What I’ve Been Reading (September)

Paul S. Boyer’s American History: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2012).

I have read a number of books from Oxford’s “Very Short Introduction” series, including Kathryn Kalinak’s on Film Music, John Polkinghorne’s on Quantum Theory, and several on world religions and ethics. Paul Boyer’s American History did not disappoint. It is the perfect refresher on US history, and I found the chapters on the colonial period, the revolutionary era, the early republic, and the Civil War particularly valuable. It was also interesting to read the final chapter, which traced American history from the early years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency to the present—an era that overlaps completely with my own life. To see (and feel) this period treated as “history”—and to observe my own emotive reaction to this experience—was fascinating, but I also found Boyer’s linkages of events, trends, causes and effects over those four decades convincing and his assessments compelling. One of the final chapter’s subsections, “Historic Election; Uncertain Future,” which covers the presidency of Mr. Obama, also gave more flesh to the idea of the “long shadow of 9/11” and left me contemplating—not for the first time—that the growth, prosperity, and relative peace of the 1990s (years when I attended graduate school, began my career, and celebrated the birth or my children)—rather than the conflict, economic insecurity (real or only perceived), and rancorous partisanship so prevalent since 2000—may be the aberration in post-1970s American society (and history).

Stan Pelkey

October 1, 2016