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text 2017-06-17 16:35
BL-opoly - Free Friday #1 -- All the President's Men
All the President's Men - Carl Bernstein,Bob Woodward

I've had this one sitting on the family room bookcase for I don't know how long.  Even though I know the "story" -- I remember when it all happened -- I've never read the book, or seen the movie.


I had another book picked out last night for the Free Friday event, but The Crafstman proved to be one of those books I need to read with a pad of little Post-its to mark the important passages.  Sociology, arts and crafts, and political theory are not the stuff for relaxing week-end reading!


But there sat the Bernstein and Woodward book, and with the anniversary of the Watergate break-in being this week, I thought I'd go in a different direction.  I only read 30 pages before I started falling asleep, but I was seriously hooked.  The projects planned for this week-end while the BF is out of town may get shoved aside in favor of reading. It's going to be too hot to do anything outside. . . .

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review 2017-06-14 21:46
The making of the image
The Afterlife of John Fitzgerald Kennedy: A Biography - Michael J. Hogan

Nearly 55 years after his assassination, John F. Kennedy stands as the most popular of America's post-World War II presidents. Poll after poll serves as testament to his enduring appeal for millions of Americans, which crosses racial, ideological, and generational lines. How Kennedy came to assume such an indelible place in the American imagination is the subject of Michael Hogan's book, which looks at the development of Kennedy's posthumous image and why it endures decades after his demise.


Kennedy's wife Jacqueline is at the center of Hogan's account. In the hours following the president's assassination, his grieving widow asserted a leading role in the planning for his funeral, making decisions and choreographing events so as to cement the image of the young, hopeful leader that he and his wife had done so much to cultivate. As Hogan notes, this proved a dramatic success, one witness by the people of the world thanks to the use of television, Jacqueline furthered this effort by exercising close control over the works published immediately after his death (particularly William Manchester's book Death of a President) and the memorials constructed in D.C. and in Massachusetts.


Kennedy's circle of family and friends continued even as the nation emerged from their grief and began to reassess the president's legacy. As authors began challenging the sentimental, rose-colored view propagated in early biographies by Ted Sorensen and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., the family pushed back by attempting to dissuade authors who did not offer the Kennedys editorial control from writing their books or restricting their access to JFK's papers. To Hogan, the effort here was not an effort to control history but memory -- the public image of Kennedy held by millions of Americans. This, even as the sordid details of Kennedy's private life gradually leaked out and revisionists challenged the image of Kennedy as a successful president, the public continued to hold him in an esteem which made association with his image a laudable political goal even today.


Hogan's book is an excellent account of the construction of Kennedy's posthumous portrayal by those closest to him and its impact how how he is remembered. In it he recounts the calculations of the people involved, the fighting that took place to realize their goals, and the effect of the result upon the nation's remembrance of the 35th president. Though Hogan's scope leaves out many fictional works which reflect the broader national effort to engage with what Kennedy meant to the country, his book is nonetheless a superb study that helps to explain why Kennedy continues to occupy such a beloved place in our national memory.

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review 2017-06-02 04:09
My fifty-first podcast is up!
Henry Alsberg: The Driving Force of the New Deal Federal Writers' Project - Susan Rubenstein Demasi

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it, I interview Susan DeMasi about her biography of journalist and political activist Henry G. Alsberg. Enjoy!

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review 2017-05-30 01:34
Reading progress update: I've read 480 out of 480 pages.
Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong - James W. Loewen

The honest historical marker:


On this site in 1897, nothing happened.  (p. 442).


This is the kind of book that needs rereading and reflection over an extended period of time.  There is so much to absorb, so much to analyze, that it can't be digested in one sitting or one review.


As inaccurate as most of the monuments Loewen cites are, he does mention that there are some that get it right.  And I wonder, given his particular focus on the sanitizing of Confederate history, how many of the accurate ones are really out there.  Has he given historical markers an unfairly bad rap?  Hmm, I don't know.  But certainly the ones he has cited deserve it!


Highly recommended, especially for its insights into how we got to where we are.  I would love to read The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader, but my library doesn't have it and I'm just not up to springing for the Kindle edition . . . . yet.

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text 2017-05-30 00:05
Reading progress update: I've read 399 out of 480 pages.
Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong - James W. Loewen

pp. 398-399


The defeat was hardly novel.  From the Civil War to the end of the [nineteenth] century not a single Democrat in Congress, North or South, ever voted for a single piece of civil rights legislation. . . .


Northern and Southern whites now reunited under the banner of white supremacy.  In the 1890s, Memorial Day celebrations organized by Union League members no longer stressed the need for vigilance against Southern attempts to overthrow the Union victory.  Often they invited Southerners to speak, who admitted they had been wrong to secede but right to oppose "Negro domination."  In 1891 [Henry Cabot] Lodge suggested that the U.S. should keep out "Slovacks" from Eastern Europe because they represented "races most alien to the body of the American people," and he did not mean African American people. . . . The Republican Party lost what little authority it still had to improve the lot of minority races.


These were not the Democratic and Republican parties as we know them today; they flipped almost completely in the latter part of the twentieth century.  The party of Lincoln is now today as racist and reactionary as were the Democrats of the South, of Reconstruction, and of the era of legal segregation -- roughly 1880-1950.


What's important to note, I think, is that despite the Union victory on the battlefields, there was insufficient backbone to impose the underlying terms of that victory on the defeated Confederacy.  When those chickens came home to roost after the second world war and the modern (?) civil rights era was launched, there was still not enough spine to make the laws stick.


In certain aspects, especially in and through popular culture, a more permanent victory was achieved.  But we still have a very, very, very long way to go, and the road is not getting any easier.

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