MixedThe Washington PostHolding Fire: A Reckoning With the American West will be very appealing to a particular audience. [Andrews] can write beautifully ... In a perverse but not uncommon way, it flatters the vanity of Andrews and those of like mind to feel responsible for great evil in the past. It means they matter. Such a feeling, though, is built on a falsehood. None of us are responsible for the evil deeds — or the good deeds — of those who came before us ... Andrews wishes history had been different — that the West had never been “won.” It’s a romantic thought, and it will be common among the many who will like this book. But he offers no hint as to how such a different history might have come about, nor does he reflect that if it had, he wouldn’t be here to appreciate it. A memoir is history as the writer recalls it. In this case the memoirist essays to have his past and reject it too.
Anne F Hyde
PositiveThe Washington PostAnne F. Hyde examines family life in the borderlands; her carefully wrought portrait of five families reveals the peculiar challenges faced by these quintessential people of the border ... The Europeans at first were treated like another tribe ... Hyde provides illuminating detail on the family networks the outsider men married into and the benefits and costs to the various parties ... Hyde’s research is impressive throughout; it is hard to imagine a pertinent document that has escaped her scrutiny. Yet her characters often remain elusive. It is in the nature of social history that the subjects leave few traces for the historian to work with. In some cases they never wrote anything down, lacking literacy or incentive. In other cases, what was written down was subsequently lost. As a result we often observe Hyde’s subjects from a distance. At times she is compelled to extrapolate ... Yet Hyde makes good use of one woman who did create a written record—an elegantly poetic one ... This fine book will help ensure that that history isn’t lost.
PositiveThe Washington PostPearl, like everyone else who has written on the subject, is limited by his sources, most of which come in the form of recollections recorded years or decades later. And although his story is as much about Indians as about Whites, essentially nothing survives about the former that hasn’t been filtered through the latter ... Yet Pearl does what he can, and deftly re-creates a fraught moment in the confusing struggle among American Patriots, American Loyalists, British and Indians ... Pearl draws out the drama, which won’t be spoiled here. Along the way, he brings in numerous additional characters to broaden the story ... Pearl’s care to get the history just right may put off readers who find the repeated entrances and exits distracting. On occasion, his apparent desire not to offend obscures the meaning of events he describes ... Certain of Pearl’s conclusions are appealing but wishful ... The strength of Pearl’s book lies in the narrative, not the conclusions. He has identified a gripping story and told it well. That’s accomplishment enough.
Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson, and Jason Stanford
MixedThe Washington PostFor readers unfamiliar with either half of the story, the book provides a useful introduction ... At numerous points in their account of the siege and battle, the authors challenge the traditional view. In doing so they follow historians who abandoned the traditional view decades ago. They sometimes appear to be beating a horse that, if not dead, was put to pasture awhile back, at least outside the political classes. It’s no news to anyone, for example, that the commanders at the Alamo, William Barret Travis and James Bowie, were scoundrels before the war with Mexico ... The freshest work in this book deals with the [Phil] Collins controversy and makes a persuasive case that Collins was taken for a ride.
Michael J Gerhardt
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalAbraham Lincoln had less schooling than all but a couple of other presidents, and more wisdom than every one of them. In this original, insightful book, Michael Gerhardt, a professor of jurisprudence at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, explains how this came to be ... Mr. Gerhardt’s emphasis on Lincoln’s education casts his presidency in a distinctive light. This is no small accomplishment given all that has been written about Lincoln. Mr. Gerhardt stresses that Lincoln was \'educable,\' a quality never more necessary in an occupant of the White House than during the Civil War.
David S. Brown
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... [a] thoroughly researched and gracefully written biography ... or Mr. Brown, Adams’s Education is a wonderful source. Its prose is carefully tooled and provides him with epigram after epigram. For Adams’s early years, it is irreplaceable. Mr. Brown’s challenge is to keep Adams’s self-chronicling from taking over the show. With rare exceptions, he does so most ably. And even when Adams runs on, his gift for words makes the lapse forgivable. In fact, sometimes Mr. Brown could allow Adams more running room. He summarizes many of Adams’s articles on politics and other subjects, and for the most part the summaries are judicious and laudably brief. But now and then the reader wants more ... [Adams\'s memoir] still bears reading. Modern readers will miss a reference or two, although Mr. Brown’s book can help as a guide.
PositiveThe Washington Post[Inskeep\'s] journalist’s eye for detail and nuance serves his readers well. His account of the dumb luck of the Frémonts in becoming insanely wealthy in California — a property that John bought for a ranch proved to sit atop the Mother Lode — makes clear how capricious fortune could be in that singular moment of American history ... And as a journalist, Inskeep recognizes spin when he sees it. He cross-checks the Frémonts’ accounts of the Western journeys with diaries kept by other members of the expeditions, who acknowledged John Frémont’s courage but saw it shade into foolhardiness that could have killed them all.
PositiveThe Washington Post\"No biographer has dug as deeply or with such verve into the making of Reagan the star ... The prose is energetic and engaging, with only occasional lapses into fan-mag mode ... [Spitz\'s] sourcing shows a strong preference for interviews over archives. This lends a personal immediacy to his accounts of crucial meetings and decisions, which surviving participants describe. But memories can be slippery, especially decades after the fact, and readers might have been reassured if Spitz had taken greater pains to cross-check the memories with the increasingly available documentary record.\
PositiveThe Washington Post[Lepore] has drawn on her books and articles for the present work, which is strongest where it overlaps the ground she has previously covered. Her delightful book on Jane Franklin and her brother Benjamin provides a wealth of material for her coverage here of the colonial and early national eras. Her book on slavery in New York sets the template for something her current book does better than any other comprehensive history of the United States: writing the lives of slaves into the story of the republic ... But any reader who expects a primer on America’s political evolution is going to be at a loss at times. Lepore admits to paying little attention to military history, yet the short shrift she gives to the Civil War, as an episode in American political history even apart from the battles, is going to leave uninitiated readers mystified as to why that conflict still roils the nation. She covers World War I in hardly more space ... The inevitable errors in a work as ambitious as this are mostly minor ... Lepore generally lets her story tell itself. Where she renders judgments, they are usually sound ... Those devoted to an honest reckoning with America’s past have their work cut out for them. Lepore’s book is a good place to start.
Joanne B. Freeman
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalWhy do people vote against their own self-interest? ... Joanne B. Freeman helps explain why, in a fascinating book on a seemingly different subject ... The duelists, bullies and brawlers of Ms. Freeman’s tale aren’t figures from the margins of society; they occupy its very center: the Congress of the United States ... Ms. Freeman’s book goes far toward explaining why there was a Civil War. She doesn’t put it so directly, but her evidence makes clear that by the time the war came, its causes transcended slavery. They also transcended states’ rights ... Ms. Freeman’s book is a good-news, bad-news story. The good news is that America survived a period of greater polarization than we experience today. The bad news is that the means of survival included the most destructive war in our nation’s history.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThe history of relations between the indigenous peoples of North America and interlopers from Europe is more complicated than you think, as John Sedgwick demonstrates in his engrossing book on the Cherokee, Blood Moon. Actually, it’s more complicated than he thinks, or at least than he portrays it to be. This isn’t his fault; a story has to start somewhere, and it can’t move forward without omitting many details. But even posing the conflict in terms of indigenous peoples and interlopers oversimplifies ... Mr. Sedgwick deftly hangs his tale on two remarkable individuals: The Ridge (He Who Walks on Mountaintops) and John Ross. Each was of mixed ancestry ... Mr. Sedgwick’s account is filled with riveting, often gory details ... The harrowing parts of the story add not simply drama but insight into the self-righteous attitudes both sides brought to their struggle for the land ... Mr. Sedgwick’s subtitle calls the Cherokee story an \'American Epic,\' and indeed it is.