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Archive for the ‘American History’ Category

After yesterday’s post on how the Gospel and the Christian worldview shapes all that we do should be for the glory of God, I thought I share a more fun read that I finished a few weeks back.  We must read also for the glory of God, even with historical reading.  I will give first a review of the book itself and provide in the end a brief Christian reflection so that the Christian reflection doesn’t take away from my review of the book.

The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War by Leonard L Richards

Leonard L. Richards.  The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War.  New York, NY: Knopf, February 13th, 2007. 304 pp.

This turned out to have been quite a fun read largely because the author was able to present a non-stop account of the many interesting personalities during an interesting time period of American history’s pre-Civil War days.  The book is about California’s influence upon the sectional divide between the States and also how the people and interests of the different parts of the United States shaped the politics and direction of California.  Before this I never really thought much about how California’s role in the undercurrent that led to the Civil War.

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This Republic of Suffering

Drew Gilpin Faust. This Republic of Suffering.  New York, NY: Knopf, January 8th, 2008. 368 pp.

This books look on the subject of death during the American Civil War.  The author made the point that the business of dying and also taking of life is work. From this point the writer explores the cultural, social and spiritual aspect of death during the war and also how the war changed people’s perceptions about death, life and spirituality.

I found the book insightful with how the author described the pre-war Victorian era assumption of the good death that involves dying at home among family members.  The author also noted that this scenery of the good death was not only important for the person dying but also for the surviving family members and friends who were present since they could evaluate the destiny of the person’s eternity from how a person dies.  It is assumed that on one’s dying bed a person would be more honest and thus reveal whether the person dying have been right with God and ready for the eternal state.  It is a means of comfort to observe someone’s parting moment.  Of course the importance of dying in a familiar domestic areas and among familiar people of course was interrupted by the war, in which soldiers died in strange areas among strangers in horrific manners.  We see here people trying to adjust to that in how fellow soldiers wrote about another’s soldiers’ death to surviving loved ones, giving clues to whether or not that person was at peace in anticipation of eternity and doctors and nurses writing about the last moments of a wounded soldier.  The author noted that among these letters there is a strong desire to be honest and yet comforting to the families.

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Bill Bryson One Summer 1927

Bill Bryson. One Summer: America, 1927.  Wheaton, IL: Doubleday, October 1st, 2013. 456 pp.

I love American history but I must admit that I don’t have much clue about the 1920s.  As a kid I hated the Roaring Twenties but now that I’m older I’m curious as to what I might be missing out on.  This book isn’t about the roaring twenties in general but one particular summer in one particular year in American history.  I think this book is a fun read even if you aren’t that interested in history since the book is not heavy on politics (although the author does touch on political personalities), economics, etc.  Rather the author does a good job telling stories.  And he tells all kinds of stories, ranging from Charles Lindbergh’s historical moment of being the first pilot to cross the Atlantic, crime throughout America and sports.  The author Bill Bryson masterfully tells stories almost with the nostalgia of us being there as it happened.  The book more or less is chronological in terms of materials arranged as if you are reading the headlines as the weeks progressed during that summer.  It gives you the feeling like history was unfolding before your very eyes.

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Revolutionary Summer The Birth of American Independence

 

While the book is titled “Revolutionary Summer” early in the book the author makes it clear that this is a history book on the latter half of 1776 in Colonial America and the pursuit for American Independence.  The author noted that often books on the War of Independence would focus either on the political aspect of things or the military side with the war but for the founding fathers these two were intertwined and were part of any founding father’s holistic experience.  The book covers various figures in the colonies such as George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson while also exploring important figures from the British side notably the Howe brothers and General Clinton who led the military campaign against the Continental army.  I learned quite a bit from the book such as how George Washington lost New York to the British and also how among the thirteen colonies New York probably had more British sympathizers.  I also learned how the British could have crushed the Continental Army but both Howe brothers wanted to pursue a path of reconciliation and diplomacy rather than pursue a victory that is purely military.  The Howe brothers explained that the reason was to avoid unnecessary bloodshed—but it was also because of their desire to seek future political opportunities as diplomats for the British government.  It is easy to see things in hindsight but the book makes you feel the tension and uncertainty during the summer of 1776 when the colonies took the course that would change world history by seeking independence.  This book also explains the difficulties George Washington and his army faced with bad supplies and always short of soldiers.  An excellent read.

What’s In It for the Christian:

I think history is a great opportunity to see the Providence of God.  While George Washington was defeated in New York, fortunately there was a deep fog that allowed him and his army to escape New York without the British being aware which years later many in the Continental Army saw as a providence of God.  I think it is the providential working of God.  The book also reveal how it is not by might or by wit that history is shaped–that wise men can err and strong figures may not be as strong as one think.  This reminds us that we are not as in control of our paths as we may think (I like the book’s discussion of Thomas Jefferson getting upset that the Declaration of Independence was being changed by others).

 

Purchase: Amazon

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Announcement: In the past we have shared various resources on Christians and reading including “Christian Theology on Reading Series with Audio Mp3s and PDF available for free.”  For the next four Sundays we will post reviews of non-Christian books where we first evaluate the book and have a closing section titled: “What’s in it for the Christian?”

The Hour of Peril

Available on Amazon

I borrowed this book because I have never heard of any attempt to assassinate Abraham Lincoln back in 1861 during his trip to Washington to be inaugurated in as president of the United States before the Civil War.  Of course we know that any attempt to murder Lincoln in 1861 was unsuccessful.  The book has a good start and even gave the background to the detective Alan Pinkerton, the famous Private investigator that eventually helped coined the phrase “private eye.”    The author wrote in a dramatic fashion and told the story like a thriller.  Perhaps the novel-like suspense eventually hurt the book since towards the middle of the book I started wondering whether there was really any attempt to murder Lincoln and by the end of the book I was totally disappointed.  For a book that was sold as a secret plot to murder Lincoln, there was in the end nothing really concrete of a conspiracy of an immediate threat that was unearth to murder Lincoln beyond rumors, drunken men talking, secret agents listening in to people in bars and brothels and some nutcases getting together filled with self-importance.  Essentially the book was about Pinkerton and others who were worried and eventually convinced Abraham Lincoln to secretly sneak into Washington DC rather than enter through Baltimore and Maryland publicly, which at that time had many pro-Confederate sympathizer.  I would say this book and the event was totally disappointing.  The only action you will get is when Pinkerton punched a Congressman when he escorted Lincoln off the railroad station because he was paranoid and didn’t know whom the Congressman was.  I thought that captured pretty accurately the paranoia of Pinkerton and what to me is Pinkerton and the author’s misjudgment.  In the end, the plotters whom Pinkerton’s men spied upon weren’t even arrested and went back to normal life without being questioned or detained which made me wonder how much of a threat there really was in the first place when proper authorities didn’t even take action.

What’s in it for the Christian:  Hindsight is always 20/20 but the people in 1861 didn’t know that Abraham Lincoln’s fate would not end in 1861.  It should remind us that as Christians we cannot know and control the future as James 4:13-14 teaches: “ Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” 14 [g]Yet you do not know[h]what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”  God is in control of history and many conspiracies by men don’t go according to plan because mankind can’t control everything.  This should comfort us.  We must be reminded of the greatest conspiracy to come in which the nations conspire against the Son of God and yet “He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them” (Psalm 2:4).

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Waking Giant

 

I wanted to read this book to get to know more of a period in American history that I know so little about. This book covers the period of 1815 through 1848. My curiosity of that era was sparked after reading a biography of the president Andrew Jackson. No doubt reading this book gave me more of a context in understanding Andrew and his times. The focus of this book is an exploration of how this moment in American history was an unprecedented time in American history of growth and the shaping of the American identity. Surely this era was an exciting and also tumultuous time. It is growing pains if you will. I appreciated that the book went beyond the discussion of political history of the presidencies and their political parties (which I do enjoy). I love the author’s exploration of social and cultural themes of the times. For instance, the author talks about the sectional divide of the country, and various social movements such as those trying to achieve an utopia at that time, Trancendentalism and the Temperance movement. My favorite portion of the book covered the religious tempo of that time—and the introduction of American born religious movements such as the Quakers, Mormons, Christ of Christ and Shakers, it is phenomenal to see how “religious” the American people are then—and even now. The author also had discussion of other religious groups that were existent elsewhere that also reached the shores of America—Catholics with their adjustment to the US in light of native suspicions of them, Lutherans and their identity crises of their German roots and Calvinists/Presbyterians waning influence with those who reacted strongly against them that led to new movements. There are echoes here of The Democratization of American Christianity by Nathan O. Hatch. The book also discusses the uglier side of American history at that time with the nation’s policy towards Native Americans, immigrants and other states in North and South America. I was surprised to learn how costly the Mexican American war was in terms of casualties and financially. Today we often think of this period as the eve of the Civil War—and the author also discussed the issues of slavery. An enjoyable read though it felt at times it was a long read.

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History fascinates me.  When I became a Christian it became even more so.  I know it is somewhat cliche but I saw “History is His Story.”

I am fascinated with older books (that’s historical) on history–we get a window of the times of how certain people in a certain era reflected on the past.  Even more fascinating is when people try to engage history with a Christian worldview.

The following are two historical works in an earlier era in American history in which both authors engaged in a Christian view of the History of the United States.  They are found free on Google Books:

220px-George_Bancroft_by_Plumbe,_1846

George Bancroft wrote History of the United States of America in 1892.  He was a politician and writer and among his accomplishment in life was the establishment of the US Naval Academy when he was Secretary of the Navy.

 

David_Ramsay_(1749-1815)

David Ramsay wrote The History of the American Revolution in 1811.  He was a doctor that later became one of America’s early historian of the War of Independence.

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10 Big Lies America Medved

Although I have not heard him for years, I enjoy Michael Medved’s radio show because of how he approaches people that disagree with him: he interacts with his guests and those who call in with a level of civility that is almost rare and unique on talk radio.  While I don’t believe the United States is always right, Medved’s book Ten Big Lies about America will challenge some of the narrative of the “Hate America First” crowd.  It is a brilliant and an enjoyable read.

Medved focuses his first chapter on the issue of American relations to Native Americans.  In the popular narrative of American history taught in some introductory college courses, one would think it was mere systematic genocide by the Federal government but Medved’s closer look reveal that at times the Federal Government at times restrained local whites from aggression.  Medved does not paint a false portrait that Americans never did anything wrong but he does show when it is exaggerated or taken out of context.  I appreciate Medved challenging the notion that native Americans were all peaceful but coming of Europeans—however the history of tribes versus other tribes indicate otherwise.  Medved also dealt with the claim of using biological warfare of blankets with germs against the Native Americans with consideration that the understanding of germs wasn’t understood at that time along with other errors surrounding this story being told.

Another chapter that I really appreciate with “Big Lie Number 3” that dealt with the claim by some that America’s founding fathers intended a secularized nation.  This is a subject that I love to read about.  I think the chapter did a good job showing that the founding father never intended to have a secularized state of the kind that progressives today envisioned.  The Founding Fathers were more religious in their views of things than some people realized.

Although I didn’t agree with everything Medved has to say about it nevertheless I did enjoy “Big Lie Number 10” about how America is in an irreversible decline.  I do think that are some moral issues that have worsen in our country but I also don’t think it’s totally irreversible.  Medved does a good job of showing how there were times in American history that the general social and moral landscape was worst than it is now—and how things turned around.  My own theological beliefs makes me realize that God is sovereign and He can turn things around with a revival and Reformation.

Other interesting aspect of the book I enjoyed include his interaction with the idea that only government programs can remedy economic downturns (he even made a quoting reference to Mises!) and also puts in perspective of the average American’s general prosperity.

I do recommend this book.

Available on Amazon

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