Bramlett's Blogosphere

Lord, I was born a ramblin' man.

Summer Museum Visits

This summer I managed to visit the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site in St. Louis, MO as well as the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, MO. The Grant NHS largely revolves around the Dent house that Grant married into, although there’s also a solid museum and of course a gift shop. The Truman library is huge and had the most interesting exhibits of the presidential libraries I’ve been to (LBJ in Austin and Clinton in LR). Bess and Harry’s house is down the street from the library but I only drove by it very quickly and did not do a tour.

Here are some of the more interesting photos from the two museums.

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Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Research Trail ’16

This post is not nearly as epic as the title might suggest, I just really wanted to use it at some point. Have to pay homage to Hunter S.

This past weekend I was able to travel to the Iowa caucuses as part of the University of Missouri’s Political Communication Institute’s research team. We went to several rallies for different candidates for both parties and were able to witness the caucus process firsthand while at Iowa State University. Even though I saw it with my own eyes, I still do not fully understand the caucusing process. However, I am now able to say I’ve been to that great state, and I’m also able to say I have now seen the Clintons, Donald Trump, and Rand Paul in person.

One thing that stands out in my mind from visiting Iowa is how low-key the events seem to be. I suppose on television they’ll only show the rallies that have thousands of people, but I was struck at how local and natural the Iowa events are. Clinton was at a high school gymnasium, Trump a hotel banquet room, Paul a college auditorium. When people ask “should Iowa remain so important?” I would say yes, because of how it makes the candidates spend so much time doing the classic retail politicking. Sure this can happen in any state and I’m sure it does happen a lot on the presidential campaign trail, but this was the first time I’d seen it in person and I was completely infatuated with the process. Long live the Iowa caucuses.

 

Here are some pictures (all from my iPhone):

 

The People’s Choice

the peoples choiceThanksgiving break has came and went and in that small bit of downtime I was able to read a classic in political communication, “The People’s Choice” by Paul Lazarsfeld, Bernard Berelson, and Hazel Gaudet. This book, revolving around the now seminal Erie County study, is a cornerstone in the field of mass communication and in our understanding of how voters behave during presidential elections. Students of mass communication will come across the terms “two-step flow” and “selective exposure” in any theory course and it is from this book that you can learn the definitions from the primary source. Lazarsfeld and co. started out wanting to see how voters make up their minds, as the title indicates, but from this they came across findings that have defined the field of communication ever since.

The two-step flow is simple, but changed the paradigm on how academics looked at the media. The two-step flow involves opinion leaders, which are individuals who consume a large amount of news and information and then pass it along to their friends, family, co-workers, and others in their social circles. Lazarsfeld et al. found many examples of Erie County voters who didn’t really listen to political radio or read the campaign-specific stories in the newspapers magazines, but they would listen to their co-worker or neighbor or family member who had strong opinions about the campaign. That is essentially the two-step flow, now I will move on to selective exposure, which I had to write a report on this week. So, also, that is why I’m writing this blog post, I collected a lot of great quotes from my reading of The People’s Choice, and I couldn’t put them all in my report but I can put them on my blog where I can do whatever I want.two step flow

The Erie County study in “The People’s Choice” revolved around Erie County, Ohio voters in the 1940 presidential election between Franklin Roosevelt and Wendell Willkie. In 1940, voters consumed information and campaign communication (or propaganda as the authors called it) through radio, newspapers, and magazines through mass media channels, but also from interpersonal communication as I’ve mentioned with the two-step flow. For the purposes of this brief blog, I really wanted to lay out their quotes that lay the foundation for selective exposure research. Perhaps this blog will serve as a guide for other researchers who may not have a library with a copy of this old, dusty book. First, Lazarsfeld et al. mention “selective attention” but they do offer several tidbits that lead to a thorough definition of selective exposure.

fdr_willkie_buttonsSelective attention: “The more interested people are in the election…the more they expose themselves to campaign propaganda” (p. 42).

“Whatever the publicity that is put out, it is the selective attention of the citizen which determines what is responded to” (p.76).

A beginning definition: “As interest increases and the voter begins to be aware of what it is all about, his predispositions come into play. Out of the wide array of available propaganda, he begins to select. He is more likely to tune in some programs than others” (p.76).

Selective exposure in the 1940 election: “People selected political material in accord with their own taste and bias” (p.80).

“Voters somehow contrive to select out of the passing stream of stimuli those by which they are more inclined to be persuaded. So it is that the more they read and listen, the more convinced they become of the rightness of their own position” (p.82).

“The more strongly partisan the person, the more likely he is to insulate himself from contrary points of view” (p.89).

The highly exposed and highly interested: “Political materials distributed through the various media of communication reached the same group of voters” (p. 121). “The ones the campaign managers most wanted to reach – read and listened least” (p.95). Undecided voters were likely to get their information from second-hand sources, and did not actually read or listen to much political campaign propaganda. Decided partisans who were interested in the election were the ones paying close attention to campaign propaganda. However, these “constant partisans” still “managed to see and hear more of their own side’s propaganda than the opposition’s” (p.89). “In short, the most partisan people protect themselves from the disturbing experience presented by opposition arguments by paying little attention to them” (p.89).

So there you have it, the most basic definitions of selective exposure from the primary source. I should also note that The People’s Choice is a relatively short book, and you could read it in a day or two. I read the 3rd edition, which has some nice forewords reflecting on the impact this study had on mass communication and our overall understanding of presidential elections. My next book should be after the semester is over, and I am planning on reading Jon Meacham’s new biography about George H.W. Bush along with Joseph Klapper’s “The Effects of Mass Communication” over Christmas break.

1940 electoral map (via UCSB

1940 electoral map (via UCSB)

Learning from 2012

So, I figured I would check in on my blog at least once this semester. I just finished the book I have been reading on my nightstand, “The Gamble,” by political scientists John Sides and Lynn Vavreck. This book is about the 2012 presidential election and was recommended to me by my advisor as it’s a social scientific analysis presented as a narrative. “The Gamble” is called this for two reasons: campaigns make gambles, and the authors and publishers gambled in how this book was developed. The gamble was creating a book that is a blend of academic and popular writing, and to me, I believe the gamble paid off. If you are interested in learning more about presidential elections, you should check out this book, but be prepared for some charts and graphs. “The Gamble” will be worth your time and will further your understanding of presidential elections and the events, trends, and media coverage that shape them.

thegamble

This book was a political science analysis of the 2012 presidential election from the GOP primary up to the post-election punditry prognoses. There were several key takeaways that I need to record on my blog. First, presidential elections with incumbent candidates are largely a referendum on the overall fundamentals on the economy more than attitudes toward the president. A chart in the early part of the book vividly reveals how economic growth correlates with re-election success, as the lowest mark was for 1980, Jimmy Carter’s re-election bid. Throughout the book, Sides and Vavreck illustrate how the fundamentals of the economy and general voter attitudes have more to do with who is elected than what candidates say or do. Another key takeaway from this book is a notion of a zero-sum game of tug-of-war. Romney and Obama spent an inordinate amount of money on advertisements and messaging in the 2012 campaign and the end result was that they canceled each other out. Sides and Vavreck argue that this canceling out should not be viewed as wasting money because if one side were to stop pushing advertisements or vigorously campaigning then the other would soon benefit. A third takeaway, and the one that the authors seemed to talk about the most when promoting their book, is that there are not really “game changers” in a general election.

romney obamaThroughout the book, there are examples of proclamations from journalists and strategists that certain events such as Romney’s 47% video or Obama’s “You didn’t build that” or even Hurricane Sandy were “game-changers,” but as Sides and Vavreck argue and back up with data, these events did not really affect the overall fundamentals of a national general election. Events such as the conventions and debates did have an impact but ultimately did not change the predicted outcome of the election. Sides and Vavreck do talk about how the debates made the election closer and benefited Romney but also note that the Denver debate simply led to a more focused strategy from the Obama campaign for the second and third debates. The main effect from events like the debates or the party conventions were that they really just made people more likely to vote for the candidate they already would have voted for.

Toward the end of the book there were some really interesting analyses of different elements that people have argued were deciding factors. For instance, Sides and Vavreck analyze voter attitudes on race and their opinion of Pres. Obama, as well as attitudes toward Mormonism and then Romney, and found that these were not substantial factors that could have changed the outcome of the election. Favorability and likability were also not found to have a major impact on the outcome. I walked away from this book with a much deeper macro-level understanding of the trends that do impact the outcomes of presidential elections. Essentially, you can analyze the economic data along with the national and swing-state polls and make a pretty accurate prediction of what is going to happen and who is going to win. Next time you read something from a columnist or hear a pundit on cable TV talking about “momentum” or “gut feelings” you should close that tab or turn off the TV and go look at some polls and economic data.

I have to write a lot for school so I don’t really feel like writing an in-depth review of this book, but I will post a link to its website and encourage you to check it out. Perhaps later over Christmas break I will add more to this post, but the main point I had to write when I visited WordPress today is that this book should be required reading for journalists who cover presidential elections. Political scientists and political communication scholars (heheh, like me) are keeping track of what journalists are saying and you never know what fragment of your op-ed might end up in a journal or book. Don’t chase a narrative that doesn’t objectively exist. Romney’s momentum never existed at the close of the campaign. Obama was always ahead (pretty much), even if by a rather narrow margin most of the time. Due to the underlying factors of the economy and the historical trends of incumbency, there was never really a time when Pres. Obama was the underdog. While I have highlighted many of the aspects of over-hyped events that were not shown to have had a major impact on the outcome of the election, the authors did find that the field organization from the Obama campaign may have accounted for the difference in Florida. This was corroborated by similar findings from the 2008 election which pointed to the Obama campaign’s field organization leading to success in swing states. I won’t give away the juicy details, you’ll just have to check out the book and its cited sources yourself.

This was the perfect time to read this book as we are now on the eve of another presidential election. The early part of “The Gamble” is particularly relevant today and by today I literally mean today. In the parts on the GOP primary, Sides and Vavreck develop and define a process of candidate coverage they call “discovery, scrutiny, and decline.” In 2011 and early 2012, the presidential candidates Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum all went through the process of discovery, scrutiny and decline. Discovery is when an event happens that makes the candidate jump to the top of media coverage and voter interest. After this comes scrutiny from journalists and opponents who begin to focus on a candidate’s history and views. Decline is when a candidate has reached saturation and the news coverage starts to drop. These three phases also coincide with (or partly cause) a candidate’s standing in the polls and popularity with voters. An example would be Perry’s decline: oops.

jeb trump carsonToday, we are entering the height of the scrutiny phase for Dr. Ben Carson, who is coming under heat for statements about Egyptian pyramids and fabrications of his own personal history and resume. It will be interesting to see if this leads to a decline or precipitous drop in the polls, as he was just now getting to take the lead in some of them. Interestingly, Donald Trump has somewhat withstood the scrutiny, but he was not really a discoverable person. Everyone with a TV already knows who The Donald is. It will be interesting to see if Trump and Carson eventually fade, and then if we get to a period where Cruz, Rubio, Fiorina, Kasich or others go through the discovery, scrutiny, and decline phases. While Sides and Vavreck talk about the discovery, scrutiny, and decline of the various primary contenders, they point out that Romney was running along at a steady second place most of the time. Based on my understanding of the poll aggregations at RealClearPolitics, there isn’t a Romney in this primary. I thought that might be Jeb, but he’s nowhere near Romney’s 2011 performance.

hillary bernieAlso, it will be interesting to see how the fundamentals factor into the general election next year. Sides and Vavreck talk about how George H.W. Bush was the only person who won after his party had 8 years in the White House in the post-22nd Amendment era. This is due to many differing factors but Nixon did not win in 1960 and Gore did not win (become president) in 2000. Only time will tell how HRC or Sanders might do but if there’s one thing their campaigns should know, it’s to not worry too much about game changers and just stay focused on the fundamentals. If Americans think things are getting better and improving with Democrats in the White House, they will vote for the incumbent party over the challenger.

This is just a brief overview of the book and some of the main points that stuck out in my mind. There are many other very interesting and compelling factors that the authors considered and discussed. For instance, the only real thing I said about advertisements was that they essentially canceled each other out, but there is much more to it than that. If I wrote about every interesting component from the book, you wouldn’t have to go read it, and I genuinely do believe this should be required reading  for political journalists and political science/political communication students.

Here’s the link to the official site: The Gamble

In War and Peace

This is my last installment in posts about my summer reading. It is the dawn of a new semester, and I am now living in Columbia, Missouri about to begin a doctoral program for political communication at MU. It’s been a long journey to this point and it seemed far away in early April when I decided to come here for my PhD. I knew I had to do something for five more months. I chose to spend that time reading, and if you scroll past this post on down you’ll see what I dug into over the course of the year. I was able to read a lot because I worked as a substitute teacher and could read for several hours a day if the students were well-behaved (this is only possible at middle school or high school as you’ve always got to keep both eyes on elementary kids). After that ended, in June and July I had a lot of free time as I was only able to secure some part-time work cleaning cars on dealership parking lots. (It could’ve been full-time all summer but I failed in my efforts to do the house power-washing aspect of the business.) While I regret that I was not able to live up to that boss’s expectations, I was secretly happy as it gave me more time to read.

During that time in June when I realized there wasn’t a career ahead for me as a ladder-climbing strong man I was reading Jean Edward Smith’s “Grant” and loved it. Toward the end of the book, Smith compares Grant to Eisenhower, and I jumped immediately at the thought of reading another biography of Smith’s as “Grant” was exciting, easy to read, informative, and perfectly pro-Union during a summer of neo-confederate discontent. I went to the local library in Conway but they did not have a copy. They did have Stephen Ambrose’s “Eisenhower: Soldier and President” but I decided to wait until I could find Smith’s. (which turned out to be a great decision, as on page 730 Smith lays a haymaker on Ambrose. He cites several people who state that Ambrose made up his assertion that Eisenhower “personally wished that the Court had upheld Plessy v. Ferguson)

On my first day with a library card at Boone Library in Co Mo I searched for and found Eisenhower in War and Peace.

Now let us begin.EisenhowerWarPeace

 

“Eisenhower: In War and Peace” is a one-volume biography of the life of Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower. There are other historians who have devoted several volumes to his life, and there are also seemingly endless collections of his personal papers and correspondences, along with the countless memoirs and letters of important figures and contemporary figures in his life such as his wife Mamie, his children, Kay Summersby, Winston Churchill, all the Georges (The Sixth, Patton, Marshall), Omar Bradley, Bernard Montgomery, Alan Brooke, Richard Nixon, Harry Truman, Zhukov, Khruschchev, De Gaulle, the list could go on forever). BUT…if you want a one-volume book that covers the full array of Ike’s life from birth to death, and offers honest, critical assessment of his successes and shortcomings, along with fair treatment of these “secondary” players and a good deal of analysis on previous work by historians on Eisenhower, WWII, and the Cold War, then give this book a try. I will admit there were parts I struggled to get through (the parts about Dewey and Clay laying the groundwork for the 1952 and 1956 campaigns, oddly enough as that’s my primary professional area of interest) but it is a solid biography of a president and general. Like Smith’s “Grant” there is a fall-off in the drama after the war ends, but like Grant, the book is worth it for the war alone. The parts on Ike’s presidency are worth it for the discussion of the early years of the CIA (sorry, Iran and Guatemala) along with how Eisenhower’s stature as supreme commander helped keep our world at relative peace because of how the Russians, British, French, Chinese, Middle East and everyone respected him. If for nothing else, Eisenhower should be lauded in the history textbooks as a man who opposed the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan, and refused to drop one as president. That, and oh yeah the interstate system was created because of his unique experience on the 1919 transcontinental motor convoy (which was just featured in an article today, oddly enough: Eisenhower 1919 Story

Smith also argues that Eisenhower’s leadership was strong in crises such as the Suez Canal, Formosa Trait, and Little Rock.

Little Rock is a particular topic which interests me as a native of Arkansas. Jean Edward Smith commends Eisenhower for how he handled the crisis and discusses how Eisenhower let the proper legal aspects play out so that Orval Faubus ultimately forced his hand. My only wish is that people in Arkansas paid more respect and learned more about the Little Rock Nine. For anyone visiting the area, I do recommend to go to the section of the Clinton Library which is devoted to the Nine, along with the actual Central campus. However, I feel that a good portion of people do think Eisenhower overplayed his hand over state’s rights and all that. I do not, and he had to act to prevent a huge mob of violently racist white people from attacking those students. Eisenhower was in the right, the white mobs of Little Rock were in the wrong, and the current people of Arkansas should feel a sense of shame about the saga. It’s ridiculous for a state which received worldwide infamy in 1957 to still observe Robert E. Lee Day. Change won’t come overnight, but it would have never came without the action of Dwight Eisenhower and the brave nine students. Also, this book points out how Eisenhower’s judicial appointments set the foundation for the fulfillment of the civil rights movement in the next decade. For anyone who may say Eisenhower did not do enough for civil rights, his Supreme Court nominees changed the country for the better.

It took me two weeks to read this book, and it is dry at times, but for anyone wanting to learn about Dwight Eisenhower, I recommend it. Even more than that, for anyone wanting a good overview of WW2, the early Cold War, and the U.S. in the 1950s, try this book. It’ll be at the Boone Library in Columbia tomorrow for anyone who wants to pick it up.

As I mentioned earlier, in his Grant book he mentions Eisenhower a few times and the comparison is what I found intriguing. In his Eisenhower book, he makes maybe a dozen comparisons or allusions to Grant and the similarities of the two. That was another aspect which made me glad I chose this biography because it wound up fitting the theme of my summer  of reading. Grant and Eisenhower are the only West Point graduates who became president, although maybe Custer could have been if he hadn’t been so dumb. David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal maybe could have been if they weren’t dumb too, and Wesley Clark should still run for something in Arkansas.

Before moving to Columbia I managed to read James M. McPherson’s “Battle Cry of Freedom” which many say is the ultimate one-volume source on the Civil War. I had seen a tweet from Ta-Nehisi Coates recommending BCoF as the first book anyone should read about the Civil War. So, I read it. Shout-out to the Mayflower branch of the Faulkner County Library for having it, as the Conway branch did not.

(and from here on, written mostly August 1st)

It’s good that I read this book late in the summer as it is the type of academic writing I need to get back in the hang of reading. As opposed to many of the books of popular history, some of which have no footnotes (like Kearns Goodwin), or some which include all citations in the back index, Battle Cry of Freedom is meticulously footnoted. This got to be a drag while trying to read through it, as I can’t help but read every footnote. It also adds to what I believe is authoritativeness of this book on the history leading up to the Civil War, and the truth through primary sources about history during the Civil War. It is a bit more in-depth than your average Confederate flag Facebook meme.

Battle CryBattle Cry of Freedom takes almost 300 pages to get to the actual war, and this is why it is such required reading. McPherson combs through several different avenues of economic, cultural and political factors and history in the decades leading up to Civil War. While it is a bit boring at first, it pays off during the parts of the actual war when the reader is able to better understand Butternuts or Copperheads and such. I learned a lot about the Know-Nothing Party of the 1850s from this book. It also does a good deal to explain foreign policy and relations with countries such as Britain, France, Mexico and the Caribbean nations.

In terms of interest, Battle Cry of Freedom offers quite a bit in regards to Civil War naval history and battles, such as what types of ships were used, along with the high drama, diplomacy, and piracy that occurred in the Caribbean, France, England, Virginia, North Carolina, New Orleans, Mobile Bay, and the rest of the Gulf of Mexico. I believe Admiral David Farragut summed it up best: “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” *8/5/1864, Battle of Mobile Bay

The descriptions of the main theater battles is sometimes dry, but there are countless books you can find on Civil War battles. For instance, the legendary exchange between Sherman and Grant at Shiloh, “Whip em tomorrow though” was paraphrased in a dull manner here but hey, that’s what “Sherman and Grant” was for. And while descriptions of battles may gloss over the interesting tidbits, it makes up for it in the fact that pretty much every mid or major battle in the war was noted. The only one I noticed missing was the Battle of Glorietta Pass in New Mexico, which I only knew about from Ken Burns’ The West.

Actual quotes from actual Confederates makes you realize how absurd the current “conventional” wisdom is about the causes and purpose of the war. If you read what Davis or Stephens or Southern columnists had to say about slavery and black people you’d realize that at best, contemporary Confederate apologists are ill-informed, and at worst, they are knowingly lying to preserve their rhetoric and “heritage.” When people today shout, they say it’s about state’s rights, not about slavery, and they may be doing so passionately and genuinely, but it is misinformed about the actual history. Secession was about slavery; it was in direct reaction to the election of Lincoln. And the thing is, it wasn’t just about preserving slavery, but also extending it to Central and South America, Cuba, the West, etc. People might think they are waving rebel flags to celebrate just simply being Southern, but the flag today stands as a symbol for the actions of the Southern states to secede from the Union over the issue of slavery, and on top of that, it also stands for the history of segregationists beginning in 1948 but spreading through the South once again in the 1960s and continuing on into today. People who waved Confederate flags at Ole Miss football games in the ’60s are still alive today and their grandkids are waving the same flags now. I don’t mean to pick on Mississippians as I’m from Arkansas and have already waxed poetic on 1957. This summer, the day I finished Sherman and Grant and was at the height of a Union revival of spirits, I saw about 100 people waving Confederate flags on the Dave Ward overpass for I-40. It made my blood boil. I posted my strongest political sentiment of the year on Facebook that day. For some of my Facebook friends, that flag does just stand for being a country boy, but for strangers from anywhere else driving through Conway on Interstate 40, it says there are militant white supremacists patrolling this area. Sure most of them on that bridge were teenagers and everyone did remain peaceful but I know if things ever turn sour those same people will be the first to muster themselves into a frenzy thinking Red Dawn has come. One of the organizers for that protest on I-40 was a vocal Tom Cotton supporter and had a FB picture with the senator. People who harp, “it was the Democrats who created the KKK!” drive me insane. Yes, the Democrats of the 1860s did that, and remained in one-party rule after driving away northern Republicans in the 1870s and implementing mass terror and violence across the South to intimidate black people from voting to bring about all-white governments. That was the Southern Democrats. And most people don’t recognize that history. Heck, it’s being taken out of textbooks. But those same Democrats’ grandchildren or great-grandchildren became Republicans after the Voting Rights Act and definitely with the Reagan Revolution. There is a direct lineage of Southern conservatism from 1920s Democrats to 1980s Republicans to today’s Tom Cottons. Watch who you take pictures with, Tom, if you ever want to become president, which we all know you do. Arkansans may sympathize with rebel flag supporters, but national voters won’t. Good luck in the next election. I’ll be up north literally studying elections. I’m not sure if Democrats can win Arkansas anytime soon, but they can win some of the states Eisenhower won in ’56. Colorado, Virginia, Florida, Ohio, that wins it for the Democrats. And oh yeah, Arkansas didn’t vote for Eisenhower. But I don’t think Arkansas would vote for Adlai Stevenson today.

Speaking of the 2016 election, my next reading will be “A Woman in Charge” by Carl Bernstein. It is about Hillary Clinton, and it will be my night-stand book during the beginning of the semester. For the time being, I have to turn my attention towards reading in my area of focus, political communication: specifically how both campaigns and politicians in office use social media and other tools to communicate with voters and the press. That’s at least the general area of my master’s thesis, but we will see where my PhD research goes. All I know is that it will involve politics, and it will involve communication. I may update this site during the semester if I get the chance to dive into some of the classics by Walter Lippman or Marshall McLuhan, but I won’t be blogging about whatever textbook I have to read for Quantitative Methods.

*And this was at the bottom of my Word document

One major difference, other than economy, industrialism, manpower, etc, etc. between the North and the South is that some of the best leaders of the Confederacy (Stonewall Jackson, JEB Stuart, Albert Sidney Johnston) died while the Union leaders (William Tecumseh Sherman, Hiram Ulysses Grant) survived. Ironically, one of the main Union generals to die was James B. McPherson, a guy one initial away from the same name as Battle Cry’s author. As the author notes, the two are unrelated but everyone still asks.

James B. McPherson, who died at the Battle of Atlanta after riding into enemy lines and refusing to surrender.

James B. McPherson, who died at the Battle of Atlanta after riding into enemy lines and refusing to surrender.

A century of war, a summer of reading

In many ways, you could say I’ve spent my summer vacationing in the 19th century.

In my last post I touched on some subjects stemming from World War II and my reading of “No Ordinary Time” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I have since finished that book, and my what a work it is. I would add a synopsis of it here, but it doesn’t really fit with the theme of the other books that primarily span the years of 1844-1877. At some point I will tackle “Team of Rivals” and “The Bully Pulpit” and do a Goodwin-only post, but I will say I bought The Bully Pulpit after finishing No Ordinary Time as I want to read more of her books. However, they are massive and take a lot more investment and effort than other books do.

So instead of going into the depths of World War II, I am going to comb through the periods marked by the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, and the Indian Wars. The following books are listed in chronological order, give or take origins and epilogues.

“Polk: The Man who Transformed the Presidency and America” by Walter Borneman

polks

I first became aware of the need to read about Polk after watching a documentary on the Mexican-American War and realizing that it was in fact “Mr. Polk’s War” of conquest. I won’t go into a year-by-year analysis of the war, but it is clear this was a turning point from which America began to grow into an empire. It was a war of conquest, not democracy, like many of the American wars eventually came to be. The Mexican-American War is also probably the point in which people should start in their studies of the Civil War, as so many major players in that conflict were involved here as well. Books on Grant or Lee discuss Generals Taylor and Scott, but in Borneman’s book you get a hearty explanation of their strategies and campaigns and what the president thought about them. (Also, it is so confusing that there is Winfield Scott and Winfield Scott Hancock). I would be interested in a book on Zachary Taylor one day, as well as Henry Clay: the Essential American, but hopefully I have plenty of decades left to dive back into that period.

james sarah polkAs for the subject of the book, James Knox Polk, it is a relative quick read compared to a Kearns Goodwin-type massive tome, but Borneman provides an exceptional overview of Polk’s life and rise to power as well as his presidency. And like Goodwin’s story of FDR and Eleanor, Borneman’s story of focuses a great deal on the president’s better half. Polk discusses how important Sarah Polk was to James and also D.C. society and the country. If Polk was “the most important president between Jackson and Lincoln” (I read this somewhere, maybe on the back cover of the book, but I’ve since returned it to the library and cannot properly cite that quote), Borneman’s story of Sarah Polk’s life made me come to think she was the most important First Lady between Dolley Madison and Julia Grant. In regards to James, most interesting to me was about just how much of an ardent partisan he was. Polk was very resentful of the military glory going to the Whig generals instead of Democrats, and this greatly influenced his appointments and strategy. Still, the work of Winfield Scott and Nicholas Trist managed to see the war through, despite Polk’s partisanship, and it eventually ended successfully* (with the U.S. winning a war of conquest over its neighbor) and things wound down. I found the end of this book quite sad as Polk died shortly after his presidency ended, likely due to cholera encountered on a voyage from Washington back to Tennessee. Borneman discusses Polk’s legacy, which is obvious in the concrete land gains his administration made (Oregon, California, New Mexico, and kinda Texas even though Tyler gets the official credit) but also apparent when one examines the institution of the presidency itself and how Polk impacted it. He was in fact “Old Hickory’s Boy” as Borneman repeatedly refers to him, not only in the Tennessee political heritage but also in the actions as a strong executive in the White House. This book is worth a read for anyone interested in the Mexican-American War and also in learning about the expansion of presidential powers. I am personally glad I read it only because of how it helped to flesh out some of the characters from Andrew Jackson’s story in “American Lion” and the stories of many Civil War actors.

“Grant” by Jean Edward Smith

Grant“Grant” is the book best I have read this summer. Immediately after finishing it I thought it was a masterpiece, but in the succeeding weeks I’ve come across other things which have made me realize that this was an overly positive portrayal of Grant by Smith. Still, this positive narrative is what I was seeking, and why I chose this book over several other Grant biographies. I had heard it re-imagined Grant’s presidency, and it certainly does that, but in this re-imagining some dark truths are glossed over or mentioned in passing. That being said, I would still read it again for several reasons. It flows very well and has a strong, clear narrative with Grant as our hero and protagonist. Smith does paint Grant as a hero, but then again Grant was a hero. While I now have my issues with some of the hard truths about U.S. treatment of Native Americans, along with other shortcomings of Grant in his presidency and war career (which we can expect, everyone is human after all), the book itself is a tour de force of history. Particularly after reading “Grant and Sherman,” I realized how in-depth, detailed, yet exciting Smith’s discussions of Civil War battles and campaigns in this book are. Grant’s presidency doesn’t even begin until page 456, and if you only read the parts on Grant’s life up until his election, this book would enlighten you on how ingenious, bold, and stoic General Grant was. It is not the preeminent book on Grant’s presidency, but it does summarize his achievements and shortcomings in a relatively satisfying way. Grant was not a great president, but he also was not a failure as many have come to believe thanks in large part to the Dunning school and biased Southern historians of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

I would say that this book should be paired with a few other readings on Grant’s presidency, but if you are looking for an introduction to Grant and a Civil War book which reads like a novel, it has my highest recommendation. As I said, it touches on the negatives, such as the scandals of Grant’s presidency, and his General Order No. 11, but for the most part the point is to show Grant as a stoic American hero. This book also talks about about Sheridan and Sherman’s views on American Indians, but in that area particularly you can find totally different perspectives in other works. Smith devotes a chapter to arguing that Grant’s peace policy toward Indians was a major redeeming factor of his presidency, but then in another book I read (Crazy Horse and Custer) you get an entirely different viewpoint on the Grand administration’s Indian policies.

“The Man Who Would not be Washington” by Jonathan Horn

RELeeI actually read this book in late May right after my post “Reflections on May Readings.” It was at the library in the new books section, and I wanted to read something about Lee before diving into books about Grant. I read the reviews before checking it out as I did not want to read something that was overly romantic of Lee. This book was a sober assessment of Lee and some of the contradictions of his life, but it also filled in the picture of what his family life and lineage meant and talked quite a bit about his wife, Mary Custis Lee. Throughout the book, Horn tries to explain Lee’s decision to join the Confederacy, but eventually the reader comes to the conclusion that Lee was a man of contradictions (Perhaps more like Jefferson than his grandfather-in-law-by-adoption Washington). Horn goes to some lengths to discuss slavery at Arlington, and Lee’s views and actions on the subject. You come away from this book knowing that most of the romanticized views of Lee are just simply wrong. He owned slaves and led the army to preserve slavery. While he did try to emancipate his own slaves, it was simply because he was trying to honor his late father-in-law’s will. As the title indicates, it talks about how connected Lee was to Washington and how he could have continued his legacy. In a way, for southerners, he was the second coming of Washington, but as the author concludes, there is no Lee monument on the National Mall, there is a Lincoln. Things could have been much different if Lee had stayed with the Union, but instead he chose a path that eventually led to his surrender to Ulysses Grant. Horn’s book leaves you thinking that Lee’s decision to leave the Union was something that, despite Lost Cause narratives and Southern glorification, ultimately harmed his legacy and his potential. Still, it was Lee’s choice, and I’ll gladly take Grant instead.

“Grant and Sherman: the Friendship that won the Civil War”

Grant and ShermanCharles Bracelen Flood is the author of Grant’s Final Victory, which I read in May. “Grant and Sherman” is another book of his, and this book is thought by many to be one of the best Civil War books in recent years. I just finished it today, and would not argue with them. While much of the tales of Grant I already knew from Jean Edward Smith’s volume, you can get plenty of Sherman here, particularly at the end. Oh, how I wish I could’ve been a member of his western army! Lest I start to romanticize war, there are plenty of accounts here of grotesque death and violence. At one point, Sherman was standing next to his orderly when that poor orderly’s head was blown off. I can’t even imagine what living and fighting through the Civil War must have been like, and that’s what angers me so much about today’s  understanding of it. I grew up in the South and the things people think about the Civil War are just simply wrong and based on a century of Southern mythology not based in the reality. Still, in this book you are presented with some of the realities that Grant and Sherman were also not perfect like so many Southerners want you to believe about Lee, and Sherman’s views on other races in particular are brought into the light in Flood’s book. Flood mentions how Sherman and Grant’s friendship faded during Grant’s presidency, and this is only mentioned in passing while Jean Edward Smith thoroughly explains the saga which led to that. And Flood’s book on Grant’s last year thoroughly explains how the two rekindled their friendship as Grant was dying. If you want a thorough summary of the Civil War from the perspectives of Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman, then this book will not disappoint. While Smith’s descriptions of Grant’s battles are more in-depth, in Flood’s book you are given more perspectives such as Julia Grant, Ellen Sherman, Charles Dana, and even Joshua Chamberlain.

For all intents and purposes, the book ends with the Civil War, and only briefly mentions the rest of the two men’s careers and lives. As the next book indicates, Sherman still had much more generaling to do after the war.

“Crazy Horse and Custer: the Parallel Lives of two American Warriors” by Stephen E. Ambrose

crazyhorsecuster“Crazy Horse and Custer” is the book I read which made me aware of some of the shortcomings of Smith’s “Grant.” You get a much different picture of Sheridan, Sherman, and the U.S. government’s actions towards Native Americans. In Smith’s book on Grant, he mentions how the Grant administration tried to pay for the Black Hills before American miners and immigrants totally overwhelmed the area, but in Ambrose’s book this particular saga is presented with a much more sober assessment. The fact is that the U.S. government stole the Black Hills from the Native Americans for gold. Americans stole a lot of land from Native Americans, and I have yet to read enough about it to pretend to be an expert, but after reading this book by Ambrose I am simply ashamed. I am just glad I read this book and learned more about Sheridan and Sherman and their attitudes towards Indians before I went around singing their praises on the Internet.

In terms of the actual book, and the two main protagonists, I chose it out of the library over several other Little Big Horn books because of the duel nature of the biography and it did not disappoint. If you read this book without knowing anything else about Crazy Horse and Custer you would think they had to be fictional characters because of how much their lives and deaths embodied the time period and their cultures. Ambrose argues that Custer did drive his troops past the point of exhaustion and that they were extremely tired on the day of THE battle, but he also argues that Custer was simply out-generaled (is that a word?” by Crazy Horse. If you are looking for an interesting examination of their two lives and America from 1850-1880, this book will not disappoint. At first, I was struck by the account of Crazy Horse’s death, but you could not find a better story in a thousand years of mythology. Crazy Horse, the warrior, refused to be taken prisoner. While has betrayed and double-crossed by jealous people on both sides, and his death was itself not “a glory day to die,” he never became a prisoner and lived and died a free man.

I should note, as many know, that Ambrose has been found to plagiarize, and this book was one of his which was found to contain plagiarism. I found that interesting as he seems to go out of his way to praise other authors and historians and recommend their works, but in some instances in his numerous books he apparently he copies whole paragraphs. Oh well. Forbes: Ambrose has done it before

Throughout the past few months I have been watching several Ken Burns’ documentaries, and one story from “The War” is quite fitting to share right now. It is a story from Chief Joseph Medicine Crow. While the Crows were the enemies of Crazy Horse’s Oglalas, in the end they were still Plains Indians and this tale from Burns’ documentary is poignant. It’s also worth noting that Native Americans made the greatest per capita investment in World War II. The Role of Native Americans During World War II

 

 

On Hiroshima and Heroes

Something I said in my high school graduation speech has come to be a source of deep regret as I have learned more about the civilian side of World War II. As you may know if you’ve been reading my posts, I have been diligently plowing through presidential history over the past few months. In the course of the past week or so I’ve turned my attention to WWII and “No Ordinary Time” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I’ve also been watching Ken Burns’ “The War” and recently finished the PBS special “Victory in the Pacific.” It was during the latter which I came to a realization, or reminder, of the plight and suffering of Japanese civilians during the war and remembered my graduation speech.

In my graduation speech, I cited Carl Sagan, Walt Whitman, and Paul Tibbets as examples of three people who have “shaped the world” we live in today. During high school I did read almost all of Carl Sagan’s books and his writing did bring about what is still my greatest intellectual awakening when I was 16. I cited Walt Whitman because my friend Elizabeth was a big fan of his, even though I had not yet read much of his work (and still haven’t, regrettably.) I cited Paul Tibbets because I had recently been reading about World War II, and had just learned about Tibbets, and was thinking through a historical lens of “heroes.” Tibbets certainly was a hero in the American sense and his actions of piloting the Enola Gay over Hiroshima did help bring about an end to the war but it was also mass murder and could have been avoided with better strategy.

Hiroshi Harada

I have not yet read much on Harry Truman’s decision making which led to the droppings of the bombs so I’m not well-equipped to criticize it but I am well-aware of how much civilian suffering and loss of life occurred as a result of these decisions and decisions of other leaders during World War II. In high school we’re taught mostly about the “heroes” of history and the focus on civilians is not as in-depth or adequately conveyed (or maybe I just did not fully grasp the concepts when teachers did talk about society, I do remember an excellent lecture from my world history teacher on life for medieval serfs). To an 18-year-old me, Paul Tibbets was a hero but now as a 27-year-old (yes, I know, not much older or wiser, but still) my heroes are the civilians across the globe who persevered and dealt with a reality of powerful nation states at war with each other. Whether that was a Bengali trying to feed some starving children in the famine of 1943, a young George Takei at Rowher (in my own home state of Arkansas) or even a little old German lady holed up in Berlin at the end of the war, people had to go through an awful lot and it is absolutely overwhelming to ponder the totality of human suffering during the war. Of course, we had to defeat totalitarianism or at least that’s how we are taught. As Kearns Goodwin discusses in “No Ordinary Time” there were many opportunities for the U.S. government and Franklin Roosevelt to save the lives of countless European Jews trying to flee Nazi Germany. The totalitarianism of Hitler was defeated but Stalin was our ally and the post-WWII empires of America and Russia went on to be responsible for many more wars and losses of civilian life throughout the rest of the 20th century. I’m not going to write today about the aftermath of WWII and what has become of nation states since then but I had to get a few things off my chest.

Paul Tibbets may be a hero, but his story is part of a narrative we’re taught as students and which lends to a very Americentric view of the world and a relative disregard for our neighbors across the globe. I wish I could travel the world to learn more about people in Japan, or Israel and Palestine, or Tunisia, Sicily, Germany and France but all I can do right now is ramble some thoughts online. It is easy to sit here in hindsight and lambast every decision made by FDR, Churchill and Truman and I’m not qualified to do that. I am however qualified to understand there is another side to the story and “Billions and Billions” of stories every human on earth could tell.

On Hiroshima and heroes, Paul Tibbets is dead. But there are still living survivors of the atomic bombings and I only wish I could travel overseas and listen to their stories and the stories of other veterans, civilian or military, across the world still out there as living encyclopedias of history.

Update (6/7/2015): A professor of mine shared this video with me which illustrates just how much loss of life there was during World War II. It is truly mind-boggling to try to contemplate the vastness of it all.

Another update 6/7: I think a major part of this is also that as a teenager I just did not truly grasp the human condition or have a deep understanding of human suffering. As an 18-year-old I thought of the world and human life in a much different way than I do today. I am now a person who is trying to learn as much history as possible so as to help our country, our neighbors, our allies and our “enemies” try to avoid wars such as World War II, the American Civil War, the Iraq War, etc…

In a cyberworld we don’t need any more Gettysburgs or Stalingrads. Digital diplomacy, economics, and international cooperation can lead us to a better tomorrow. Unfortunately on the horizon there will likely be wars and skirmishes over matters that are not at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy. When people, or entire countries are needing water or food (or oil) to survive they will fight their neighbors over those basic needs and 18th and 19th century “ideals” or “values” will take a backseat. But those are thoughts for another day.

I still focus on reading about the lives of individuals, such as U.S. presidents, which might seem hypocritical as I talked about civilians and society in this post, but I focus on how their decisions influenced the country and its people of the time and of the future. Also I read biographies like others may read novels. However, I do want to turn my attention to books on society after I’ve read some more biographies but this is all just my “fun” summer reading and bored substitute teacher reading. The thoughts I have recently had about Andrew Jackson, or James Madison, George Washington or Thomas Jefferson are much different than I would have had several years ago. And throughout my current reading of “No Ordinary Time” I’m acquiring a much more pessimistic view of even the supposed Democratic saint FDR too.

All I can do now is keep reading.

Reflections on May Readings

When I last left off at this blog I was reading “American Lion” and wrestling with the problems of Andrew Jackson. I did manage to finish the book, which was a good book, but it was not an enjoyable experience due to the cold reality of Jackson’s life and prejudices. Also since I last left off, a group known as “Women on 20s” promoted an online vote in which Harriet Tubman was chosen as a nominee to replace Old Hickory on the $20. It will be interesting to see what comes of this, and of course it’s also interesting that Jackson is even on our currency due to his campaign against the 2nd Bank of the U.S. (Not to mention the Indian Removal Act, and the fact Jackson was a slave owner while Tubman freed slaves)

In the debates that came from news outlets posting the Tubman story on FB I was continually amused about the argument in comments that “only presidents should be on currency.” I’m sure Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton would be delighted to learn they were posthumously named presidents without having to do any of the work.

FranklinSpeaking of Franklin…my favorite book I read this month was Walter Isaacson’s “Benjamin Franklin,” but I’m not sure it’s as much due to Isaacson as it was to learning about Franklin. As Isaacson points out, in today’s world we typically only think of Franklin as the logo for investment firms (or basketball teams) and not as the living, breathing genius of a human he once was. Isaacson notes how every generation of Americans have viewed Franklin’s life differently, so I suppose making him a logo is just our age’s interpretation. Still, after reading this book I believe it is crucial that we education our students more about the life and work of Franklin, not only as a scientist but for his work as a diplomat and founding father. I will admit I was largely ignorant of a lot of his work until I read this book which is why it was such an enjoyable and enlightening experience. Also…there should be no questions about his staying on our currency.

There are many biographies about Franklin to choose from but if you’re looking for one, you could do worse than Isaacson. He spends quite a bit of time talking about Franklin’s own “Autobiography” and I am somewhat interested in reading it but after reading another book I’m more interested in a different figure’s personal writings.

grant final victoryThat different figure would be Ulysses S. Grant, and after reading “Grant’s Final Victory” by Charles Flood I am determined to read Grant’s “Personal Memoirs” as soon as I come across them in a library. Flood’s book about the final year of Grant’s life was one that really changed my perception about the 18th president. Growing up, particularly in the South, the usual thing you hear is that Grant was the drunk while Lee was the gentleman, but this book by Flood paints a much different picture. In this book, we see Grant, the dying man, the grandfather, the author, the friend, the husband. It’s a relatively short book, it only took a few hours to read, but it has an enormous amount of material and deeper meaning. Of particular note is the relationship between Grant and Mark Twain, who published his memoirs. I found myself reading this book nonstop until I finished it, and highly recommend it. I should note that it is not exactly a happy book, it made me very melancholic, but really portrayed how important Grant was to our country and the people of the time. He was a unifying figure at the time of his death, and someone I believe we should pay more attention to in history and civics classes. He’s not merely the muddy and rugged general who Robert E. Lee surrendered to, he’s one of the great Americans of the 19th century and I’m the better for having learned about his determination to finish his memoirs while dying of cancer.

madison giftI’ve finished two other books since the last blog I wrote. The first was “Madison’s Gift” by David Stewart. Madison’s Gift recounts his relationships with Washington, Monroe, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Dolley Madison. It was in this book I gained an appreciation for Madison as well as Hamilton. Whereas Thomas Jefferson seemed to completely despise Hamilton, Madison did respect him as they had worked so hard together as the authors of the Federalist Papers. However, this book does leave you with an overall negative impression of Hamilton, and a sense that Madison felt his vision was the correct one for the nation. But his relationship with Hamilton was only one aspect of the book. It was interesting to learn about how Madison helped Washington in the early days of the first administration and how they ultimately drifted apart, largely in part because of the diverging political opinions. I found myself wanting to read more about Dolley Madison, who is still one of our greatest First Ladies.

washington circleAfter Madison’s Gift I was still in the mood for learning more about the founding era and George Washington in particular. Luckily the library had the new book, “Washington’s Circle” by David Heidler and Jeanne Heidler. It was about the cabinets of Washington’s presidency. I came away from this book newly aware of how Washington could shut people away from his life, whether it was his old slave William Lee or his old neighbor George Mason. This book treated the conflict between Jefferson and Hamilton in a balanced fashion and was also balanced in its depiction and focus on the other cabinet members such as Knox, Randolph, and the second cabinet. I still have yet to read a biography focused solely on George Washington but I had always been curious about his administration and this book perfectly filled in that picture for me.

Reading these books about the founding fathers has now made my new priority to read Ron Chernow’s “Alexander Hamilton.” After reading books about Thomas Jefferson I was left with an impression of Hamilton as a villain, but “Madison’s Gift” and subsequently “Washington’s Circle” made me realize that it is all up to the interpretation of the biographer or the particularly historical figure and his or her opinion of Hamilton. I have read reviews that Chernow’s book is overly positive in his portrayal of Hamilton but I feel compelled to learn about him in a story focused on him, not just as a character in someone else’s play.

— I should note that in my last blog I was planning on reading books on Abraham Lincoln, I will get to those in time. I own the books on Lincoln but in the past month I’ve been renting the books mentioned above from the library. I can’t read all the books I own or I’ll have nothing to do when I’m old and retired.

Amateur Pursuits of Presidential History

The point of this post is largely to serve as a heads-up to anyone I have recently followed or may follow soon. Over the course of the past couple of months I have started to read the different presidential biographies that had been sitting on my bookshelf for several years. I wouldn’t classify myself as a hoarder as much as an impulse buyer and in the past few years I’ve stumbled into my fair share of used bookstores to nab books such as David McCullough’s “Truman” for very cheap prices. This semester I have been a substitute teacher in a local school district and in this job I basically get six hours a day to read books. I am currently reading through “American Lion” by Jon Meacham (about Andrew Jackson) and my frustration with it compelled me to search the web for reviews and blogs about presidential biographies. While American Lion is an interesting look at Jackson’s presidency I feel that it glosses over his sins in favor of pushing a more positive narrative about his presidency. The gist is that his expansion of presidential powers ultimately meant he was a “good” president but I feel the book could focus more on some of the negative aspects about Jackson. My experience reading through American Lion prompted me to start looking into “lists of the best presidential biographies” and the like and that’s why I’m now here on this blog. Basically, I’m on WordPress to read about books and find reviews before diving into 500-page volumes that might not even be interesting or critical. For instance, I have Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals” and “No Ordinary Time” but luckily the reviews say those are worth reading. I just don’t want to spend a week or two reading boring books or even books I could deem as “fluff pieces” that overlook major downsides of presidencies.

Books I have recently read, in order of my enjoyment:

destiny republic1. Destiny of the Republic, by Candice Millard (James Garfield)

This book reads with the pace and narrative of one of those grocery store crime novels but it is anything but that. I had never read much about the life of James Garfield and by the end of Millard’s book I found myself distraught over his assassination and what the loss of his life meant for our country. While my primary takeaway from “Destiny” was about how great a president Garfield could have been, the focus is on science and medicine and how the practices used by doctors in late 1800s doomed a wounded president. Of the books I’ve read, this is the only one I would highly recommend. In fact, I hope to read her book about Theodore Roosevelt’s journey through the Amazon very soon.

american sphinx2. American Sphinx, by Joseph Ellis (Thomas Jefferson)

This book is not as much about the political philosophy of Jefferson as much as it is about trying to understand how his mind worked. Through parts of it I felt that Ellis was overly positive toward Jefferson but by the end it really leaves things up to the reader to decide their verdict on his life and legacy. My takeaway was that Jefferson was a man of contradictions, the narrative Ellis pushes, but also that he was as delusional and hypocritical as he was idealistic. You can see how Jefferson’s policies, beliefs and words did have negative lasting effects, such as with his statements about states’ rights or his rhetoric about limited government that was not at all backed up in his actual policies while president. Of course, as an Arkansan I’m only here due to the Louisiana Purchase so oh well. I did find it interesting how Ellis evolved over “the Sally question” once new evidence arose and Ellis did go relatively in-depth about Jefferson’s “procrastination” on slavery. By the end of the book, I found myself thinking Jefferson’s stances and practices in slavery and states’ rights tremendously tarnish his legacy. His modern legacy would be more diminished if our schools taught more in-depth but even history is too politicized here in this, well, Jeffersonian republic we live in. For now, Jefferson has been lionized. He’s not leaving the National Mall, but as Ellis discussed, he was not always a statue,  he was once a man and it is our responsibility to critique and question men even if they are now statues.

Jefferson Vendetta3. Jefferson’s Vendetta, by Joseph Wheelan (Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr, John Marshall)

Like I was just saying, I had a new-found responsibility to critique Thomas Jefferson and luckily I already had this book on my bookshelf. Jefferson’s Vendetta is a look at the trial of Aaron Burr but it is more than that, it is also an analysis of Jefferson, Burr, and Marshall and their beliefs about the country and government. I would say Marshall comes away from this book with the most positive image, while Jefferson comes away looking like the villain. It is not a biography but I do think it was a fun read and I finished it quite quickly. Andrew Jackson makes an appearance in this book and that is what compelled me to start American Lion.

american lion4. American Lion, by Jon Meacham (Andrew Jackson)

I have conflicted feelings about this book and about Andrew Jackson. For one, you can see how he reinvented the presidency and put it on the course toward the modern executive we have today. He brought democracy to Washington and changed how incumbents campaign for re-election. However, the Indian Removal Act is a huge negative and can’t be simply mentioned in a chapter or two as was done here by Meacham (note – I haven’t finished the book yet so there could be more, but the part focusing on 1830 seems to be complete). I find myself wanting to read more into Jackson’s beliefs and policies toward Native Americans. Jackson certainly had a different experience than someone reading about his life 200 years later, as he had to fight against various tribes in frontier battles and the such. Much of his antagonism was due to a belief that natives were usually aligned with Spain, France or Britain and their continued presence was a security threat. However, in my opinion the Indian Removal Act is an enormous stain on the history and legacy not only of Jackson but our entire country. I have to do more research about it and the Trail of Tears. It just wasn’t a major focus of Meacham’s book. It is still a book worth reading if you are interested to know more about Jackson’s presidency. My takeaway is that Jackson was not a *great* president but he was certainly an important one.

Up next (because I already have them):

Going into a Lincoln phase first

1. Lincoln and Douglas – The Debates that Defined America, Allen Guelzo

2. 1858 – Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant and the War They Failed to See, Bruce Chadwick

3. Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin

4. No Ordinary Time, Doris Kearns Goodwin (FDR and Eleanor)

5. Truman, David McCullough

6. Ike and Dick, Portrait of a Strange Political Marriage, Jeffrey Frank

These are what’s up next in my docket as they are books I already have, and they’ll take quite a while to read through. However, I am hoping to also look at Joseph Ellis’s book on George Washington, along with Candice Millard’s on Theodore Roosevelt. It seems there is a relatively small community of presidential scholars/biographers. I’m hoping to dive more into critical examinations of Andrew Jackson, and also plan to find interesting looks at U.S. Grant and Woodrow Wilson. If you’re reading this and have any suggestions on these areas or other presidential biographies to read please let me know. Also, I’m hoping to look into Gore Vidal’s novels Burr and Lincoln.

This post is largely just to put my rambling thoughts into words. So okay – see ya later.

Stories from the Arkansas Airwaves

Spent a good portion of this summer working on this site which features interviews from Arkansas radio veterans. Lots of interesting information in the videos. Quite a bit of history as well. 

http://arkansasbroadcaststories.wordpress.com/