... compelling ... George Bancoft’s portrait is only one of many utterly gripping depictions scattered throughout Union. Woodard has wisely decided that a book about history must necessarily include historians ... The stakes are nothing short of determining how a nation thinks about itself, how it teaches posterity about itself. In Union, that battle sprawls out of the narrow confines of academia and embroils the entire country—and the fight is ongoing.
... an unusual but engaging collective biography ... Woodard succeeds in demonstrating the high stakes of master narratives, versions of the past that people choose as identities and stories in which they wish to live ... This book will help readers grasp the staying power and the consequences of the idea—ingrained in generations—that American history is essentially a chronicle of progress, a saga of liberty unfolding under some illusive pattern of exceptionalism and divine design ... Woodard devotes a great deal of space to developing the fascinating biographies of each of these men in short, snappy chapters that shift back and forth between all manner of confluences and coincidences, some useful and some not. We get to know them, their habits, temperaments and health crises.
This choice of narrative structure makes for a fascinating journey through history. However, given the centurylong time frame, chapter titles and defined sections might have added welcome context. It’s also worth noting that not much attention is paid to women’s contributions. In the end, though, Union is timely and thought-provoking, accomplishing much more than a static history.
Colin Woodard, a journalist with the Portland Press Herald, believes that the whole idea of national unity has been a kind of mirage all along ... It is a striking thesis but not a plausible one ... At no point does Mr. Woodard ever explain why he has nominated Bancroft, Simms, Turner, Wilson and Dixon as the molders of American union. In any case, it is surpassing strange that he selects two Jacksonian Democrats (Bancroft and Simms) and three Progressive Democrats (Turner, Wilson and Dixon) as the voices of union when a substantial selection of Whigs, non-Progressives and even Federalists were available to explain American nationhood in very different terms than those of an 'ethnostate' ... It is no help to the reader’s suspension of disbelief that Mr. Woodard’s narrative falls into so many historical potholes.
Overall, Woodward effectively shows how the country struggled to create a national myth, and an international image of unity ... Woodard is a gifted historiographer, and this excellent work will be appreciated by anyone interested in American history and how it came to be written.
Woodard...shows the complexity of the process by delving into the background of a number of the people involved, revealing how different and often incompatible their viewpoints were ... abundant detail ... Union is detailed and unflashy, and it contains many valuable historical lessons modern readers will find useful.
... [an] ambitious and accessible narrative ... Woodard oversells his argument by treating pride in the nation’s constitutional legacy as historically discrete from pride in America’s cultural heritage, but he marshals a wealth of information into a fluid narrative that manages to make abstract intellectual concepts tangible. This enlightening and character-driven account will resonate with progressive history buffs.
Woodard manages to bring all of his disparate biographical threads together in a coherent narrative ... One glaring omission is the lack of at least one strong female presence; otherwise, the scholarship is sound. Sturdy American history.