THE TRIALS OF HARRY S. TRUMAN

Jeffrey Frank takes a critical and objective look at the presidency of Harry Truman. By no means a love affair, the title, The Trials of Harry S. Truman, and subtitle, The Extraordinary Presidency of an Ordinary Man, 1945-1953, establish the tenor of the book.

Frank is quick to objectively microscope Truman proclamations and interpretations but always willing to credit the president with the most difficult decisions of his place and time. The Atomic Bomb, Potsdam, Stalin, the Marshall Plan, The Berlin Airlift, the desegregation of the U.S. Military and the Federal workforce , MacArthur, Korea, NATO, Strom Thurmond, the election of 1948. Frank condenses this broad landscape into a concisely focused 380 pages.

The author chose a direct quote from Truman’s last press conference which I think goes a long way to putting Harry S. Truman and his place in history into perspective:

It ended with the traditional ” Mr. President-thank you!” But this time it was followed by affectionate applause for this child of rural Missouri- this self educated striver, a man determined to overcome the prejudices, ethnic and religious, of that time and place-letting him know that he was, as Lippman put it, in his sentimental moment, someone who ” has the good nature of a good man.” In mid century America, it was hard to imagine a future when those qualities could be extinguished.

If you are a fan of presidential history, add THE TRIALS OF HARRY S. TRUMAN to your reading list.

OLMSTED AND YOSEMITE/THE NATIONAL PARKS/A NEW LOOK

I have read extensively regarding the development of the National Parks of America. I was captivated by the fireside Yosemite camping stories of John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt. A new book, OLMSTED AND YOSEMITE, authored by Rolf Diamant and Ethan Carr, casts a new light upon the incubation of what would become America’s National Parks. Step aside Muir and TR.

Enter Frederick Law Olmsted, the co-creator of New York City’s Central Park. Olmsted’s career began not as a landscape architect but as an educated engineer followed by an impressive resume as a journalist for the newspaper that became the New York Times. He traveled the antebellum south just prior to the outbreak of the Civil War and reported on the deplorable condition of slavery and the devastation of much of the agricultural land there by over planting. It was a social education for Olmsted that greatly impacted his future contributions to the American landscape.

Olmsted came away from his southern sojourn with a strong belief that his work on New York’s Central Park should become a mirror of inclusiveness and a demonstration of how a democracy could act to benefit all of its citizens. Olmsted believed that parks and open spaces available to everyone could become a uniting factor following the war. It was that philosophy that drew him to California and Yosemite and the creation in 1865 of the Preliminary Report upon the Yosemite and the Big Tree Grove . The complete report is appended in the book. Many believe that this work is the basis of what became America’s National Parks, and more importantly the future philosophy behind their design.

You will meet many important contributors to our national parks in this book. Enjoy.

OLMSTED AND YOSEMITE is an important look at why America’s National Parks are such a cherished part of the nation’s landscape.

BRAIDING SWEETGRASS

Robin Wall Kimmerer is a mother, scientist, decorated professor, and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. She is the author of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants and Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses.

Robin Kimmerer takes the reader on a journey into an America of what might have been in the present had not the culture of America’s Indigenous People been destroyed by “Manifest Destiny.” Immerse yourself in this beautifully crafted manuscript and learn of a lost culture of which the earth of the 21st Century screams for a return. It is a beautiful and even hopeful story of a generation of scientists, ecologists and sociologists that have not given up on the lost culture of those first inhabitants of our land. Native American history and culture are perfectly blended with an ecological lesson within these pages. Braiding Sweetgrass is worthy of its long standing among the New York Times Best Sellers.

THE 1619 PROJECT

Ten years before the Constitution was written John Adams had worried that the colonies were so different, especially the ones with agricultural based economies dependent on slave labor that it would, ” be a Miracle, if such heterogenous ingredients did not produce violent Fermentations.”

The 1619 Project created by Nikole Hannah-Jones and the New York Times is the most remarkable work of modern journalism that this author has read. The fact that this book and its previous publication in the New York Times has raised the ire of the detractors of truth is proof, the report card of its value to America’s discourse on slavery.

I urge you to read this book because the knowledge imparted in these pages can lay the groundwork for a truthful understanding of the impact of human bondage in an evolving America. It speaks not just to the brutal history of slavery but equally important relates directly to the caste system which exists in America today.

THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY/AMOR TOWLES

I loved Towle’s A Gentleman In Moscow and Rules of Civility, ( Search Gordon’s Good Reads) but his new novel THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY dropped me by the side of the road. Based on its ranking on the NYT’s best seller list, I may be in the minority. The character development and the structure of the book left me wanting for that clear story-telling that I have come to like from Towles. Your take may be the opposite but of the three books, this is surely a departure.

MADHOUSE AT THE END OF THE EARTH

Don’t look in these pages for another Ernest Shackleton adventure or for a repeat of the Jeannette disaster. This is a different story of death and survival in an ego driven pursuit of Antarctic exploration and the South Pole. Belgium, as described by author Julian Sancton, is an unlikely contender in the race for glory in charting the icy subcontinent. The same is true for the expedition’s leader, Adrien de Gerlache, well-intentioned but severely lacking in seamanship and funding. Despite his shortcomings, de Gerlache manages to raise funds and crew the refitted Belgica. Among those recruited for the expedition, Roald Amundsen who would later out race the ill-fated Robert Scott quest for claiming the South Pole. Also aboard was one American, Dr. Frederick Cook who later in 1908 would claim to have reached the North Pole. MADHOUSE AT THE END OF THE EARTH is an exact description of what occurs when dreams of glory steer a ship deep into the polar ice of the Bellingshausen Sea. The outcome is inevitable, months locked in the Antarctic ice, worsened by the disappearance of daylight. Sancton’s book becomes a study of the day by day, hour by hour mental and physical deterioration of all on board. Miraculously, only two members of the expedition would die, one of whom fell overboard in a storm, prior to the ship’s entombment. Author Sancton poured over personal diaries and the ships logs and emerged from his research with vivid detail of how loneliness, hopelessness and physical deterioration effect humans.  His telling of the story takes on the character of a well written novel. Sunlight returned, the pack ice relented, and after nearly a three years journey, despite failing to reach the South Pole, the Belgica returned to a glorious reception in Belgium. Survival had become the  goal. For more reads on Arctic exploration search Gordon’s Good Reads for The Endurance, Robert Peary, Jeannette.

A PROMISED LAND

I tend to stay away from presidential memoirs, preferring biographies. Biographies are more objective, although depending on the historian, that is not always the case.

Barak Obama’s A PROMISED LAND falls somewhere in between. I found the book very enlightening of his early years and the long process by which he became a politician. You will learn early on that decision did not enjoy much favor from Michelle. Two lawyers, a nice family and lifestyle in Chicago was more her plan. It is very interesting to learn how a political partnership evolved.

Volume one sets the stage for Obama’s remarkable rise to power details the husband and wife partnership that became a formidable force on the American Political scene. It remains so to this day.

As you would expect the volume is very well written and an enjoyable preamble to his presidency. It is interesting that Michelle’s book has outlasted A PROMISED LAND on the New York Times’ Best Seller List.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES’ HISTORY/ORTIZ

 

You will be hard pressed to read a broader documentation of the genocide of native Americans and other indigenous peoples across the Americas than in Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES’ HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES. Every ugly aspect of Colonialism, Manifest Destiny, Slavery, and the Doctrine of Discovery is explored in depth.

Ortiz makes a strong case that America’s Manifest Destiny, disguised as moral wars in the 20th Century (Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan) remains as a dangerous undercurrent in American foreign policy and in the 21st Century treatment of native American. Every member of Congress should read this work before even considering to vote on such issues as reparations. This is not a rehash of the same old story. The book has plenty of attitude and that is a very good thing.

 

BLACK RADICAL/WILLIAM MONROE TROTTER

Kerri K. Greenidge in her book BLACK RADICAL THE LIFE AND TIMES OF WILLIAM MONROE TROTTER isa bold revelation of civil rights history in America. The insight into this heretofore obscure figure in the civil rights movement is a great historical contribution. The research and careful narrative evolve into a tableau of the life of this early activist who followed in the Boston tradition of William Lloyd Garrison’s Liberator with his own publication The Guardian.

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Trotter turned Boston and New England civil rights activism on its head taking a no holds barred approach at his overflow rallies at Faneuil Hall and his in-your-face challenges to Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Booker T. Washington. No Tuskegee philosophy for Monroe Trotter as his demands for equality were absolute. So strong were his protestations that even staunch advocates such as W.E.B. Dubois and Frederick Douglas stood back.

Unlike other members od Du Bois’s ‘talented tenth’ (mostly light-skinned black elites) Monroe Trotter would never confine his civil rights activism to the circle of black elite on Martha’s Vineyard, or the coterie of fellow light skinned northern born professionals with whom he socialized in Washington D.C., and Brooklyn.  Despite his New England upbringing and Victorian sensibilities, Trotter provided a voice for thousands of disenchanted, politically marginalized black working people for whom neither the National Negro Business League nor the NAACP had much relevance.”

Follow this Harvard man’s radical fight for a Federal antilynching bill and the enforcement of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments as he defiantly confronted the white power brokers of the time.

I am thankful to Kerri Greenidge for telling this story.

FIRST Principles/THOMAS E. RICKS

As readers of this blog may know I am a fan of John Adams and have within these pages questioned historian Gordon Wood and others regarding objectivity concerning Adams, in particular in comparison’s to Jefferson. Thomas E. Rick’s new book FiRST Principals, WHAT AMERICA’S FOUNDERS LEARNED from the GREEKS and ROMANS AND HOW THAT SHAPED OUR COUNTRY makes a herculean effort to connect the thinking of the Founding Fathers with that of the ancient Greeks and Romans as they organized their governments and laws.

Ricks authors an in depth analysis of the political and ruling organizations of those ancient times and attempts to connect them to the thinking of those who founded the fledging America. You will need to judge whether or not he succeeded.

In addition to the ancient perspective, throughout the book Ricks finds ways to circle back to his passion of comparing the thinking of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson during America’s daybreak. Like historian Gordon Wood his writing becomes clouded with his reverence for Jefferson and I think disdain for Adams. So often, Ricks seems to go out of his way to demean Adams’s thinking while praising, and in this readers view, making excuses for Jefferson’s shortcomings. He brushes past Jefferson’s slaveholding, his virtual disappearance during the Revolutionary War and his relationship with fourteen-year-old Sally Hemings. The book does not recognize the depth of Jefferson’s disdain for Federalism and his advancement of the superiority of states rights over a strong federal government. ( The continuation of the “Plantation” economy and expansion of slavery.)

In fairness, I think Ricks is himself conflicted about John Adams. On the one hand he references Adam’s best known work A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America as, The sole piece of writing he finished that is longer than an essay. However just two paragraphs later Ricks writes, Adams in turn wrote , there can be no government of laws without a balance and there can be no balance without the three orders. Sounds like executive, judicial and legislative to me. No surprise here because John Adams is credited with authoring the Massachusetts Constitution which in 1788 became the blueprint for the U.S. Constitution.

With regard to what the founders learned from the Greeks and Romans I must confess that Ricks gives Adams his due. Quoting from a famous John Adams essay in the Boston Gazette in 1765 titled Let Us Dare , Let us dare to read, think, speak and write. Let every order and degree among the people rouse their attention and animate their resolution. Let them all become attentive to the grounds and principles of government, ecclesiastical and civil. Let us study the law of nature; search into the spirit of the British Constitution; read the histories of ancient ages; contemplate the great examples of Greece and Rome.

This essay was written just as the Stamp Act was passed by the British Parliament which many consider to be the final spark that ignited the American Revolution. This is Adam’s prescient thought in the opening lines of Let Us Dare. Liberty. . .which has never been enjoyed, in its full perfection, by more than ten or twelve millions of men at any Time, since the Creation, will reign in America, over hundreds and thousands of millions at a Time.

Getting past my defense of Adams, Rick’s book creates a superior condensed history of the Revolutionary War, the rise of George Washington, the telling of the Adams, Jefferson, Burr election of 1800, the impact of James Madison and the evolution of political parties in America. His epilogue ” What We Can Do” is filled with positive responses to what America has learned from history and the founding fathers.

First Principles is a great read for those who are looking for a deep dive into a slice on early American history.