the Midwest, Pastor presents a more optimistic tale and offers paths to move forward. 

Fri, 22 Feb 2019 20:54:14 +0000 0
Review of Mary Sarah Bilder’s “Madison’s Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention” This book is an extremely detailed description of James Madison’s composition of his notes on the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, written largely during the period during and shortly after the Convention (1787-1789) and his minor, but extensive, revisions of the text over the next fifty years. 

The author goes into excruciating detail about the technical aspects of the writing of this record of the U.S. Constitutional Convention, including the size and shape of the paper used; whether it was lined; its folds and margins; watermarks revealing the manufacturer of the paper (newly revealed by the “latest in digital research technologies”) and Madison’s style of revisions: whether made on added slips of paper; written in the margins; or above crossed-out previous writing.

From this minutiae of technical expertise, the author concludes that Madison’s notes on the Constitutional Convention are not the authoritative record of the debates over America’s Founding document, but a personal “diary,” unreliable and misunderstood by future generations of scholars who regard it as “iconic” while it is mostly “one man’s view,” written for private purposes, incomplete and biased, continually changed and manipulated for future political purposes, and strategies, from a minor character who appears “catty, aggravated, frustrated, annoyed and furious,” only later toned-down in subsequent revisions to the calm, deliberate, rational “Father” of the Constitution we know from history. Madison’s “shifting understandings” of the Constitution Convention events, shown in numerous minor revisions over 50 years due largely to later political controversies and strategies, causes him to increasingly confound later ideas with “the real ones.” But the author forgives Madison for this Machiavellian duplicity and intellectual dishonesty and she assures us that in the end Madison “forgave himself.”

Because the real lesson, ostensibly discovered by this book, is that all of Madison’s revisions of his constitutional record (which are largely minor, spelling, context and diplomatic) over the fifty years during and after the Convention reveal that it is all about “revision” – changing the foundational document of our republic, and its ideas of rights, democracy, federalism and, well, everything. Because Madison (and the other delegates) went into the Philadelphia Convention merely to revise the Articles of Confederation, the 1787 proceedings were not to produce “The” Constitution (permanent, stable based on perennial principals and philosophies), but merely one of perhaps many temporary, transient, expedient forms of governance, we need not take the final Constitution seriously (notwithstanding the anticipated revisions during the ratification debates, the adoption of the Bill of Rights, and the Amendment procedures).

In the author’s view, her painstaking study of the innumerable, albeit largely technical and minor, revisions to Madison’s Convention notes affirms the tentative nature of Madison’s authorship, influence and commitment to the U.S. Constitution.

This thesis comports will with the Revisionist “Living Constitution” view of American jurisprudence: where the text and meaning of our foundational document are “evolving” over time, properly altered with social progress and changing views of justice and rights; not fixed principles or permanent structures based on perennial philosophies: views of human nature and society that are consistent and permanent.

So, this author’s perspective is that the underlying philosophies of the U.S. Constitution in Locke’s Natural Rights ideology; Montesquieu’s separation of powers; Aristotle and Cicero’s views of man’s social nature and resultant democracy; the Reformed Christian suspicion of human nature and evil (all prevalent in the Founding period and known by the classically educated Founders), do not provide a stable, solid, permanent foundation for the Constitution and Republic, but we are all subordinate to the vagaries of contemporary political controversies, personalities and interests; relativistic and transitory. And so in this view such mutability of social and government should continue right up to our own time: the Bill of Rights protections of Freedom of Speech, press, religion and Due Process of Law may be modified by future generations, especially if some speech or religion may offend certain groups, or the rights of the accused and judicial procedure are perceived as unfair or irrelevant to certain classes of accusers or aggrieved. 

These are the implications of the author’s revision of the meaning of Madison’s revisions.

Unfortunately, this perspective seemingly relies on an almost total absence of knowledge of American history, historiography and American political thought. The author admits as such in the book’s introduction and provides copious notes referring to such scholarship to “enrich this book’s argument” but such insouciance is not a substitute for integrating this knowledge into the book’s implicit message. This may also explain why the author describes the purposes of this book in humble terms as (1) How did Madison write the Notes? and (2) How did he revise the Notes? leaving (3) How do these alter our understanding of the Constitution? to others. But, this is a bit disingenuous, given her repeated forays into the last question.

Professor Bilder teaches at Boston College Law School, where she specializes in Property, Trust and Estate Law (and apparently, since the publication of this book, is considered an expert on constitutional history and law).

However, this book’s presentation of early American politics and ideology remains at a very elemental level. For example, the author’s understanding of Founding political conflicts remains at a civics level of simplicity: Hamilton was for centralized government; Jefferson was for decentralized government; Madison began as a Hamiltonian Federalist but moved to become a Jefferson Republican.

Such an embarrassing over-simplification of Founding principles and politics may explain the author’s odd conclusions from Madison’s Notes revisions.

For example, it was Madison’s subtle understanding of federalism’s balancing of national and states’ authority that caused him to shift (largely to protect fundamental democratic principles) from Hamiltonian to Jeffersonian prospectives. When during the Revolutionary War the almost total absence of centralized sovereignty almost resulted in our defeat, (as well as localized violations of human “rights”) Madison argued for strong central power. When that very central power was used by President John Adams’s Federalists to threaten basic rights to free speech and press (through the Sedition Act), Madison appealed to States Rights (via the Virginia Resolutions) to protect fundamental constitutional rights. These ideological shifts seem a closed book to Professor Bilder, who ascribes such changes to Madison coming under the influence of first Hamilton and then Jefferson. His revisions to his Constitutional Convention notes apparently, then, represent such personal affinities and their attendant policy preferences. This trivializes both Madison’s independent and quite brilliant intellect, and the ideological depth of the Early American period.

This unfamiliarity with eighteenth century concepts seems to extend to certain words, such as the common reference to weak or ineffectual governments as “impotent.” The author makes the curious aside that “The implicit sexual connotations to a Convention of men may have been an irresistible ending.” Apparently, although the Founders were not conversant with John Locke, Aristotle or Montesquieu, they were thoroughly familiar with Foucault. 

Despite these serious problems, this book does have some valuable bits. Besides the exhaustive details of the minutiae of Madison’s revisionary Notes on the Constitutional Convention, Madison’s Hand brings out some interesting points. The mention of British cultural conceptions of “Constitution” and how it informs the written form is important and could be expanded.

Also, Madison’s substantive reasons in arguing for the “Three-Fifths Compromise,” other than political expediency is significant. If either of these theoretical nuances had been developed, it would have strengthened the book.

A few other weaknesses of the work are its rather technical (not to say dry) writing style; frequent repetition (e.g. that Madison revised the Notes for Jefferson); and a somewhat disjointed organizational structure, reflecting the fact that it came out of several law school conferences (as mentioned in the acknowledgements) rather than a unified whole desirable in a long book.

In spite of these embarrassing omissions and scholarly deficiencies, this volume is a valuable contribution as a purely documentary record of Madison’s construction of his Notes of the Constitutional Convention, and its revisions in all their minute detail. If the author had confined herself to this limited and highly specialized task and not presumed to infer political, legal and philosophical lessons from it, this would have been a better effort.

This book won the Bancroft Prize.

Fri, 22 Feb 2019 20:54:14 +0000 0
What Should We Make of Bob Woodward’s Book on Trump? Dear Reader: When some sturdy book like this is finally in my hands, my practice for some time has been, after glancing at the list price, to go to the Index. After rummaging around a bit, I seek out the Bibliographical List or Essay and check out the citations. Then, I read the initial sentence and paragraph, then the concluding several pages. 

I’m very likely at this point to read several of whatever passes for a “first review” by others on Google. It’s surprising what turns up. Strange things emerge here. How strange? Very. This time it was a superb essay by one Molly Bell entitled, “Donald Trump and the Politics of Fear,” in the Atlantic for September 2, 2016. My suggestion to alert and interested readers of my review is that at your earliest convenience Check out this first class item! You won’t be sorry.

The present book, Fear: Trump in the White House, is as all know, by a first class journalist, long associated with the Washington Post. He is also found adjacent to Carl Bernstein’s name in accounts of Nixon’s encounter with disaster and removal from D. C. 

The book before us devotes itself to the following subjects: Trump, naturally. Then, Immigration; John Kelly; Robert Mueller, Steve Bannon, and two Generals: James Mattis and H. R. McMaster. Also Reince Priebus, countries like North Korea and China. Hillary Clinton not so much, but Gary Cohn is much noted. I was a little surprised by the appearances of Lindsay Graham, but not the frequent mention of Jared Kushner.

I looked up James Comey and read about him a bit; I thought it a bit grudging. I looked up Omarosa and she wasn’t in the Index. Surprise. I studied the words under all the classy color photographs and was duly rewarded. (The rendering of that North Korean madman was a perfect portrayal.) Ivanka is certainly a pistol, at home in our and her environment.

To concentrate on the book as such: I would feel guilty if I did not follow the author’s lead in his very first sentence. It is by way of a tribute! We all get HELP of some kind with our big projects. It is essential and nothing to apologize for. Says Bob right off: “A heartfelt thanks to Evelyn M. Duffy….” She has aided him on five books. On this one, Bob found the challenge “the deep emotions and passions she brings out in supporters and critics.” 

What she did is of great interest: “Evelyn immediately grasped that the challenge was to get new information, authenticate it and put it in context while reporting as deeply as possible inside the White House.” She is clearly “an old hand” at backing up experienced authors.

At the outset, this book offers a single quote: It’s Trump saying, “Real power is—I don’t even want to use the word—fear.” The date is March 31, 2016.

Moving on, needless to say as this book goes from unpleasantness to crisis to uncertainty, to bad result, to misconduct, the reader (this one, anyway) is tempted to put it away. Curiosity wins out, however. Let’s get this straight: Here is a visible mole, invited in with “people of affairs,” who knows how to do it, is motivated to continue shaking the bone, is curious for himself as well as the unknown reader, and is usually orderly with his really important narrative.

Yes, this book is important, just as has been said in the marketplace all along. If I were President Trump I would see it as one more obstacle to reelection in 2020. I’m guessing that it could hurt his party (is that the right way to put it?) this Fall, but who knows? Its sale is enormous, as I write, more than 700,000 sold the first couple of days. 

I just can’t convey the subject matter of Fear in a review of limited length. Fear’s narrative is 357 pages. There are endnotes. I read them early on. The favorite words of attribution are “deep background interview.” Alternately, “deep background interviews with firsthand sources.” I can tell at once that this is a continent away from prose produced by lifelong research historians like me. There are precious few citations to the books of others. The point is: this book is about NOW, as much as the author can make it be. This senior citizen got something of a kick out of endnotes to “tweets”—of all things. Yet: what else is this pixy president going to have in his so-called archives, hopefully in place soon after 2020. 

I’m sorry, but I do want to criticize the use over and over and over of various grammatical versions of fuck. Maybe there’s no way out if famous people use it through every meal, etcetera. Other swear words are included as the text strives to be, well, verbatim. It didn’t improve my opinion of what I was reading—and it sure didn’t improve my opinion of various famous “leaders” of our nation. Usually, it marked loss of control and/or determination to downgrade something (too often something I happen to like), or to degrade somebody.

That there has been a whole lot of preliminary comment about Bob Woodward and his long forthcoming book is evident. I think it unnecessary to go on about his reputation as a chronicler of presidential misconduct, or an outsider finding himself on the inside. He is the writer of books on every recent president who made a key mistake or a stream of them.

Idly viewing TV, I noted “Rachel” would be interviewing this man for an hour tonight. Former Secretary of State John Kerry came on during my afternoon; the subject of the Fear volume arose, and he referred pleasantly to “Bob’s book.” As I left for dinner in my retirement home, I thought, “Oh. I’ll take my book down when eating. I’ll leave the cover on; wonder if any of those old folks will notice the book with its brilliant red cover—or its full rear jacket color picture of President Donald J. Trump. Conclusion: they did recognize it; several turned away; others limited themselves to: “Oh, you got it!”

Let’s get something straight: It was a pleasure to review the James Comey book; as I said, he seemed a good character example for youth and his book was a worthwhile read for youngsters who might be up to it. I think the bad language and consistently bad conduct highlighted in Fear disqualifying. Not a book for kids.

There just have to be some authentic quotations here from that President Trump—the man sleeping in our White House and using the Oval Office as totally His. Let’s start: Re the Press: “They’re kicking the crap out of me.” 356 “Hope Hicks and Kelly—overrule me every time I want to pull someone’s credentials.” 356 (I’ll avoid my quoting his remarks about his Attorney General. Sessions has been Trump’s nemesis from almost first to last.) 

Said an important aide: “We need to have a process to make sure that we do this in proper order, that we’ve thought through all these things.” To which our elected leader’s response was, “I don’t care about any of this stuff. I want it on my desk on Friday.” (The subject was whether or if to withdraw from NAFTA.) 156

Over and over Bob Woodward chooses (or has to choose) to quote the President of the United States in a manner that lowers him in one’s estimation still further. On page 56 banker Gary Cohn is speaking of interest rates going up in the foreseeable future. Says Trump: “I agree. We should just go borrow a lot of money right now, hold it, and then sell it and make money.” Says the book; “Cohn was astounded at Trump’s lack of basic understanding. A few more words. Then, Trump as learned economist: “Just run the presses—print money.”

When I was reviewing the Omarosa book Unhinged, I quoted the word “paranoia.” Here it turns up again. Rob Porter says, rather early, “Trump’s behavior was now in the paranoid territory.” 166 Reminder: This man has a lot to say and do about war and peace!

I just don’t have the heart to quote the President on his many casual observations that are so caustic about countries long friends of the United States. It’s bad enough that he defames our allies casually, almost at a “what’s the difference?” level. He got the idea in his head that our troops should be withdrawn from South Korea at once, for example. Corrective action had to be taken by responsible military leaders at once.

I don’t see any useful purpose being served by trying to summarize a lot of what’s in the book. Many subjects are being summarized, beginning every, say, three or four pages, in the media. I don’t see information being well served by my re-summarizing over and over. Those entranced with the Flynn matter, the Comey matter, the staggering turnover in high employees since the Inauguration, can read all about it. 

We have to face Trump’s weird tweeting to begin each day, or the oddity of his family members barging in as though not at all related to “the boss.” As I say, those entranced with all the sideshow of Trump in Action, should read much of the Woodward book—maybe at the library.

To me, Woodward has opened up the next stage beyond Rachel Maddow, and other hard-working TV news interpreters. He has done—in my scholarly view, at least—a solid and sound job of revealing things that need opening up yet again to daylight.

Clearly, we are all in a whale of a mess, aren’t we? Our incumbent didn’t have to be elected, did he? But he was. Now there seem to be alternatives: A. We somehow can educate him on facts and appropriate conduct. B. We can somehow get rid of a lot of highly placed officeholders close to him, and bring in qualified leadership for lots of jobs. And/Or C. We can figure out how to work the machinery designed long ago to eliminate any dangerous or incompetent President from office. 

Using one or more of these alternatives just might save us from ruining ourselves and other well-meaning, self-governing allied nations. 

It is now a time to be SERIOUS, stop equivocating, and evading, and postponing, and, yes, hoping for a miracle. At your reviewer’s advanced age (over 100), I feel like insisting, no, demanding, that the Congress and our electorate do their duty. The future needs a warrantee, a guarantee: Do What’s Right!

Fri, 22 Feb 2019 20:54:14 +0000 0
Review of “Thomas Jefferson and the Science of Republican Government: A Political Biography of Notes on the State of Virginia” by Dustin Gish and Daniel Klinghard I was very excited to obtain a copy of this book from a good friend for three reasons. First, he had told me that the authors offered a different, sober take on Jefferson’s Notes. Second, Jefferson’s Notes, when read from cover to cover, tells us much about the mind of the man and I am always intrigued to read scholarly literature on it. Last, like Gish and Klinghard, I too believe that the Notes is greatly misapprehended by most scholars.

The authors begin with what they dub the “Compilation View”—that there is no real structure to the book and that each query can be read independently of the others as if each were an entry in an encyclopedia. “It is held by most to be merely a compilation of disconnected, if erudite, reflections, observations, and eccentric details, which together convey an attentive mind or perhaps a spirit, but not a coherent thesis.” Jefferson himself, they add, is perhaps largely responsible for that reading. “At no point,” they say, “does Jefferson lay out a thesis or state explicitly some common purpose that would unite the whole.” They then point to his “Advertisement” at the beginning of the 1787 edition. Jefferson writes: “The subjects are all treated imperfectly; some scarcely touched on. To apologize for this by developing the circumstances of the time and place of their composition, would be to open wounds which have already bled enough.” They take the advertisement merely as another instance of Jefferson’s “mock modesty.” In short, the Compilation View misleads and seems tenable only when seeing the surface of the Notes. They promise to penetrate beyond the surface.

Gish and Klinghard assert that “a proper understanding of the composition and publication histories of the book is essential to grasping its contents and purpose.” On their reading, the Notes is a sort of political manifesto that Jefferson eagerly wished to get into the hands of “the men who were debating the Constitution of 1787.” That is, according to the authors, the only way to make sense of Jefferson’s urgency in wishing to see it get published and see it in the hands of political colleagues in the States.

Here I point out a composition fallacy. Certain parts of Jefferson’s Notesare largely and poignantly political and they are right to see Jefferson’s urgency vis-à-vis publication and distribution of the book as his desire to make some political contribution—“Jefferson had political ambitions for the book”—to the constitutional debate. However, does that make the book as a whole a political work? They assert, “We believe that the Notesshould be read as an effort to shape American constitutional thinking.” What large and poignant claims is Jefferson making in the naturalistic queries—viz., Queries I through VII—of the book? Some queries, like Jefferson’s refutation of Buffon in Query VI, may be politically motivated, but there are degrees of political motivation, and I suspect that his refutation of Buffon was at least equally the criticism that one scientist, genuinely interested in truth, affords another.

In defending their thesis, Gish and Klinghard, it must be said, have thoroughly scoured the secondary literature on the Notes.

Yet some of the later literature, they note, pulls away from the Compilation thesis. Erik Erikson, for instance, says Jefferson gives readers “important biographical insights to an important statesman.” Alexander Boulton sees the book as “deeply concerned with the intractable dilemma of slavery.” Gish and Klinghard sum, “These scholars who have taken seriously the Notesas a coherent work helpfully point to its thematic unities and lead the way toward a fuller interpretation which we hope to further clarify [sic] by drawing attention to its unified literary structure.”

What precisely is that unified literary structure? There are important biographical insights and Jefferson does write in two queries on slavery, but how do those observations give the book unified literary structure? Yet the authors say earlier, “The book need not have a literary structure to be about something, or to convey an important message.” The disjunctive claim is either simplistically and uninterestingly true—Sterne’s Tristram Shandy offers a shining illustration, as there is no literary structure and there are many important messages in it, mostly of a moral sort, but it is about something, here someone, Tristram Shandy—or it is contradictory—that is, the authors are stating that the book need not have a literary structure to have a literary structure.

Following William Scheick, the authors argue that Jefferson offers throughout the book a vision of the “tension between order and chaos, or in Scheick’s words, “temperate liberty”—“a delicate balance between stringent order and unrestricted freedom.” That tack seems promising, but does it exist throughout the book? Is it evident in Jefferson’s list of medicinal, esculent, ornamental, and useful vegetables limned in Query VI? Query III, on sea-ports, consists of one sentence. “Having no ports but our rivers and creeks, this Query has been answered under the preceding one.” There is no tension there. Jefferson is merely answering succinctly a question. I could list many other illustrations, but I need not.

Gish and Klinghard insist that the book is “Jefferson’s most sustained effort to outline a coherent vision of republican constitutionalism.” That claim might be true, yet even if true, it is misleading. The book might contain an outline of a coherent vision of republicanism, but it is much more than that, as that vision is not threaded throughout the book.

That vision of republicanism, they continue, is “tied together with two interweaving literary motifs that run throughout the book, providing the reader with common points of reference and charting the incremental development of the book’s central political purpose.”

There is first a biblical parallel. Investigation of the natural, social, and political structure of Virginia is a format that “mimics the order and substantive concerns of the Pentateuch.” Here Jefferson is cleverly aiming “to supplant the authority of the Old Testament.” The God of nature replaces the God of revelation.

There is next “engagement with the natural historical methods of the Enlightenment” through the Bacon-inspired Encyclopédie. That Encyclopédie “suggested to Jefferson a means for ordering his Notes as well as an end far beyond the limited goals implied in Marbois’s questionnaire.” Here the authors are likely right, but how does that give the Notes thematic unity? That tends to support one version of the Compilation thesis—that the varied queries, like entrees in an encyclopedia, can be read independently of each other.

The authors admit a difficulty. The two motifs “appear contradictory or incongruous, but they note that “Jefferson reconciled sometimes conflicting elements and knit them together.” The reply to the difficulty is unavailing. The incongruousness of the two motifs argues largely against their thesis.

Yet in addition to religion and science, there is a third motif: “current political issues in American life.” Jefferson, they note, often referred to republican constitutionalism as an experiment. In doing so, political theory, like science, can be progressive, or retrogressive.

They sum, “Jefferson’s Notesthus offers readers a sustained and yet subtle critique of three distinct forms of authority: religious, scientific, and political.” Essentially a political work, it uses religion, science, and politics to advance its political thesis.

There are numerous—some prodigious—difficulties.

First, their notion that political theory is much like science treats politics as a discipline that is independent of science. Jefferson saw politics, and morality as sciences—something that could be put to the test of reason—not disciplines unscientific. Thus, Gish and Klinghard come to the Noteswith a modern apprehension of the differences between science and politics.

Moreover, that republican constitutionalism should be expressed as another, third motif is strange. In other places and as the title of the book implies, the book is essentiallyabout republican constitutionalism. If so, republican constitutionalism cannot merely be a motif that appears in parts of the book and disappears in other parts of it.

The thesis tantalizes, and that is just what is wrong with it. If it is true, then Jefferson was Nietzsche before Nietzsche came along. Jefferson’s Notes, then,must be read like Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, a book which unsubtly was crafted to replace the Bible. The only difference is that Jefferson’s Notesis subtle, not unsubtle. That is why so very many scholars have failed to see what Gish and Klinghard see.

Nonetheless, Jefferson did not write subtly—that is, to tantalize. His sentences and his writings were not cryptic messages with layers of meaning. He abhorred that sort of writing and he thought little of the Old Testament. One has only to revisit his account of the Old Testament in his Syllabus. Of a clear, scientific bent in the manner of Bacon and Newton—even clearer, as even Bacon and Newton could tantalize, as consideration of Bacon’s four idols and of Newton’s keen interest in occultism and alchemy later in life show—Jefferson was incapable of tantalizing. Even his billet doux to Maria Cosway fails to tantalize.

The problem with their thesis is that it is generated by embracing fallacious black-and-white thinking. Either the work has literary structure or it is a “disorganized work”—“a strange and muddled book.” The book lacks literary structure—there is no one thread through the whole of the book—but it is not disorganized and muddled. It begins with phusisand ends with nomos—that is nature and culture. It is crafted to be a scientific work for a scientific audience, but Jefferson, as the authors note, comes to see it can be of use in expressing his own political sentiments on republican governing when the right queries are read and assimilated, and aims to put it into the right hands. Yet that use too is scientific, for politics for Jefferson is also a science, and thus it needs to be studied like any other science. Should there be merit in his republican views, they too can be put to the test of reason.

There are two prodigious difficulties, both of which reduce to the tendency to support claims with garbled, uncogent arguments.

First, there are a large number of references to the secondary literature and those citations are routinely used to support strained claims in strained ways. Most of those strained claims are introduced by qualifiers such as “one might also see,” “something like,” “it seems like,” “it is possible,” and “it may be.” I offer two instances, though I could offer many. They write of Jefferson’s reference to mines in Query VI. “As Michael Gaudio points out, the language of mining was linked to the new approach to science unleashed by Bacon, who ‘significantly chose mining as a metaphor for the gathering of fact.’ The remainder of the query … marks out an ironic ‘mine’ through which individuals might pursue the drudgery of empirical science.” Jefferson’s account of mining at the beginning of Query VI is for the sake of discussion of the gold, lead, copper, marble and other minerals and stones to be found in Virginia. He is notwaxing metaphorical. Again, they say that Jefferson’s emotive language in describing his passage of the Natural Bridge in Query V is explained, following Zuckert, as “a natural theology of order and final cause.” Anyone familiar with the aesthetical literature that Jefferson read and assimilated will know that Jefferson is merely stating that beneath the veneer of what seems large and fearful from one perspective—“it is impossible for the emotions, arising from the sublime,” says Jefferson, “to be felt beyond what they are here”—there is a beauty that is accessible and lovely—“so beautiful and arch, so elevated, so light, and springing, as it were, up to heaven.” Jefferson is merely stating, following Burke and Kames, that there is both sublimity and beauty in nature. The authors read in political intent. There is none. The authors are clearly not studied in the aesthetical literature that Jefferson read.

Second, the authors assert that Jefferson had his own methodological approach to science—“Jefferson demonstrated a distinctive scientific method,” a “cautious philosophy,” or “methodological skepticism”—that was influenced much by Bacon. Yet while Bacon’s science moved to “absolute certainty,” they say, Jefferson moves to “wonder born in skepticism but nourished by careful observation.” Their Jefferson seems fixated on uncertainty, not knowledge, and that is an impossible reading.

One exception to Jefferson’s skepticism is his posit of “that rule of philosophy, which teaches us to ascribe like effects to like causes.” Gish and Klinghard astonishingly fail to realize that Jefferson is here borrowing from Newton’s “Rules of Reasoning in Philosophy” in his Principia Mathematica: “To the same natural effects we must, as far as possible, assign the same causes.”  Yet Newton, too, borrows the principle from Greek antiquity, as the principle can be found in Aristotle’s and the Hippocratic writings. The authors say relatively nothing about the methodological influence of Newton on Jefferson in the Notes, and that influence is large. It is clear that they have not read the Principia. Moreover, references to Baconian methodology almost always come from the secondary literature, not from Bacon. One has to ask this: Have the authors, who often cite Bacon, read him? When they make claims related to scientific methodology, they show extraordinary naïveté of scientific methodology and its history—a history that had roots in Greek antiquity and that is a point of which the authors seem to be unaware.

In crafting numerous claims about Jefferson’s approach to science—most of which are false—their ignorance of history and philosophy of science becomes manifest. They claim, for instance, that Jefferson’s three tables of animals perfectly fit Bacon’s “tables of instances” in his New Organon.Bacon’s tables comprise an empirical method for ascertaining causes. For instance, to support the claim that living in Americais a cause of diminished bulk in animals, one would study all animals in America and compare them to similar animals in Europe. One should find through table one that animals in America are diminished, through table two that animals in Europe are larger, and through table three, the degrees of difference in bulk to ascertain the causal force of living in America and diminution of bulk. “This is precisely the method Jefferson uses,” they assert, “to assess the effect of the climate of Virginia and Europe.” Yet Jefferson’s second table is a list of animals that are aboriginal—unique to America and unique to Europe. How then can Jefferson be precisely using Bacon’s three tables?

To sum up, the book aims to show that the received view, the Compilation View, is false and to supplant it with a more nuanced view. The book fails to convince because their Compilation View is a poor expression of what the majority of scholars think of the work—i.e., they have constructed a straw man. Moreover, they replace the received view with another, political view, based on questionable claims, “supported” by quixotic arguments and a metaphorical reading of text, which is meant to be read literally.

I strongly recommend that scholars steer clear of this book, because they offer a complex and impossible reading of Jefferson’s book. I suspect serious scholars might leave off before finishing the book.

Fri, 22 Feb 2019 20:54:14 +0000 0
Review of Omarosa Manigault Newman’s “Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House”

The provocative quotation following appears, alone, by itself, on the back jacket for everybody to read. You might as well: “He rambled. He spoke gibberish. He contradicted himself from one sentence to the next…. While watching that interview, I realized that something real and serious was going on in Donald’s brain. His mental decline could not be denied. Many didn’t notice it as keenly as I did because I knew him way back when. They thought Trump was being Trump, off the cuff. But I knew something wasn’t right.”

There’s an awful lot to quote in this book. The author is clearly a talented African-American woman and we are always aware of it. She is seldom relaxed, it seems; on the other hand, despite mood swings, she is capable of great joy now and then. We are reminded that two of her family members were shot dead early on; and she worries—and has cause, as mobs misbehave here and there in her pages – but not quite cover to cover.

The author is a beautiful woman of good posture, a veteran of “The Apprentice” for years, seldom unemployed if she wishes to have a job between various intermissions. After being fired by the White House in chapter one, UNBELIEVABLY, in a day or two she is offered a huge salary by a Trump daughter to work on the 2020 campaign. For that day and time, at least, she says “no.”

Subtitle, “An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House,” but she is all over the place on content as we turn the pages: California, Ohio, Florida, NYC, downtown D. C. 

The start is dramatic: she’s abruptly FIRED, and not the way we might be. For Omarosa, it was off to the Situation Room with that Kelly soldier where there were threats, loudness, recrimination, replies, locked doors, hints of violence. After that beginning, we have no doubt that this experienced lady is important and her memory feared.

My book is marked up with big circles and “quote,” check marks, and “discuss.” This is a somewhat dramatic narrative, one to be taken seriously. One wishes the writer well, but there seems an aura of strain throughout, I thought.

This White House staff member, Omarosa, expected her life to improve Donald J. Trump’s standing on this planet. She comes to hate him at the end, and she worries about the destiny of our good nation with him still in control. Let’s listen to her misgivings:

“… I knew without Keith [Shiller], the president would probably become unhinged.” (Page 303) Again, “…Due to his lack of empathy and his narcissism…” And, “…I realized that something real and serious was going on in Donald’s brain. His mental decline could not be denied. Many in the White House didn’t notice it as keenly as I did because I knew him way back when.… I knew something wasn’t right.” What might be done? She came up with: “Declare a state of medical emergency?” (Page 246)

This was startling: “During one of my visits he asked, “Hey, Omarosa, what do you think about Comey? I had to let him go, right? He couldn’t be trusted; he was not loyal.” She judges, “No one—and I mean not a single person, agreed with his decision.” (Page 244)

Do read about Trump and his awareness of guns on pages 240-41. She doesn’t think much of White House doctors (nor do I, from my LBJ book research). (Page 242) That medical personnel, she says, gave out pills to anybody. “All we had to do was ask.” 

From reading newspapers, we believe our leader disregards Briefings. Here, we read: “In our briefings, Trump’s attention was scattered. He was distracted, irritable, and short. Normally, when DJT got into one of these moods, you knew to give him time and space. But in this case I could not.” (Page 217)

Is his mind sharp and clear? She is sure about his mental deterioration and writes clearly about both that and “his racism.” (Pages 292-93) At one point, this reviewer came to think: NO. Don’t be quoting this to our public! He’s the President of the United States. Limit those quotations. 

We never forget this book is by a black woman. It’s clear: “… white men who surrounded me….” “A white participant is given the benefit of the doubt; a black woman in the workplace never is, regardless of the circumstances.” (Page 265) This book is about something called “the cult of Trumpworld.” One word.

Here is one message conveyed: “I was miserable at the White House. Morale was at an all-time low, and the environment was toxic. I realized that Donald Trump was the biggest distraction to his own presidency. Donald Trump, the individual, the person, because of who he is and what he stands for and how he operates, would always be the biggest hindrance for us. Donald Trump, who would attack civil rights icons and professional athletes, who would go after grieving black widows, who would say there were good people on both sides, who endorsed an accused child molester; Donald Trump, and his decisions and his behavior, was harming the country. I could no longer be a part of this madness.” (Pages 318-19) 

How, you may ask, does a “typical historian-reviewer” feel on emerging from this candid, observant, critical, worrisome, concerned, notable book? As it happens, I have written about race and presidents. About Trump I am in despair. I have come close to despising our incumbent President, while hoping for the best. (That would be dumping Trump by the wayside at the very soonest.)

On the other hand, Donald has been for years, after being handed immense startup money, unquestionably an entrepreneur, creator of useful hotels and golf courses, and a jovial entertainer of huge audiences. If I enjoyed all or any of those “Miss Bosom” programs he provided on TV, I really should thank him.

Still and all, I’m frightened by what I read in this book about DJT’s CASUAL, UNINFORMED, and IGNORANT “presidency.” Omarosa’s book , sure didn’t help my sense of well-being. As I read along, I felt, well, awful.Examples of an unfit, almost uncaring, certainly inadequate, President kept showing up, over and over. I didn’t like the really staggering contrast with earlier subjects of my books – Herbert Hoover, FDR and LBJ – surrounded as they were in office by brilliant, dedicated public servants who seldom resigned, listened obediently and unfailingly to briefings with consequences,, and spoke rationally and regularly to the man who chose them. Yes, they campaigned while in office, more or less, but they G O V E R N E D and mostly set aside their earlier occupations while in our employ.

Here we have a bright woman of 44 years. She filled a job called (unbelievably) Assistant to the President and Director of Communications for the Office of Public Liaison, all in Trump’s White House. (Earlier, she served in Clinton’s White House!) Back when, she strove beyond the MA at Howard University; was a military Reservist chaplain (sic), and is apparently an occasional minister with her active minister 2nd husband in Jacksonville, that is, when “between political jobs.”

She handles much work with one hand behind her. Her favorite activity, it seems, is striving to change the political mindset of a giant mass of black voters out there, changing it to firm support of her current politician whoever it is, and doing that, whatever the cost or time-demand. One never-ending goal has been to advance her own personal popularity and reputation because it will surely help Donald J. Trump! Maintaining or enlarging his probable vote-count in the coming election was, for a time, her hope. 

Candidate Trump after the end of the 2016 campaign was disturbing to Omarosa. “It was very concerning to listen to him go on and on about the election in private. He would get all worked up and get crazed about the ‘fake news’ reports. I was worried that in his first week [in the White House] he was already cracking under the pressure.” (Page 210)

Our book author casually mentions those 4,000 White House jobs to be filled way back when. It’s scary. Members of the staff were to “back up whatever the President said or tweeted, regardless of its accuracy.” (Page 211) What level of employee would allow that? On page 228 she almost casually speaks of “paranoia” setting in. Wow. Later, she wonders as to a tweet, “Does he even realize he sent it?” Italics hers. 

Omarosa ruminates happily, after Trump’s victory speech, “That moment was one of the highlights of my life.” It had proved “how wonderful and great this country had been to me.” She was living the American dream, she proclaims. Those days for her long ago being on public assistance were over! You bet! Back after the inauguration, the most powerful man on the planet was next to her, and she deeply reflects as to that: it was “the two of us on that stage together!”

It was many months –almost a year—before the room nicknamed the “WH Osama bin Laden death planning room” would be used to house a General employing it to FIRE an employee far below Cabinet level. It was December 12, 2017 when our Omarosa would be escorted there, threatened, with the door locked against her in that scary basement, maybe facing the spectacular glare of a square foot of long ago awarded gold braid on the chest of her nasty critic. She has been blurting: “I’m being railroaded!” 

It all made me think of President Andrew Johnson’s turbulent administration, back when the Senate failed to convict by only one vote, despite impeachment by the House. Maybe I’ll read up on all that—to Be Prepared! This time, maybe seriously consider finishing what we start!

Fri, 22 Feb 2019 20:54:14 +0000 0
What Can Account for Donald Trump's Political Success?

Two years into the presidency of Donald Trump, many of us are still scratching our heads. How did such a corrupt, narcissistic, TV celebrity win a national election? We saw the “Blue Wall” of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin turn red in November 2016, but why?

In the past six months, publishers have launched an avalanche of books from journalists, academics and political pundits all seeking to explain the rise of Trump. 

Two of the most well researched and insightful books on the reasons behind the 2016 election are The Fall of Wisconsin and TheGreat Alignment. Although different in scope, one focuses on a single state, the other on nationwide trends, they offer contrasting — but not contradictory — explanations. 

The Fall of Wisconsin, The Conservative Conquest of Progressive Bastion and the Future of American Politics, written by journalist Dan Kaufman, examines a decade of political change in a midwestern industrial state. It offers a traditional historical narrative, beginning in the early twentieth century when Wisconsin was a major industrial state with powerful labor unions and a progressive government. 

In those years, “Fighting Bob” La Follette and his supporters enacted laws pioneering workers’ compensation insurance, banned corporate political donations, regulated the powerful railroads, and even proposed a form of state health insurance. 

In the 1970s and 1980s, Wisconsin’s economy sagged. Large employers including General Motors closed dozens of plants. In 2010, a conservative, anti-abortion Republican, Scott Walker was elected governor. Backed up by a Republican legislature, within a few years he had eliminated collective bargaining for state employees, cut $830 million from K-12 schools’ funding and made Wisconsin a right-to-work state. 

Scott Walker

Kaufman details how Walker’s victory was the result of a carefully planned, well financed effort by conservative, anti-union organizations. These groups included the Koch Brothers, Americans for Prosperity, ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) and the Bradley Foundation. The last group, based in Milwaukee, has assets of more than $850 million and spends large sums on “weaponized philanthropy.”

Kaufman quotes a Bradley campaign leader who said their tactics were more effective at the state level, citing the issues of school choice and welfare reform.

Having interviewed dozens of Wisconsin legislators, union leaders and conservative activists, Kaufman includes many personal stories in his narrative, making it compelling, often painful, reading. He discusses the impact of factory closures on small towns like Racine, Oshkosh and South Wayne.

The author sees Wisconsin as a warning sign to the rest of the country. This is a textbook example of how wealthy, conservative groups, with a clear anti-union, pro-charter school, anti-abortion agenda can make a big impact in a formerly progressive state. 

National Realignment 

In contrast, in The Great Alignment: Race, Party Transformation and the Rise of Donald Trump author Alan I. Abramowitz sees the 2016 Trump victory as a national phenomenon, a political re-alignment fifty years in the making.

Abramowitz, a political science professor at Emory University, analyzes fifty years of demographic and political change in the United States. He draws on a large number of public opinion polls and voting data sets to document a major shift in political party identification.

In his view, political party identification has become “increasingly aligned with other social and political factors” such as age, gender, race and income. Large-scale immigration from Latin America, the changing role of women, gay rights, changing religious beliefs have created major social divides. On one side are those Americans who benefited from the changes, such as blacks, Latinos, the LGBT community and workers in “the new economy.” On the other side are social conservatives, blue collar whites and rural voters.

This has resulted in a “revolt of the white working class.” The author notes the trend began in 1964, when President Johnson embraced the Civil Rights movement, causing the South to abandon the Democratic Party. 

As a result, the percentage of white voters who identify as Republican has grown from under 42 percent under President Nixon in 1968 to 54 percent in 2016. Similarly, white vote support for the Democratic Party has dropped from 49 percent to less than 40 percent in the past election. 

In addition, nonwhite voters comprised just 15 percent of the Democratic vote for President Jimmy Carter in 1976, but 45 percent of the party’s voters for President Obama in 2012. 

Abramowitz, author of three previous books, including The Disappearing Center, argues that these trends are primarily cultural and demographic. He makes no mention of the Koch Brothers PAC or other conservative pressure groups and does not discuss their role in pushing a political agenda. 

He uses the term “negative partisanship” to describes the sharply rising number of Americans who vote “against the opposing party rather than for their own.” This phenomenon, combined with new social and political divisions and re-enforced by partisan news sources, has produced a high-level of “straight-ticket” voting. This is one reason the Republican Party was able to capture the Presidency and expand control of Congress in 2016.

According to Abramowitz, in 2012, the 90 percent rate of straight-ticket voting (e.g. choosing Republicans for President and for Congress and Senate) set a new record. 

The result is that “polarization and partisanship will remain major obstacles to any politician seeking support across party lines…Candidates must win their party’s nomination by running a gauntlet of primaries and caucuses dominated by voters who are more ideologically extreme” than those in general elections.


Neither author offers any immediate hope for progressives and liberal Democrats reassuming power. Kaufman notes that “entrenched conservative control” of Wisconsin’s state government has already damaged the state’s public schools and university system.

Kaufman states “the cost of the conservative war on Wisconsin’s political legacy has been mostly borne by the state’s citizens.” He cites an increase in child poverty rates, almost no wage growth and major funding cuts to K-12 education and the state’s university system.

He quotes a union leader who observes, “if the population can’t think critically or know its history, then it’s easy to manipulate … and [keep conservatives] in power.”

In looking at the national picture, political scientist Abramowitz finds that “the Trump years are likely to witness the most intense partisan hostility in modern American history.” 

He predicts that the rising hostility will exacerbate existing social and cultural divisions and create major obstacles to passing bipartisan legislation.

Fri, 22 Feb 2019 20:54:14 +0000 0
Review of A. Wilson Greene’s “A Campaign of Giants: The Battle for Petersburg” The Army of the Potomac suffered devastating and demoralizing losses during the Overland Campaign in 1864. From the crossing of the Rapidan River in Virginia on May 4 until the closing days at Cold Harbor in June, the army experienced roughly 55,000 casualties. In just one hour on the morning of June 3, the Union lost 3,500 men. Shortly after that debacle, the Fifth Corps commander, Major General Gouverneur Warren, wrote to his wife, “If there were no limit to the number of men we could continually waste in battle I might be more hopeful. But we have been so senselessly ordered to assault entrenchments that the enemy suffer little in comparison with us and may outlast us.”

Ulysses S. Grant’s relentless fighting style had changed the dynamic in the east and had actually inflicted irreparable harm on Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, despite Warren’s concerns. But the price had been extraordinarily high. Some Union soldiers at the time believed the cost was far too high. A staff officer observed, “the fools have all been killed and the rest think it is about played out to stand up and get shot.” Captain Charles Francis Adams, Jr., the grandson of John Quincy Adams, wrote his father, “We have assaulted the enemy’s works repeatedly and lost many lives, but I cannot understand it…. Doubtless Grant has his reasons and we must have faith; but, certainly, I have never seen the Army so haggard and worn, so worked out and fought out, so dispirited and hopeless.”

Amidst all the hard fighting, Grant made a bold decision after Cold Harbor that would ultimately contribute to the end of the war ten months later. His plan was to disengage his men from the Army of Northern Virginia and then attempt a dangerous crossing of the James River before Lee could respond. Once his army was across the James, Grant would try to capture the city of Petersburg, thereby placing extreme pressure on the Confederate capital of Richmond. In late June, with his army across the James and laying siege to Petersburg, Grant told President Lincoln, “You will never hear of me farther from Richmond than now, till I have taken it. I am just as sure of going into Richmond as I am of any future event. It may take a long summer day, but I will go in.”

The story of Grant’s crossing of the James River and his initial attempts to seize Petersburg is brilliantly told in A. Wilson Greene’s A Campaign of Giants: The Battle for Petersburg.  This book should be required reading for all students of the Civil War. I hope that it finds a more general audience as well. Greene shows us that the struggle to save the Union and abolish slavery was bloody and often quite precarious. In 1864, a member of the Sanitary Commission perfectly captured the significance of the Petersburg Campaign when he wrote, “If future generations do not appreciate the amount which is now expended for the preservation of the Union they will deserve the contempt of the race.”

Greene is a meticulous historian, who provides sensible answers to some of the most contentious questions surrounding the beginning of the Petersburg Campaign. Among the fascinating questions he addresses are: Why did the Union Army fail to take Petersburg on June 15 and 16 when it clearly had taken Lee by surprise? What explains Grant’s disengagement from military operations throughout much of June and July, 1864? Who is to blame for the disgraceful lack of leadership at the Battle of the Crater?

Readers might be surprised by Greene’s portrayal of General Grant. Throughout Grant’s First Petersburg Offensive, the Union general-in-chief was unable to effectively communicate with his two army commanders and their two corps commanders. Despite overwhelming numerical superiority, Union forces failed to take the city. During the four days of fighting from June 15-18, Greene writes, “Grant remained disengaged at City Point, exercising almost no influence on the conduct of the two armies under his command.” Of the crucial day of June 15, Greene also notes, “It is tempting to speculate about what might have transpired had Grant issued Meade, Butler, Smith, and Hancock the same written orders for the capture of Petersburg.” The Second Petersburg Offensive later in June was yet another disaster. Over the timeframe covered in this book, Grant had delegated operational details to Major General George Meade and the results were disappointing. At the end of June, Colonel Charles Wainwright confided in his diary, “Grant has used the army up, and will now have to wait until its morale is restored before he can do anything.”

Greene’s account of the Battle of the Crater is heartbreaking. Lieutenant Colonel Henry Pleasants’s plan to dig a tunnel under a Confederate fort and then blow it up is truly incredible. The idea actually had great promise, though ultimately it resulted in tragedy. Initially, the creation of the tunnel was successfully completed, despite numerous logistical challenges. Pleasants could rightfully claim that he had “projected, undertaken, and completed a gigantic work; and have accomplished one of the great things of this war.” Unfortunately, the strategy for exploiting the aftermath of the explosion was deeply flawed. The Battle of the Crater became one of the greatest disasters in American military history. 

On July 30 at 4:44 a.m., the explosion occurred, creating a pit roughly 25 feet deep. One private reported, “But the greatest sight was to see men half buried alive — some with their heads downward & their feet & legs protruding — others with their feet down & buried to their waists & even shoulders with one arm out — and some with neither. Very many were very likely buried entirely alive & others were mangled and torn to pieces.” Union attempts to capture territory beyond the Crater ended in failure for a variety of different reasons. Brigadier General James Ledlie, whose men led the initial assault, disgracefully took shelter in the rear and began drinking rum. Unsurprisingly, he was unable to provide the necessary direction to his men. One officer in the Twenty-Third U.S. Colored Troops noted, “our corps and division commanders being either asleep or drunk did not put in an appearance.” Neither Meade nor Major General Ambrose Burnside, who was Ledlie’s superior, provided the critical leadership on the battlefield either. Greene states, “the offensive lacked a steady guiding hand at both the operational level and the tactical level.”

The consequences of this leadership failure resulted in incomprehensible horror for the African American Union soldiers who participated in the assault. A Confederate artillerist reported that the sight of black troops angered the rebel soldiers who then committed unspeakable atrocities. A South Carolina quartermaster wrote in his diary, “the negro troops were slaughtered without mercy, we not allowing them to surrender, they huddled together in the pit formed by the explosion and our men deliberately capped down on them and beat out their brains and bayonetted them until worn out with exhaustion.” A Union soldier remembered that the Confederate troops “showed no mercy to the wounded negro soldiers…” Greene notes “there were no repercussions from the Confederate authorities, military or civilian, for this wholesale violation of the accepted rules of war.” Grant would later recall that the Crater “was the saddest affair I witnessed in the war.”

The six weeks covered in Greene’s fine book were among the darkest of the entire Union war effort. One northern junior officer said at the time, “I fear the greater part of this ‘heroic army’ would vote for peace at present on almost any terms.” After the Crater debacle, Grant desperately needed to turn things around. Readers will eagerly await Greene’s second volume on the Petersburg Campaign to see how Grant did it.

Fri, 22 Feb 2019 20:54:14 +0000 0
Review of Patricia O’Toole’s “The Moralist: Woodrow Wilson and the World He Made” In an era of congressional gridlock and political stands determined by opinion surveys, historians are re-evaluating our 28th President, Woodrow Wilson. Born in 1856 in Virginia to a minister, Wilson was pre-occupied with creating a high-minded vision for the United States, a nation he believed possessed a unique moral force in a corrupt world.

Patricia O’Toole, author of The Moralist: Woodrow Wilson and the World He Made, notes that Wilson looms large today “because his triumphs as well as his defeats were so large and lasting.”

In the last fifty years, Wilson has gained new respect for his progressive domestic politics and his idealistic visions for world democracy. In a recent CSPAN survey of Presidential achievement, historians ranked Wilson a No. 11, just behind Lyndon Johnson (Abraham Lincoln, as usual, was first). 

Wilson was swept into office in 1912. In a three-way race, he took 41.8 percent of the popular vote and won 435 electoral votes from 40 states. With a strong Democratic majority in both the House and Senate, he was able to enact an unprecedented wave of reform legislation. This included the first permanent, progressive income tax, creation of the Federal Reserve System, the Federal Trade Commission and the Clayton Antitrust Act. He also appointed Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish Supreme Court Justice. 

Although he campaigned for re-election in the summer of 1916 on the slogan, “He kept us out of war,” aggressive German actions (and increasing, desperate pleas from Britain and France) forced Wilson to make a declaration of war on April 2, 1917. He then went on to successfully oversee the rapid conscription, training and deployment of some 1.5 million troops in Europe within eighteen months. At the Paris peace talks in 1919, Wilson proposed the League of Nations, precursor to the United Nations and advocated for establishing independent, democratic nations after the break-up of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires. His strident lectures to French and British leaders at the peace conference was a precursor to an era of American moral vanity and overreach in international affairs.

The Introvert

Unlike later activist Democratic presidents such as Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, who worked the telephone and dispensed political favors with Congressional leaders, Wilson was a shy introverted man, who avoided the press and spent much of his time in reading and contemplation. A key reason he was able to enact so many progressive measures was the strong support he enjoyed from the Southern Democrats who wielded enormous power in Congress and who considered him a sympathetic colleague. Wilson’s father was a Presbyterian minister and a chaplain to the Confederate Army. Although he would be mostly educated in the North and would earn a national reputation as president of Princeton University in New Jersey, he retained many Southern values of elitism, close-knit family and white racial superiority. 

In the first half of the twentieth century, the Southern states were a pillar of the Democratic Party. As President, Wilson readily acceded to Southern politicians’ demands for the segregation of the federal government workforce, including the Post Office, Treasury and Navy departments. Thousands of black workers were thrown out of work, hundreds of others denied promotions. They were mostly replaced by white workers named by Southern politicians. 

During his second term, black enlistment in the Armed Forces was perceived as a threat by many white supremacists and the lynching of black men surged across the South. Wilson privately expressed shock, but declined to take any federal action. When the U.S. Army finally deployed in Europe, he rejected pleas from black leaders that their men be integrated into regular combat units. Instead, black infantrymen fought in segregated battalions, often under French command. 

The book’s title, The Moralist, suggests the author’s take on Wilson’s political achievements. O’Toole states that his moral ideology was “more secular than religious, the effect of his long education in history, government and the law.” Although he often referenced God in his speeches, Wilson’s view of government was anchored in secular thought, particularly British parliamentary law. 

Wilson had written widely on government, including authoring a widely used college textbook. He saw the United States as a unique, nation with an idealistic Constitution that required its leaders to lead with “moral force.” As a result, he rarely acted as a traditional, flexible politician, ready to compromise and trade favors to get a bill passed. Rather, he saw himself, a man of superior education and intellect, as one who was destined to lead the masses. Confident in his erudition (he is the only President to earn a Ph.D.) he sincerely believed he knew what was best for the nation and, after World War I erupted, the world (e.g. The 14 Points and the League of Nations). 

Personal Racism

From our 21st century viewpoint, Wilson had one glaring blind spot: the racism of a privileged white male. Woodrow Wilson could change his mind when confronted with protests. After a decades long campaign by American suffragettes, he came around to support women’s right to vote. He advocated Congressional passage of the 19th Amendment, finally ratified in 1920. However, his Southern background shaped his view of minority rights, and a private acceptance of white supremacy. He refused to accept African-Americans’ claims for equal rights, believing they were “not ready.” 

In the summer of 1917, with lynching and anti-black riots spreading across the South, he declined to meet with a group of black newspaper editors who came to the White House. Discouraged, but not defeated, the editors left a long series of demands for him. In a muted written reply, he said “We all have to be patient with one another. Human nature doesn’t make giant strides in a single generation.” 

Privately, he told his political associates that it was better that blacks be segregated, since they could not yet compete successfully with whites in the job market.

He was unable to connect his vision for new, liberal democratic nations in post-war Europe with the cruel suppression of African-American rights occurring in his own country. 

O’Toole, who presents a generally balanced view of Wilson and his accomplishments, treads lightly on her subject’s racism. Early in the book, she explains his cold shoulder to the demands for fair treatment by African Americans by stating “He knew the segregation was morally indefensible, but ending it would have cost him the votes of every Southerner in Congress.”

O’Toole’s other reporting of Wilson’s political career is balanced and often critical. She notes many hypocrisies and frequent prevarications. His stubbornness and refusal to compromise limited his political achievements. The most significant was his refusal to accept any changes to the treaty which would have brought America into the new League of Nations. The author shows that if had accepted a few minor amendments and staged a face-saving negotiation session with Republic senators, he might have secured passage of the measure. 

Instead, Wilson embarked on a grueling, nationwide speaking tour. On Sept. 25, 1919 in Pueblo Colorado he suffered a massive stroke. He was never able to speak or write normally again. He finished his term in a beleaguered, secretive White House, protected by his second wife, Edith Bolling Galt and a coterie of advisors.

The story of Woodrow Wilson’s doomed presidency has aspects of a great tragedy. Patricia O’Toole’s carefully crafted account is always interesting and insightful and becomes a fascinating, page-turner in the later chapters when the inflexible, idealistic President has to come to terms with the horror of the Great War.

Fri, 22 Feb 2019 20:54:14 +0000 0
Review of “Charles Sweeny, the Man Who Inspired Hemingway” by Charley Roberts and Charles P. Hess Charles Michael Sweeny met Ernest Hemingway “in war-torn Turkey in the fall of 1922,” shortly before the Greco-Turkish war ended. Both were there as journalists to report on the conflict, Hemingway as a “yet-to-be” novelist employed by the Toronto Star. Sweeny, not truly a reporter, was reporting for the French government.

But the two men did meet and established a friendship: “Sweeny was the war hero that Hemingway longed to be, while Hemingway was [to become] the acclaimed writer that Sweeny would have liked to be,“ claimed one who knew both. The friendship flourished until Hemingway’s death on July 2, 1961. Charles Sweeny, much older, served as an honorary pallbearer.

 ]]> Fri, 22 Feb 2019 20:54:14 +0000 0 Review of Anne Applebaum’s “Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine” The journalist Anne Applebaum is a leading popular historian of the former European Communist countries. She has published a substantial study of the Soviet Gulag camp system that won a Pulitzer Prize, and a study of the Communist takeovers of Eastern Europe.1   In Red Famine Applebaum focuses on the great Soviet famine of the early 1930s, which she portrays as imposed artificially by the Stalin regime on Ukraine, and the result of a long history of alleged Russian and Soviet hostility toward Ukraine. 

This book has new information on Ukrainian culture in the 1920s, Ukrainian émigré historiography of the famine after World War II, the Ukrainian government’s use of famine history, and few other topics. Overall, however, it retells the nationalist story of the famine found in earlier publications, but inaccurately, and does not cite evidence in its sources that contradicts or undermines almost all its arguments. This review focuses only on certain indicative issues in the first part of the book, and then addresses the main problems with her depiction of the famine itself.

This book relies almost entirely on published sources: monographs, articles, and archival document collections published in post-Soviet Ukraine or in Canada. In footnotes from the document collections, Applebaum consistently cites the full archival source, followed by the reference to the published source. A superficial reader might glance at these endnotes and think they were her own archival research. Applebaum criticizes scholars for “cherry picking” (49-50), and also falsely claims that one of my publications was not based on archival sources (419).

Red Famine begins with a brief historical background, then has two to three chapters on each of the book’s main topics: the Civil War in Ukraine (1918-1921), the NEP in Ukraine (1921-1929), collectivization in Ukraine (1930-1931), events in 1932 that she considers the “preparation” of the famine including grain procurements, the “blacklisting” of villages and farms, restrictions on peasant movement, suppression of Ukrainian culture, the famine itself and its aftermath, the Soviet “cover-up” of the famine and later writings on it. 

This outline makes the book appear coherent and comprehensive. Yet every section has important omissions, errors and distortions. For example, she defines the Ukrainian word Holodomor, “a term derived from the Ukrainian words for hunger-holod-and extermination-mor.” (xxvi) But “mor” in Ukrainian means “plague”; the word for “extermination” is vynyshchennia [винищення].2   She begins her book on the “Holodomor” by mis-translating that term, attributing to it an intentionalist meaning it does not have. 

Applebaum portrays Ukrainians as unique and different from Russians, in line with Ukrainian nationalist arguments. She writes that Ukraine was the Soviet republic with “the most numerous peasantry” (102-103). Yet the Russian Republic had more than triple the rural population of Ukraine and was slightly more rural.3   She also brings up the old nationalist theme (33) that Russian peasants were “communal” while Ukrainian peasants were “individual farmers” who “owned” their land, horses, and livestock. The literature shows, however, that virtually all Russian and Ukrainian peasants held land in strips scattered across the village fields, planted their strips in the spring crop fields in spring, in the winter crop fields in fall, harvested the fields together, and grazed their livestock together on the fallow field.4   This pattern persisted in the Soviet period, and Applebaum’s main source noted this, but she did not mention it.5   Many “communal” peasants owned, rented, bought and sold land during the 19th century, rarely or never repartitioned their lands, and all of them owned their livestock and equipment, unless they were poor.6   “Individual” tenure was less widespread than she claimed in Ukraine and led to extreme inequality and “an army of dwarf-holders and landless peasants.”7

Applebaum also overemphasizes negative aspects of Russian-Ukrainian relations. She claims that the Ems Edict issued by Alexander II in 1876 “outlawed Ukrainian books and periodicals” and anticipated Soviet “sharp hostility” to Ukraine (8-9). Yet Alexander II’s government initially aided publication of Ukrainian books; the later restrictions on Ukrainian culture were a response to the Polish uprising of 1861 and were limited and weakly enforced.8  Ukrainian publishers published numerous publications in Ukrainian and about Ukraine, many of which are in western libraries, including catalogues of Ukrainian books available for purchase there.9  She discusses Bolshevik actions in Ukraine in 1919, the peasant rebellions of 1919-1921, the famine of 1921-1923 in Ukraine, and the successes of Ukrainization in culture, all of which have major problems, but for reasons of space I will focus on the 1933 famine and the events leading to it. 

In chapter 4, “The Double Crisis, 1927-1929,” Applebaum discusses the food crisis of 1928 and the harsh “extraordinary measures” that the Soviet regime applied to obtain food from peasants to feed townspeople, which have long been viewed as events that led to collectivization.10  Applebaum describes food shortages in Soviet cities in 1928 (82-83), but then writes that in Ukraine, “police discovered many tonnes [sic] of grain that had been kept back because peasants had, quite rationally, been waiting for prices to rise” (86). By calling peasants’ actions “rational,” Applebaum seems to endorse their withholding food for high prices, but her subsequent discussion is very critical of the Soviet government’s measures to induce peasants to stop hoarding and obtain food for starving townspeople. Yet many publications have argued that famines can be caused by farmers or traders withholding food from townspeople, sometimes expressed as the “moral economy,” the right to subsistence over the right to profit.11   Applebaum does not consider the possibility that hungry townspeople, and Soviet officials trying to feed them, could have interpreted these reports as a “man-made” famine created by profiteering peasants. 

Applebaum claims that the government’s procurements to alleviate that shortage “comprehensively destroyed the peasants incentives to produce more grain” (87). Yet later she writes that the 1930 harvest was much larger than the 1929 harvest (161). How could that have happened if peasants’ incentives were “comprehensively destroyed”? She also discusses Soviet famine relief effort in 1928-1929 (82, 108) but does not consider how crop failures and famine relief affected peasants’ incentives in this case. She shows that some Soviet leaders during this food crisis came to see Ukrainian nationalism as a threat, held show trials of Ukrainian nationalist groups, and began to connect peasant resistance problematically to nationalism.

In this crisis that the Soviet regime decided to collectivize Soviet agriculture. Applebaum cites Stalin’s references to mechanized agriculture but dismisses them as a “Soviet cult of science” (87-89), not considering that Soviet leaders and planners were trying to emulate American farming, which was even more mechanized and scientifically based. She does not consider that repeated crop failures, which she mentioned, could have persuaded Soviet leaders that Soviet peasant farming needed to be modernized.12  Rather, she attributes the decision to collectivize agriculture to the 1928 Central Committee plenums that allegedly concluded that peasants had to be “squeezed” and “sacrificed” for industry (90-91). Yet modernizing agriculture was a central issue in those plenums. She never mentions that in 1929, the Soviets established VASKhNiL, the central agricultural research academy, under the leadership of the great biologist Nikolai Vavilov, who did not seek to “squeeze” the peasants. 

Applebaum’s discussion of collectivization and dekulakization in chapter 5 describes peasants as “abandoned and alone,” helpless, weak, with no incentive to resist (122). But in chapter 6 she describes them as angry, organizing armed bands, and extremely violent, slaughtering their livestock, rebelling against and murdering Soviet officials, without addressing the contradiction. She admits that in the archival documents of the 1930 rebellions, “it is not always easy to separate fact from fiction” and describes them as often “deliberately embroidered” and “exaggerated and hysterical” (152-153). Yet she never questions them based on this point.

Applebaum’s discussion of the collective farm system (chapters 6 and 7) has many inaccurate and problematic passages. For example, she claims that after collectivization, peasants had no way to earn a “salary” (137), but she notes a few pages later that kolkhoz peasants had private plots and livestock, from which they earned money through the whole Soviet period (147). Peasants before collectivization did not earn “salaries” or wages but were “paid” by the harvest they produced, which depended in part on their work, so payment by labor days after the harvest was basically similar. She claims that in the kolkhozy the “fruits of the peasants’ labor no longer belonged to them, the grain they sowed and harvested was requisitioned by the authorities,” but this would at least require evidence of harvests and procurements, which she never clearly presents (see below). She asserts that kolkhoz peasants “lost the ability to make decisions about their lives,” and that kolkhoz peasants had to follow local authorities’ directions for the crops they grew. Yet on the one hand, she never explains that for decades before 1930, peasants were obliged by the village to farm the same crops at the same times in the same fields in dozens of strips scattered over the village, which means that collectivization retained village dominance over farming. On the other hand, she claims that peasants “worked as little as possible” (159-160), and that 40,000 peasant households decided they “would not plant anything” in April 1932 (171), which were clearly their own decisions.

Applebaum also claims that in kolkhozy as in socialist industry, since there was no “private property,” peasants like workers engaged in pervasive theft (160, 165). Yet American businesses lose tens of billions of dollars every year to workplace theft.13  She ignores the fact, which she notes later, that the kolkhoz-sovkhoz system recovered from the famine and that food production increased. This could not have happened if the peasants did no work and stole everything. 

Repeatedly she purports to know what people were thinking, with no evidence. During 1931-1932 she asserts “everyone understood at some level that collectivization was the source of the new shortages” (165). Yet she admits that in 1931 there were “bouts of drought,” which is an understatement; even Stalin publicly stated that drought “considerably” reduced the 1931 harvest.14  Russia and Ukraine had a long history of droughts and famines, which she admits (283); how can she know that no one, even peasants, saw the drought as a cause of shortages? In discussing the regime’s decision in spring 1932 to stop the procurements and provide food and seed for the villages to produce a new harvest, she asserts that officials “knew” that “food aid to Ukraine was a tacit admission of Stalin’s failure,” but also “knew” that “catastrophe would follow” if Ukraine did not get aid (173). Yet her sources include the published decree of 16 February 1932 that allotted 870,000 tons of seed and food to Ukraine and several eastern provinces, which she does not mention.15   The fact that this decree was publicized implies that leaders did not see it as an admission of failure. Applebaum does admit that in April the Politburo allotted Ukraine some aid, but she then asserts that Stalin suddenly “withdrew the food aid he sent to Ukraine” (174). There is no evidence for this action in her footnotes, nor in her other sources, not even a single telegram or letter; this claim appears to be false. Applebaum does not mention the Politburo decree from 15 May 1932, in her sources, that allotted Ukraine 6.5 million puds (106,000 tons) of grain for food relief, and more in the next weeks.16

To explain most concisely the problems in Applebaum’s chapters on the famine, the following section examines the main points in two summaries of her main arguments at the end of the book. The first summary addresses the causes and nature of the famine, in which I will number each relevant phrase and discuss the broader argument or claims that each represents (357):

“Neither crop failure nor bad weather caused the famine in Ukraine (1). Although the chaos of collectivization helped create the conditions that led to famine, the high numbers of deaths in Ukraine between 1932 and 1934, and especially the spike in the spring of 1933 (7), were not caused directly by collectivization either. Starvation was the result, rather, of the forcible removal of food from people’s homes (4); the roadblocks that prevented peasants from seeking work or food (3); the harsh rules of the blacklists imposed on farms and villages (2); the restrictions on barter and trade (6); and the vicious propaganda campaign designed to persuade Ukrainians to watch, unmoved, as their neighbors died of hunger (5).”

(1) She discusses the harvests and procurements in separate, inconsistent passages. She refers to the 1932 harvest being “40 percent below the plan for the USSR, and 60 percent in Ukraine” (190), but she never explains what those harvest plans were. Yet on the same page, she writes “Intriguingly, the overall drop in production was not as dramatic as it had been in 1921,” and she cites official total Soviet harvest data for 1931-1934, all in the range of 67-69 million tons, showing no decline. She never addresses this inconsistency. She does not mention that Davies and Wheatcroft, whose work she cites for the 40 percent and 60 percent declines, gave much lower figures for 1931 and 1932.17   In other passages she implies or explicitly refers to “harvest failure” in Ukraine (209, 211, 213, 283). Yet in her conclusions she ignores these earlier statements and evidence. In fact, the official figure for the 1932 harvest of 69 million tons that Applebaum cites (190) was a pre-harvest forecast, and the actual 1932 harvest was much smaller. The kolkhoz annual reports, which included final harvest data, reported that the 1932 harvest was extremely low, and the 1933 harvest much larger.18

Applebaum’s discussion of the grain procurements is similarly inconsistent and incomplete. She refers to the “unrealistic, impossible procurement plan of 5.8 million tons” for 1932, (179) yet earlier she wrote that the 1931 plan was 8.3 million tons (168), and she never compares the two or explains why the lower 1932 plan was “impossible” while the higher 1931 plan was not.19   She also does not explain that this 1932 plan was reduced from the original 1932 procurement plan of 7.1 million tons.20   The regime announced the reduced procurement plan for 1932 in a long decree published on 6 May that granted peasants and kolkhozy the right to sell their produce on the free market after fulfilling procurement quotas.21  This was a crucial decision in Soviet history because it laid the basis for the kolkhoz private-plot economy that played a major role in food production to the end of the Soviet regime. Yet she calls it an “an edict” that “forbid peasants from trading” until meeting procurement quotas (195), completely omitting its reduction of those quotas, including Ukraine’s from 7.12 million tons to 5.83 million tons, or almost 20 percent. She does not even footnote or give any other reference to this document, which was in her sources. 

Applebaum does cite correspondence between Stalin and Kaganovich in July 1932 about reducing Ukraine’s procurement plan, but she never states that they actually did reduce the plan (179) or how it would have changed the procurement plan. She also claims that in the winter of 1933 Stalin refused to “ease up on grain collections” (193). Her sources, however, show that the regime reduced procurement targets for Ukraine four times: in the May 1932 decree by 1.3 million tons, as noted; in July by 40 million puds, 656,000 tons, more than ten percent of Ukraine’s plan; in October by an additional 70 million puds, 1.15 million tons; and in January 1933 by 28 million puds, 459,000 tons.22  In all the cases after May, Stalin reduced procurements in response to appeals from Ukraine to help starving peasants. He even turned down other provinces’ requests for reduced procurements while granting Ukraine’s, which Applebaum does not mention.23   Finally, on 5 February, the regime ordered local officials to stop procurements and focus on seed, and began providing food relief.24

The Soviet government thus reduced Ukraine’s procurements from kolkhozy and peasants in 1932 not by a begrudged 40 million puds, 656,000 tons, as Applebaum ambiguously implies, but from 434 million puds to 218 million puds, 7.1 million tons to 3.57 million tons, or approximately half. Even with the procurements required from state farms, the total procurement plan for Ukraine was reduced to 260 million puds, or 4.2 million tons, about one-third below the 1931 actual procurements.25   Although this evidence is in Applebaum’s sources, she misrepresented the second reduction, failed to explain the first, never mentioned the third, fourth, or the decree suspending procurements, and never stated the final procurement plan. And she criticized other scholars for cherry-picking (49-50)! Applebaum notes later that the regime reduced procurement for Ukraine from the 1933 harvest by 915,000 tons (284), yet she never explains that they cut procurements in 1932 four times as much. Even with that reduction, actual grain procurements for 1933, 6.2 million tons, were larger than those for 1932, 4.2 million tons. These data, in her sources, are central for understanding the famine, but she never cites them.26

(2) Applebaum describes the blacklisting policy, which denied a kolkhoz or village access to trade, forced them to pay debts early, and sometimes seized other possessions, as a main cause of the famine. Yet her own sources show that in December, at the peak of the campaign, only some 400 kolkhozy were blacklisted, out of 23,270 kolkhozy in Ukraine.27   Her sources agree that blacklisting could not and did not stop trade.28   The Ukrainian government also removed villages from the blacklist if they met most of the procurement quota.29   Applebaum never mentions these points. Based on this evidence, it is difficult to accept Applebaum’s claims that blacklisting was a major cause of famine mortality. 

(3) The Soviet regime attempted to prevent peasants from fleeing Ukraine, the North Caucasus, and the Lower Volga in decrees in early 1933.30   Applebaum notes that several thousand peasants were caught, but never presents an estimate of the total number. The only figure I have seen is 219,460 people caught by mid-March, the great majority of whom were sent back to their villages.31   Even if twice as many were caught in this harsh policy, and all of them died of the famine, this would account only for a minority of famine deaths (see below). Applebaum also claims that “beyond Kharkiv where the Russian territory starts there was no hunger” (198). Yet archival sources show “there were massive cases of swelling from famine and death” in the Central Blackearth Oblast’, especially in southern parts across the border from Kharkiv.32

(4) In chapter 10 Applebaum describes the harsh searches that local personnel, often Ukrainian, imposed on villages, based on a Ukrainian memoir collection (222), and she presents many vivid anecdotes. Still she never explains how many people these actions affected. She cites a Ukrainian decree from November 1932 calling for 1100 brigades to be formed (229). If each of these 1100 brigades searched 100 households, and a peasant household had five people, then they took food from 550,000 people, out of 20 million, or about 2-3 percent. As will be discussed below, even if all of these people died from the confiscatory searches, this would be only a small share of the total famine deaths.

(5) Applebaum’s attribution of the famine to a “vicious propaganda campaign” against peasants accused of withholding grain leaves out half the story. She cites several sources in which officials and other people expressed certainty that peasants were withholding food (231ff). Yet she does not connect these sources to the published reports from 1928 she cited earlier of peasants withholding grain, which some people must have remembered. Yet the propaganda was not the whole story. She cites Stalin’s famous letter to Sholokhov blaming peasants for shortages, but does not mention that he sent food relief to Sholokhov’s region.33   Her sources have many documents that viewed peasants as victims, allotted relief to starving villages and to children and invalids in hospitals, and even reporting arrests of personnel for poor work in aiding starving people.34   She wrote about some of these relief efforts (269ff), but does not consider whether these actions undermined the “propaganda campaign” of hostility to peasants. 

(6) Applebaum does not present any evidence for her claim that limits on kolkhoz trade were a cause of the famine. Most Ukrainian provinces were allowed to trade by the end of 1932 or early 1933, but even with this permission, peasants brought much less grain to markets than in any other year (another sign of a low harvest).35   But the other side of this issue was famine relief. She asserts that “during the winter of 1933 he [Stalin] did not offer any additional food aid” (193) and that only in May 1933 the government “finally approved significant food aid” (283). Her own sources show that after 5 February 1933, when the regime suspended procurements, officials at all levels worked to obtain and distribute food to these starving people, especially children.36   Most of the documents in both Ukrainian document collections dating from the cessation of procurements in February until the harvest in August (Holod 1932-1933[1990], 350-558; Holodomor [2007], pgs. 621-920) discuss famine relief by officials at some level, as do her other sources, but she cites almost none of these in her very incomplete discussion of aid by Soviet institutions.37   This relief for the USSR as a whole included millions of tons of grain allocated from the USSR’s limited reserves and from grain procured.38

Perhaps even more important, Applebaum almost completely ignores the fact that these starving peasants were the ones who ended the famine, with the help of Soviet famine relief, by producing a much larger harvest in 1933. She mentions peasant work in early 1933 extremely elliptically (252, 265, 296), and never mentions the many agencies the regime established to help farmers overcome the famine.39

(7) In chapter 13, “Aftermath,” Applebaum discusses famine mortality. She notes that views are “coalescing” around an estimate of 3.9 million excess deaths (279-280), but this is still disputable.40   Then she asserts, with no evidence, that famine mortality was highest in Kyiv and Khar’kiv provinces, citing Andrea Graziosi’s claim that these regions posed the “greatest political resistance” to the Bolsheviks in the Civil War and in 1930 against collectivization (282-283). Yet neither she nor Graziosi provide any evidence that Stalin gave directives to “punish” those provinces. She does not cite evidence, again from her own sources, that procurements from Kyiv oblast’ were reduced greatly and ended up “extremely minimal,” that the region had crop failures in 1932, and that Kyiv oblast’ received substantial food relief.41

Applebaum’s second summary conclusion concern Ukrainian nationalism. She argues that “the famine was a political famine, created for the express purpose of weakening peasant resistance, and thus national identity, and in this it succeeded” (283). Yet she provides only anecdotal evidence of “peasant resistance” and never explains how it was related to “national identity.” Her main evidence for this consists of stories fabricated by officials about peasant conspiracies and connections with Ukrainian nationalists abroad (e.g., 95ff, 102ff, 184). If “resistance” meant peasants holding back produce for higher prices, it is difficult to see this as “nationalist,” because it caused people in Ukrainian cities to starve, and because Russian peasants were accused of this as well. Later, in discussing Nazi genocide in Ukraine, she makes an even stronger claim (323): “This was Stalin’s policy, multiplied many times: the elimination of whole nations through starvation.” But 24 pages later (347) she writes: “Stalin did not seek to kill all Ukrainians ….” She never addresses this contradiction and never documents either claim.

She argues the famine brought “the end of Ukrainization.” She writes the arrests of “almost 200,000” Ukrainian political and cultural figures, which she calls an “entire generation of educated patriotic Ukrainians” (217), although she never explains what happened to them. While the arrests she describes certainly harmed Ukrainian culture, Ukraine had 8-9 million townspeople, and many more than 200,000 were educated.42   She claims that, as a result of this repression, “Russian language returned to dominance” (218), but her examples are Donetsk and Odessa, highly Russian regions. Ukrainian statistics show that the share of district newspapers in Ukrainian decreased from 85.3 to 80 percent. But 80 percent is still dominant, and greater than the percentage of Ukrainians in Ukraine in the 1937 census.43   The number of books published in Ukrainian in Ukraine increased from 27 million in 1928 to over 55 million in 1934 and 65.3 million in 1937, almost 90 percent of all books published, with only 5.8 million in Russian.44   In 1935-1936, out of 4.96 million students in schools in Ukraine, 4.1 million were taught Ukrainian, 634,962 Russian, and much smaller numbers for 17 other languages.45   In light of these data, it is difficult to accept her claim that Ukrainization ended. 

In chapter 14 Applebaum discusses the Soviet attempt to conceal the famine and reports by foreign visitors to inform the outside world about it. They included journalists, and she contrasts the writings of Gareth Jones, who traveled in Ukraine briefly and wrote about the famine, with those of Walter Duranty, who she claims concealed the famine. Yet she does not cite Duranty’s article on the front page of the New York Timeson 24 August 1933, with the headline “Famine Toll Heavy in Southern Russia,” with the subheading, “Death Rate During Last Year Has Trebled – Food Supply Now Held Assured,” and the first paragraph, which reads, in part: “The food shortage which has affected almost the whole population in the last year, and particularly the grain-producing provinces – that is, the Ukraine, North Caucasus, the Lower Volga region – has, however, caused heavy loss of life.” Duranty did not “deny” the famine. 

Applebaum’s chapter 15 on “The Holodomor in History and Memory” surveys the nationalist historiography of the famine, from publications during the Nazi occupation of Ukraine, to émigré publications mainly in Canada, culminating in Robert Conquest’s 1986 book Harvest of Sorrow, and writings on the famine in independent Ukraine. This historiography is informative, but she criticizes “Soviet scholars and mainstream academic journals” for allegedly ignoring Ukraine. She describes as “unprecedented at the time for a book about Ukraine” (337) that academics reviewed Harvest of Sorrow. Yet a search in JSTOR for reviews in 18 Slavic studies periodicals during 1960-1985, the 25 years before the publication of Harvest of Sorrow, using the keyword “Ukraine” brought up over 800 reviews, and using the keyword “Ukrainian” over 1100 reviews. 

Red Famine does present recently published anecdotal evidence about many aspects of the famine, but most of Applebaum’s extreme statements are undocumented. Her portrayal of Ukrainians as victims of persecution is exaggerated for the Tsarist period and misleading for the Soviet period: the regime arrested many Ukrainian cultural figures, but they arrested many Russian cultural figures as well, and Ukrainization as evidenced in publishing and education did not end. Her arguments attributing the 1932-1933 famine to blacklisting, roadblocks, searches, and propaganda are contradicted by evidence in her own sources that she does not cite. Her claim that the famine did not result from a crop failure is contradicted by her own statements, and by evidence in her sources that she does not cite, especially the large reduction in food procurements from Ukraine. Since the famine after the low procurements in 1932 was much worse than the one after the higher procurements in 1931, the only rational explanation is that the 1932 harvest was also much smaller.46   Applebaum’s discussion of the debate over whether the famine was genocide (347ff) ignores these issues, which are crucial for that discussion. 

While this review article does not allow for a full discussion of the issue of genocide and Stalin’s responsibility, we can at least note certain conclusions from the sources presented here. Stalin and other leaders made concessions to Ukraine in procurements and were clearly trying to balance the subsistence needs of Ukraine and other regions, especially people in towns and industrial sites who could not access the surrogate foods that some peasants relied on to survive (see for example Applebaum ch.12). Soviet leaders did not understand the 1932 crop failure: they thought that peasants were withholding food to drive up prices on the private market, as some of them had in 1928. They worried about the Japanese take-over of Manchuria in 1931-1932 and the Nazi victory in Germany in early 1933, and feared nationalist groups in Poland and Austria could inspire a nationalist rebellion in Ukraine. Faced with these “threats,” Soviet leaders were reluctant to make the USSR appear weak by admitting the famine and importing a lot of food, both of which they had done repeatedly earlier. The famine and the Soviets’ insufficient relief can be attributed to crop failure, and to leaders’ incompetence and paranoia regarding foreign threats and peasant speculators: a retaliatory version of the moral economy.

Red Famine has received considerable notice in the press, yet none of the reviews that I have seen, even academic ones, address the book’s serious problems. Michael Ellman described Applebaum’s book as “balanced and nuanced” and only noted that hers “is not the only possible framework for a study of the famine.”47   Sheila Fitzpatrick, in theGuardian, calls the book “a superior work of popular history.” She mildly disagrees with Applebaum’s view that Stalin intended “to kill Ukrainians,” without mentioning Applebaum’s contradictory statements on this point.48

One scholar asked me: why have academic works not received the kind of attention the Applebaum’s book has? In addition to her status as a well-known and widely published journalist, another reason for her book’s popularity is that Ukrainian nationalist scholars have been propagating the perspective she advocates for decades, as she documents (ch.15). Applebaum’s omission of key evidence replicates the practices of Ukrainian nationalist writers. For example, the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute (which worked with Applebaum and Conquest, as she documents in the book) recently published an article collection, After the Holodomor, in which, like Applebaum, the authors attributed the famine to grain procurements but never state what they were in 1932 and how much lower they were than in 1931 or 1933.49

Some might ask whether Applebaum’s writing is more accessible to “non-specialist” readers. There are many excellent writers among Slavic specialists, and a more accurate account could easily have been presented in clear and simple language. Applebaum’s writing does not “simplify” the truth, it obscures it, as discussed in this review. Red Famine thus does not fit well in the existing scholarly literature, even as “popular history.” Its interpretation resembles that of Conquest’s Harvest of Sorrow, and it does use recent published sources that provide vivid descriptions of many people’s experiences in the famine. But it leaves out too much important information, has false claims on key points, and draws unjustified conclusions on important issues based on incomplete use of sources, making it not even close to the level of genuine scholarship, like Davies and Wheatcroft’s Years of Hunger. Red Famine is better characterized by a passage from Peter Kenez’s book on The Birth of the Propaganda State: “propaganda often means telling less than the truth, misleading people … manipulating and distorting information, lying” and addresses “audiences in simple language…”50

When even academics avoid confronting popular histories that mislead the public, they perpetuate a problem in the history field. The American historian Peter Charles Hoffer wrote in his book on malfeasance in American history writing, Past Imperfect: “In law to defraud is to misrepresent or conceal with the intention of deceiving and the aim of gaining from deceit.  In historical scholarship, falsification, plagiarism, and fabrication were devastating types of fraud.  They might not be indictable in a court of law, but they undermined the very foundations of scholarly authority.  What was more, they tested the profession's ability and willingness to police itself.”51 

I hope that this review will help readers and scholars to be cautious in referring to Red Famine and to be alert to the problems in this kind of writing. 


1Gulag: A History, Doubleday, 2003; Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956, Doubleday, 2012. Her website that lists many of her writings is:

2See for example, M. L. Podves’ko, Ukrains’ko-Anhliys’kyy slovnik, Kyiv, 1957, pp. 106, 445; W. Niniows’kyi, Ukrainian-English and English-Ukrainian Dictionary, Edmonton, 1985, pp. 343, 488. The Google translator also gives these translations. 

3Ukraine’s rural population was approximately 24 million, Russia’s was 76 million, in 1926; Vsesoiuznyi perepis’ naseleniia 1937g. Kratkie itogi, Moscow, 1991, 48-51. Russia’s rural population was 83% of the total population, Ukraine’s rural population was 81.7% (my calculation from this source). She discusses the 1937 census (299ff), yet does not notice that it also shows the same population relationship: Vsesoiuznyi perepis’ naseleniia 1937g., 51. 

4V. I. Gurko, Features and Figures of the Past, Stanford: Stanford University Pres, 1939, 136. 

5Graham Tan, “Transformation versus Tradition: Agrarian Policy and Government-Peasant Relations in Right-Bank Ukraine 1920-1923,”Europe-Asia Studies, v. 52 n. 5, July, 2000, 918ff. Her source was V. M. Lytvyn et al., Istoriia ukrains’koho selianstva, Kiev, 2006, v. 2, 59.

6T.K. Dennison, A.W. Carus, “The Invention of the Russian Rural Commune: Haxthausen and the Evidence,” The Historical Journal, v. 46 n.3, September 2003, 561-582; M. M. Gromyko, Mir russkoi derevnyi, Moscow, 1991, 57ff.; P. N. Zyrianov, Krest’ianskaia obshchina evropeistkoi Rossii, Moscow: Nauka, 1992, 50ff. 

7Zyrianov, Krest’ianskaia obshchina , 36, shows repartitional communes dominant in most Ukrainian provinces; on household tenure, Vadim Koukouchkine, From peasants to labourers: Ukrainian and Belarusan immigration from the Russian Empire to Canada, Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2007, 17-18; David Moon, The Russian Peasantry, 1600-1930, London: Longman, 1999, 93. 

8The best study of this issue is Alexei Miller, The Ukrainian Question: The Russian Empire and Nationalism in the Nineteenth Century, Budapest: CEU Press, 2003; on these points: 62ff, 97-115, 230-241, 267ff. 

9Kataloh knyzhnaho magazyna redaktsiy zhurnala “Kievskaia staryna,”28 pages, 1899, and Katalog malorusskikh khig knizhnago magazine Stepana Ivanovicha Gomolinskago, 32 pages, 1887, which is available online:

10See, for example, Moshe Lewin, Russian Peasants and Soviet Power(New York: Norton, 1968), and Michael Reiman, The Birth of Stalinism(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), among many other publications. 

11See for example Pierre Spitz, “The Right to Food in Historical Perspective,” Food Policy, v. 10 n. 4, November 1985, 306-316, and especially E. P. Thompson, “The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century,” Past & Present, n. 50, February 1971, 76-136. . 

12These are discussed in Tauger, “Stalin, Soviet Agriculture, and Collectivization,” in Trentmann and Just, eds., Food and Conflict in Europe in the Age of the Two World Wars, New York, 2006, and “La famine soviétique ‘inconnue’ de 1924-1925,” in Tauger, Famine et transformation agricole in URSS, Paris: Delga, 2017, 27-74. 

13See the study in, and Edwin H. Sutherland, White Collar Crime: The Uncut Version, Yale University Press, 1983. On Russia, see for example Christine Worobec, “Horse Thieves and Peasant Justice in Post-Emancipation Imperial Russia,” Journal of Social History, v. 21 no 2, Winter 1987, 281-293.

14See Tauger, Natural Disaster and Human Action in the Soviet Famine of 1931-1933, Pittsburgh, 2001; Davies and Wheatcroft,Years of Hunger, passim; Stalin, Sochinenniia, Moscow, 1954, v. 13, 216-217. 

15Ruslan Pyrih, ed., Holodomor1932-1933 rokiv v Ukraini: dokumenty I materialy, Kyiv,2007, 63-64. 

16Holodomor, 2007, 156; Holod na Ukraine, Ochyma istorikov, movoiu dokumentiv, Kyiv, 1990, 162. 

17Davies and Wheatcroft, Years of Hunger, Palgrave MacMillan, 2004, 449. 

18On these points see Tauger, "The 1932 Harvest and the Famine of 1933." Slavic Review, v. 50 no. 1, Spring 1991, 70-89; and idem., Statistical Falsification in the Soviet Union: A Comparative Case Study of Projections, Biases, and Trust, The Donald W. Treadgold Papers in Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies (Seattle: University of Washington, 2001), no. 34. 

19Her sources indicate that the 1931 procurement plan for Ukraine was actually 7.17 million tons; Holodomor, 2007, 173. 

20Holod … ochyma, 1990, 352-353; Holodomor, 2007, 642. 

21Holodomor, 2007, 149-52.

22Holodomor, 2007, 290-303, 355-360, 597-601. 

23Holodomor, 2007, 291, document 217, telegram from Stalin to Kaganovich, 19 August 1932: “As is evident from the materials, not only the Ukrainians but also the North Caucasians, Middle Volga, Western Siberia, Kazakhstan and Bashkiria will speak with the Central Committee about reducing the grain procurement plan. I advise satisfying for the time being only the Ukrainians, reducing their plan by 30 million and only in extreme case by 35-40 million. As for the others, postpone discussion with them until the end of August.” 

24Holodomor, 2007, 641; Holod … ochyma, 1990, 349. 

25Holodomor, 2007, 597-601. 

26Davies, Wheatcroft, Years of Hunger, 470. 

27Heorhii Papakin, “Blacklists as an instrument of the Famine-Genocide of 1932-1933 in Ukraine,” translated from Ukrainian and available at: , pp. 8-10. Holodomor, 2007, 458, 620; Holod 1932-1933 ochyma, 1990, 311-314; on number of kolkhozy, Asatkin, Narodne hospodarstvo USRR, 1935, 205. 

28Holodomor, 2007, 458, 620; Holod 1932-1933 ochyma, 1990, 311-314; the regime had brought goods to villages for years to trade for grain. 

29Papakin, “Blacklists,” note that some villages were placed on and off the blacklists multiple times, which implies that the policy was arbitrary rather than systematic. 

30Tragediia Sovetskoi derevni, v. 3, 634, 644. 

31N. A. Ivnitskii, Golod 1932-1933 godov v SSSR, 2009, 199. 

32RTsKhIDNI, f. 112, op. 26, d. 21, l.229. I discussed this source in detail in “Soviet Peasants and Collectivization, 1930-1939: Resistance and Adaptation,” in Steven Wegren, ed., Rural Adaptation in Russia, Routledge, 2005, 83ff. See Ivnitskii,Golod 1932-1933 godov v SSSR. 


34Holod 1932-1933… ochyma, 1990, 455-456. 

35See John Whitman, “The Kolkhoz Market,” Soviet Studies, v. 7 (April 1956), 390. 

36Holodomor, 2007, 641; Holod … ochyma, 1990, 349, as noted above. For an example of relief that began on & February, two days after the suspension of procurements, see Holodomor, 2007, 663; Holod … ochyma, 1990, 374. The fact that both collections include this document means that the editors considered it significant. 

37For example, Davies, Wheatcroft, Years of Hunger, ch. 6. 

38Tauger, “1932 Harvest and the Famine of 1933,” 74; Tauger, Davies, Wheatcroft, “Soviet Grain Stocks …” 

39See Tauger, Commune to Kolkhoz, PhD dissertation, UCLA, 1991, ch. 7, and Davies and Wheatcroft, Years of Hunger, passim, among other sources. 

40France Meslé, Jasques Vallin, Evgeny Andreev, “Demographic Consequences of the Great Famine: Then and Now,” in Graziosi et al., After the Holodomor, Cambridge: HURI, 2013, 220-222. 

41Holodomor, 2007, 771, 775-778; Holod … Ochyma, 1990, 399-400. 

42Vsesoiuznaia perepis’ naseleniia 1937 g. Kratkie itogi, Moscow, 1991, 28.58. 

43Vsesoiuznaia perepis’ naseleniia 1937 g., 94: Ukraine had 28.4 million people of whom 22.2 million or 78 percent, were Ukrainian. 

44Narodne hospodarstvo USRR: statystychnyi dovidnik, ed. O. M. Asatkin, Kyiv, 1935, 575, 577, Vsesoiuznaia perepis’ naseleniia 1937 g., 94; Kniga i knizhnoe delo v Ukrainskoi SSR, Kiev, 1985, 399. 

45Sotsialistychna Ukraina: Statystychnyy zbirnik, Kyiv, 1937, 222. 

46I made this point in 1991 in “The 1932 Harvest and the Famine of 1933.” 



49Graziosi, ed., After the Holodomor, Cambridge: HURI, 2013. For this and other issues, see my review of this book inNationalities Papers, v. 43 n. 3, 2015, 514-518. 

50Peter Kenez, The Birth of the Propaganda State: Soviet Methods of Mass Mobilization, 1917-1929, Cambridge, 1985, 2, 4, 7. 

51Peter Charles Hoffer, Past Imperfect. Facts, Fictions, Fraud: American History from Bancroft toAmbrose, Bellesiles, Ellis, and Goodwin, New York, 2004, 139. 

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