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A Renegade History of the United States Hardcover – September 28, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1St Edition edition (September 28, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 141657106X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416571063
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #154,824 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

This ultrarevisionist work is provocative, often interesting, and often preposterous. It appears to be a case of bottom-up history gone wild. The trend to view history from the standpoint of mass society is well established. Russell, a historian and journalist, has taken this approach much further. He asserts that the driving force behind many historical developments in history was provided by so-called marginalized groups outside the bounds of “respectable” society. So Russell provides a rapid run through some episodes and social movements in U.S. history, beginning with the meeting of the Second Continental Congress. His champions of liberty are not “respectable” men like Adams, Jefferson, and their ilk. Instead, he finds the real thirst for freedom among the drunkards, prostitutes, and slaves who mix socially and have “fun” in Philadelphia taverns. And so on through the abolitionist, feminist, and civil-rights struggles. Russell is hardly the first historian to notice the influence of the bottom of the social strata on culture, but his constant idealization of the lives of these “free” and “fun-loving” groups means readers should take everything with a heavy dose of skepticism. --Jay Freeman

Review

"Raucous, profane, and thrillingly original, Thaddeus Russell's A Renegade History of the United States turns the myths of the 'American character' on their heads with a rare mix of wit, scholarship, and storytelling flair." - Steven Johnson, author of Everything Bad is Good for You and The Invention of Air

“Thaddeus Russell’s A Renegade History of The United States is a work of history like no other—a bold, controversial, original view of American history that will amuse, inspire, outrage, and most of all instruct readers. Russell strips away conventional wisdom and explodes many myths. In the process, he sheds new light on ideas, institutions, and people.”
- Alan Brinkley, Allan Nevins Professor of History, Columbia University, and author of The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century and American History: A Survey

“Thaddeus Russell is a trouble-maker for sure. Whether you call his book courageous or outrageous, his helter-skelter tour through the American past will make you gasp and make you question—as he does—the writing of ‘history as usual.’”
- Nancy Cott, Jonathan Trumbull Professor of American History, Harvard University, and author of Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation and The Grounding of Modern Feminism

“Thaddeus Russell has broken free of the ideological prisons of Left and Right to give us a real, flesh-and-blood history of America, filled with untold stories and unlikely heroes. No waving incense before the sacred personages of Washington, D.C. here. This wonderful book follows the best American traditions of iconoclasm and—what is the same thing—truth-telling.”
- Thomas E. Woods, Jr., author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History

“Howard Zinn wrote the ‘People's History’ of the United States. But Thaddeus Russell has written the history of the American People Whom Historians Would Rather Forget: the whores, delinquents, roustabouts—the so-called bums and immoral minority who did more for our civil rights and personal freedoms than anyone could count—until now. There is no understanding of American feminism, sexual liberation, civil rights, or dancing in the streets without this careful analysis that Russell has put before us.”
-Susie Bright, syndicated columnist, author of The Sexual State of the Union, and series editor, Best American Erotica

A Renegade History of the United States takes us on a tour of backstreet America, introducing us to the rebels and prostitutes, the hipsters and hippies. The book tells good stories, all in the cause of illuminating larger historical struggles between social control and freedom, repression and letting go. Author Thaddeus Russell gives us a new pantheon of American heroes, and argues that those who expanded the realm of desire—for sex, for drugs, for illicit experiences—were the very ones who created our liberties. This is a controversial book, but certainly not a dull one.”
-Elliott Gorn, Professor of American Civilization and History, Brown University, and author of Dillinger's Wild Ride: The Year That Made America's Public Enemy Number One

"This lively, contrarian work [is]... A sharp, lucid, entertaining view of the “bad” American past." --Kirkus Reviews, starred review

This is a fun read that makes a serious point. Even drunkards, whores, black pleasure-seekers, gangsters, and drag queens have contributed to American culture, and sometimes in surprising ways. --W. J. Rorabaugh, professor of history, University of Washington and author of The Alcoholic Republic

"It's always fascinating spending time with a devil's advocate, and Russell is one of the best. You'll shout at this book endlessly, but you won't be able to put it down, for it's chock full of startling, upsetting, and entertaining anecdotes" --The Scotsman

"[A] rollicking and sure-to-be-controversial history of our great nation..." --Metro-Boston

A Reason Best Book of 2010

"[A] fully mesmerizing account of why America is so totally awesome..." --Reason

More About the Author

I teach history and American Studies at Occidental College and have taught at Columbia University, Barnard College, Eugene Lang College, and the New School for Social Research. Born and raised in Berkeley, California, I graduated from Antioch College and received a Ph.D. in history from Columbia University. My first book, Out of the Jungle: Jimmy Hoffa and the Re-Making of the American Working Class, was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 2001. I am a frequent contributor to The Daily Beast and have published articles in New York Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, Salon, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, as well as scholarly essays in American Quarterly and The Columbia History of Post-World War II America. I have also appeared on the History Channel and "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

Customer Reviews

I adore the style of writing that the author uses in the book.
Lance Arma
Liberals will similarly be horrified by Russell's compelling and iconoclastic treatment of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement.
DK
I have given out a dozen copies of this book, and im buying a few more.
disappointed

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

131 of 142 people found the following review helpful By DK on October 1, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Thaddeus Russell's 'A Renegade History of the United States' succeeds on every level. It is a comical, rigorous, and incisive social and cultural history of the United States, spanning the early colonial era all the way to the Obama Administration. Skillfully utilizing a plethora of primary documents while astutely navigating and critiquing the secondary literature (Russell is a Columbia-trained historian), Russell takes us on a colorful, edifying, and enormously enjoyable tour of the underside of US history. Indeed, taking off from Zinn's people's history, Russell emphasizes that the "people" are neither homogeneous nor pure at heart. Russell in particular shows that, contrary to standard liberal accounts, history's drunkards, prostitutes, and general misfits have a lot more to do with advancing conceptual and material freedoms than has ever been acknowledged. 'A Renegade History' evokes Tocqueville's 'Democracy in America' insofar as it can either please -- or infuriate -- just about everyone. Conservatives will delight in Russell's demolition of politically correct -- but historically dubious -- truisms, but just when they're convinced they've found an ally, they'll be scandalized by Russell's celebration of radical anti-authoritarianism. Liberals will similarly be horrified by Russell's compelling and iconoclastic treatment of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement. Indeed, ideologues might fear this book. But those who value history, cultural analysis, and an amazing and brilliantly-told story will be elated.
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44 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Currie-Knight TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Thaddeus Russell's premise for Renegade History is to look at the people and things in American history have always been left out: particularly how "vices" and those who pursued them have done as much to shape American history - and American freedom - than many political movements and acts. And the results are thrilling! This, folks, is the REAL People's History.

We start at the beginning. Part 1 goes from Colonial America and the omnipresent saloon to the Civil War. About colonial and early American history, we learn that saloons and alcohol consumption were not only common, but many saloons were owned (very successfully) by women, and catered to white, black, slave, and free. Despite efforts of states during and after America's independence to shut them down in the name of patriotism, they kept going.

The Civil War chapters may be the most controversial as they mount an impressive array of evidence to show that slaves may have had more freedom under slavery than as free men and women. Using interviews with former slaves, speeches and textbooks during reconstruction, and references to many secondary sources, Russell illustrates the difficulties in creating a new work ethic among a people who were quite unaccustomed to "fending for themselves." Russell IS NOT saying that slavery was better than freedom, but is pointing out that slavery often elicited less responsibility than freedom and, as such, slavery was often easier than freedom. Of particular importance to Russell's thesis is the idea that many vices flourished under slavery that had to be given up for freedom: serial monogamy, for instance, was the norm during slavery where freemen were expected to marry and stay married.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Angela M. Richter on February 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I told an acquaintance of mine today that I spent most of this weekend reading this book, getting all riled up and outraged only to have the author calmly point out how this or that molded many of the Amendments we have on our Constitution today.

I must say, his take on slavery is a bit... unorthodox and tying in minstrel was just... unbelievable, but at the end of the chapter he makes it work. You see the truth of his words when you look back or even look out your office window. More than that, you cannot deny the words of the people themselves who were recorded for posterity during the FDR Administration.

As for prostitutes and womens rights, it's a stretch with a kernel of truth to it. However, it is true that pre-Revolutionary women had far more freedoms than after.

Read it with an open mind and if you doubt, check his facts. I did and was flabbergasted at what I was never taught in school or through extensive reading.
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77 of 97 people found the following review helpful By Kerry W Calvert on December 23, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I was particularly intrigued by the argument that slaves were more free than working whites. You have to be more well read and intellectually gifted than your typical 'merican to understand the nuance of the argument and grasp the full context of the freedom that Russell is discussing.

But Russell's defense of his premise relies on anecdotal evidence, and he does not give proper weighting to the suffering imposed on slaves or on ex slaves in the decades that followed the Civil War. His suggestion that most plantation owners treated slaves delicately because they did not want to lower production by angering their slaves is just not adequately defended with hard evidence. There is plenty of evidence to counter this proposition, but you won't find it refuted or even acknowledged in this book.

There are many interesting aspects of American history discussed in this book that make it a worthwhile read. But it is lacking in rigorous scholarship. Being revolutionary and anti-establishment doesn't make the arguments true, it just makes them provocative.

This book made me stop to think and reconsider, but it did not leave me with the feeling that there was a kernel of a great revelation here, and that it is something I would like to dive into more deeply.
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