Saturday, December 30, 2017

Give Me Liberty! A review of American History and Voices of Freedom by Eric Foner

Give me liberty! And two book reviews damn it! Yes, I'm reviewing (more) textbooks. Why American History? Well, my instructor asked me the same question, and here was my answer to him:

Why History? Because it's everywhere. It's in the events that lead to a new technology, it's in old pictures I see of myself, as I laugh at the fashion trend of the time. It's in the changes in popular culture, or in our search to understand why something happened the way it did. It's in the obituaries we read about a life now passed.

Why American History? Well, whenever I hear a news report that talks about the workings of government, I always wish I had paid a bit more attention in my high school history class. I want to be more informed about how this country works and why it works the way it does. I don't want to have to turn to Wikipedia anymore to figure out things I feel I should already know, like how a bill becomes a law, or why we have an electoral college. I hope to understand the foundation and growth of this country, and gain context to help me understand current events.

Blah blah blah, you get the gist. So Give Me Liberty is the textbook we used. Eric Foner has another, more comprehensive text. So this one is the condensed version. But a lot of the materials cut out of the main textbook are included in the companion reader, Voices of Freedom. This book has short readings that supplement each chapter, usually essays and letters by people from that particular time period.

I'm not an aficionado of History textbooks, but I actually thought Give Me Liberty was quite good. Foner really emphasized things that weren't traditionally taught, especially in grade school history courses. His focus on racial inequality and the roots of racism in America were really eye opening to me. He spent a lot of time discussing the dishenfranchisement of groups like Native Americans, women, and African Americans. And his summary of American History from Columbus' voyage to the Americas to the Civil War was brief, but impactful.

The companion book, Voices of Freedom, was a bit of a bore for me, tbh. But I suppose it's a great resource if you want a compilation of writings from that time period.

So a hit and miss, respectively, for these two books. Not that you're going out to buy either anytime soon. But you should know, I still don't quite get how a bill becomes a law (that's not really covered in this book). But there's always this guy for that:


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