A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library. ~Shelby Foote

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A Couple of Book Reviews

Very quick ones, as I haven't finished either book, though I started both of them on the plane out to L.A. Actually, the first book What's the Matter With Kansas, by Thomas Frank, is one that I won't be finishing. It is too tedious and cliched. Can you guess my recommendation on that one? The other, His Excellency, George Washington, by Joseph Ellis, I will be finishing, but haven't had time to read all the way through.

Okay, Frank's book. It is a prime example of the lack of moderation I decry in the post previous to this one. The basic premise of the book is that anyone who isn't a CEO or multi-millionaire and votes Republican is a fool. Probably 300 of the 336 pages are then devoted to trying to explain why all those people who aren't millionaires, yet voted Republican, were so stupid as to vote against their own best interests. Frank is a decent writer, and he draws some interesting anecodotal examples to support his beliefs, but in the end they are just that-- beliefs. Statistics are cherry picked, complicity of the Clinton administration in the eventual implosion of Enron and Worldcom conveniently ignored, the free market is reviled and labor unions touted as the champion of all that is good and pure about America.

If you are, in fact, part of the choir and wished to preached to, by all means pick up this book. If you want an actual thoughtful look at how Kansas has shifted from a solidly liberal/progressive state to a solidly conservative/Republican state, you will have to look elsewhere. I should've known better when the book was glorified by Molly Ivins on the dust jacket.

The Ellis book is far better and a pleasure to read. Ellis' style is easy to read and his scholarship is solid. His treatment of the pre-eminent figure of American history is even-handed, and he covers an amazing scope of time and events in his compact (320 pages) biography. Indeed, the major complaint I have with Ellis' work is that it is too brief. Though he covers the entire spectrum of Washington's life and career, I was left wanting to know more about Washington's interaction with the other Founding Fathers, and also with his military staff during the Revolutionary War. Overall, however, a fine book and an excellent introduction to the man behind the myth and the birth of our country.
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