From writer and political analyst Jared Yates Sexton comes a journey through the history of the United States, from the nation's founding to the twenty-first century, which examines and debunks the American myths we've always told ourselves.
Sexton’s work is a well-informed fly-over. His research offers a big-picture view of leadership, regardless of political affiliation, that repeats and re-repeats patterns of creating and protecting wealth for the American elite at any cost. Greed is not novel, but this book’s ability to convince its populace that their country enacted greed’s opposite is extraordinary. Sexton’s writing is to be praised for its lack of equivocation. He calls the immoral immoral, the unethical unethical. The reading is uncomfortable yet necessary. Sexton’s well-executed project of looking at American history with radical candor is meant to make us more patriotic, not less; only with clear eyes do we have a chance of fulfilling America’s promise.
... like your high school history textbook rewritten by the creators of House of Cards trying to imitate the scope of The Silmarillion ... With force and candor, American Rule leads readers through a litany of state-sponsored injustices...aims to be a wake-up call for a national delusion. But Sexton puzzlingly replicates the blind spots of American history through his commitment to holding up a dark mirror. What comes close to being revolutionary fizzles in how it selects details ... Reading American Rule, you hear Sexton’s particular scorn for the evangelical icons who loaned their rhetoric to the American Myth. But there’s also a religious element in American Rule’s forcefulness ... At the macro scale, Sexton makes his points at breakneck speed ... assumes that Americans have been fed reductively heroic stories, so it sets out to do the inverse, without exception ... Perhaps American Rule’s greatest strength is that it refuses to wring its hands while — figuratively — toppling historical figures from their pedestals. Sexton spares readers the tiresome discourse of 'states’ rights' and the moral relativism of killing and enslaving hundreds of thousands of people. He calls the nation’s atrocities for what he believes they are ... Most of the high-level analysis of American Rule is reserved for the prologue and epilogue. The rest is a firehose of information set loose in chronological order. The onslaught of names and dates is only manageable because of Sexton’s crisp, logical prose. Even someone who slept through high school history class could enjoy American Rule. Regardless, adding a few pages of analysis at the end of each chapter would have given his ideas (and the readers) more room to breathe ... That being said, Sexton’s attempt to document as many American atrocities as possible is admirable. Oft-forgotten topics like the nightmarish occupation of the Philippines and the American eugenics movement are described with stark statistics. Even an informed reader will probably learn about a new horror ... can’t cover every issue, but certain omissions sting because they replicate the problems of American history textbooks ... Sexton spends so much time talking about powerful white men, albeit to point how awful they were, that all other people fade into a faceless oppressed mass. Sometimes his generalizations can be surprisingly tone-deaf ... Aside from a few obvious faux pas, there’s a more frustrating pattern in American Rule. It is reluctant to talk about the actual people oppressed ... extravagant about the abusers but reticent about the victims ... I’m glad American Rule arrived at this conclusion at all, but it feels too little, too late...Whether Sexton realizes it or not, American Rule recreates a narrative it sets out to disrupt, even as it feels like a book anxious white liberals would distribute to conservative relatives before election day ... Considering the ease with which the Trump administration spews out alternative facts, American Rule needed to speak to something deeper. I suspect Sexton’s endeavors would have been more successful if he had chosen to humanize the statistics rather than merely recite them.
Readers looking for consolation and a plan for a more just and equitable future will not find it here. Recommended primarily for those concerned by the tone and direction of American politics and seeking a better understanding of the question on which the book is framed: 'How did we get here?'