The author of American Nations returns to the historical study of a fractured America by examining how a myth of national unity was created and fought over in the 19th century by focusing on key historians and political figures.
... 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.