Wednesday, July 8, 2009

What Hath God Wrought

I am one of those people who is ruining American history. When curmudgeons lament the much-exaggerated death of "traditional" history or complain that young scholars only care about sexy minutia, they have me in mind. I'll read any journal article with a title that promises prostitution or infanticide.

That said, I am thoroughly enjoying Daniel Walker Howe's What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848. I didn't expect to feel any affection for a tome on the antebellum period, but the writing is lively and Prof. Howe shares my love of John Quincy Adams (the book is dedicated to Adams). After slogging through Sean Wilentz' fawning Jackson lovefest, I'm tickled to find that Howe's Jackson is a violent, anti-intellectual, petulant demagogue. If I have to read about bank charters and the transportation revolution, I prefer to be entertained, and Howe delivers.

He also does a good job of alternating between politics-heavy chapters and chapters that focus on social, cultural, and technological developments. If I feel myself flagging during a section on monetary policy, I can be comforted by the thought that something closer to my interests is not far off.

If you're looking for a survey of this period, I recommend this one over all the other doorstops and textbooks out there.

1 comment:

The History Enthusiast said...

I was not a fan of Wilentz's narrative either :).