The Oxford History of the United States

Today, problems with cold rain, ice, and a power outage sent us home from school early.  I took advantage of this opportunity to attend to some urgent business.  I had some 25 pages to go in finishing Restless Giant:  The United States from Watergate to Bush v. Gore by James T. Patterson.  This volume is a part of the Oxford History of the United States.

It is a strange feeling to read through a history of a time you have lived through.  That is, however, one of the advantages or disadvantages of piling up the years.  “I remember it like it was yesterday” can become the response to every event.  I do remember the Watergate Scandal all too vividly.  President Nixon resigned from office just after I started to college.  The Carter-Ford election was held during my first year at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (and the campus faculty voted 80 percent for Carter).  President Reagan was elected (and that is a good memory) during my first year at Genoa.  During my last year there, talk was surfacing about a possible impeachment of President Clinton.  I was teaching at Veritas Academy during the Bush v. Gore election and political battle following the close vote in Florida.  We had an election party at the home of my friend Dr. Chuck Poteet.  I told the kids that the party would not be over until we knew who was elected President.  That was a long party.  It was about a month before we knew.

Patterson’s history is heavy with details about social, cultural, economic, and other trends.  This book is far more social than narrative history.  The movies, the television shows, the music, stats about racial matters, issues about gender, controversies about morals, and the like are heavily packed in this book.  For that reason, I appreciated and benefited from the book more than I enjoyed it.

Some quick lessons from the recent past:

1.  Our problems didn’t start with President Obama.  We have heading down a moral spiral and toward a cultural breakdown for quite a while.

2.  Perspective is helpful, but incomplete.  I am more convinced than ever of President Clinton’s disqualification from office for moral decrepitude, but not as certain that actions to remove him were beneficial.  In terms of handling the economy, he stands head and shoulders above the current occupant of the White House.

3.  Ronald Reagan was NOT as great as I thought:  He was even GREATER.

I like the Oxford History of the United States.  I am not endorsing every page, every pronouncement, every angle of the histories or every view of the historians included, but I find them all to be competent, scholarly, and educational.  I thought I owned all the volumes, and I have read several of them, but I discovered that I am a volume short.  For an interesting discussion of some of the hindrances and unexplained lapses in the completion of the series, see this:  The Rejection Bin of History.

I have used and referenced this volume, The Glorious Cause:  The American Revolution, 1763-1789, and I need to complete the reading of it.

I believe that Gordon Wood is one of the best American historians around.  This volume is Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815.

I cannot really account for why I have not tackled this book yet.  Besides being a part of the series, it is a Pulitzer Prize Winner, as was a later volume.  This one is titled What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848.

Battle Cry for Freedom: The Civil War Era by James McPherson has been the most successful seller out of the series.  It is a really good one volume study of the war.  Many of us Southerners get riled over McPherson’s view of the war, Lincoln, the South, and other matters.  He is a northern historian and an academic.  Southern diehards can read Shelby Foote’s The Civil War or some of the older works by Southerners themselves, such as R. L Dabney’s Life and Campaigns of General Thomas J. “Stonewall Jackson.”  But students of the war and of history need to know what McPherson says.  Besides, his book Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution captures the heart of a Southerner’s contention about the real results of that war better than almost any other book around.   I have about a half dozen of McPherson’s works.

I really liked Freedom from Fear:  The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 by David Kennedy, who is the general editor of the series.  I don’t know if it is because 20th century America is a favorite topic of study or because, secretly, I am a Walton.  I have good memories of this large volume chronicling the Great Depression and the New Deal and then leading up to America’s involvement in World War II.  Of course, any studies of the Great Depression and the New Deal need to be tempered (or corrected) by reading Amity Shlaes’ book The Forgotten Man (and her biography of Calvin Coolidge).  I find Franklin D. Roosevelt to be an incredible man to study.  I am opposed to so much that he did, but I cannot help but admire the physical strength of the man (in relation to his paralysis) and his political skills.  This volume is very much a study of FDR.

This book, Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945-1974 by James Patterson,  is the prequel to the book I just finished.   I will be familiar with many of the events chronicled here, and I was born at such a time as to qualify for being one of the “grand expectations” of that time.

Alas, I just discovered that From Colony to Superpower, U. S Foreign Relations Since 1776 by George C. Herring is a part of the series.  I would prefer if the series focused on the chronilogical history of the United States and got that part completed before it branched off into additional topical studies.  For some reason, the editors and compilers did not consult me regarding these matters.

One thought on “The Oxford History of the United States

  1. You’re right about the OHUS series having an interesting development, but the topical volume was actually built into in. In fact the earlier plan (as outlined on the dustjacket of the first edition of The Glorious Cause) was to write TWO topical volumes: a volume on “American Diplomacy” by Norman Graebner and one on the economy by Stuart Bruchey. While Herring’s volume is meant to fill in for Graebner’s, I don’t believe there are any plans to do an additional volume on the economy.

    Just as interesting are the volumes that never made it into the series. There are three published that I know of: Elkins and McKitrick’s on the Federalist Era, Charles Sellers’s The Market Revolution, and H. W. Brands’s American Colossus. All three started as OHUS volumes and there is no official explanation as to why they were ultimately published outside of it, but you might find them worth checking out.

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