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New books about colonial America, part 1 (Winter 2016)

Posted in American, Books, Politics, War by Alex L. on March 7, 2016

History off the Book header

Today we’ll take a look at books about colonial- and revolutionary-era America that have come out this month or last.

First up is The Fever of 1721: The Epidemic That Revolutionized Medicine and American Politics by Stephen Coss. The tagline really caught my eye for this book — the events of 1721 prefiguring the revolutionary events of 1776. Also, in a fascinating twist, the author is neither a professional historian nor a journalist but rather works in marketing. Very unique, especially to be published by the likes of Simon & Schuster for his first book! This would be a good author to interview for my ever-elusive podcast.

Next up is Washington’s Immortals: The Untold Story of an Elite Regiment Who Changed the Course of the Revolution by Patrick K. O’Donnell. The work is about a single regiment during the Revolutionary War who fought a rear-guard action to protect and evacuate the rest of the Continental Army during the Battle of Brooklyn.

Finally we have The First Congress: How James Madison, George Washington, and a Group of Extraordinary Men Invented the Government, written by Fergus M. Bordewich. I feel like books about the early American government are especially important today because “the Founders” are often invoked in an inaccurate way by our politicians to serve whatever agenda may be convenient for them. The truth is often more messy and complex than the mythologies and legends we may create about the past.

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That constitution is best which…

Posted in American, Politics, Press by Alex L. on February 7, 2012

Detail of the U.S. ConstitutionAn upcoming study in the New York University Law Review finds that the U.S. Constitution is losing favor as a model for new constitutions around the world, reports the New York Times. Since the 1960s and 1970s, when the American document witnessed its height of popularity, foreign governments have turned to more progressive constitutions such as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms for inspiration.

The N.Y. Times article suggests three reasons for the decline in popularity worldwide of our Constitution: (1) America’s decreasing influence and reputation, (2) conservative judges’  insistence that the original intent of the Founding Fathers be considered in rulings, and (3) the absence of rights that are featured in other nations’ constitutions (e.g. rights to travel, food, education, and healthcare).

Should these be causes for concern for Americans?

Addressing the first reason, I think the greatest blows to American reputation happen when the U.S. initiates wars of questionable cause. American involvement in Vietnam and Iraq (2003-2011) soured America’s image around the world during a time when we needed support for broader conflicts (Cold War and the War on Terror, respectively). We should become more wary of beginning a war. (more…)