239 of 257 people found the following review helpful
on May 24, 2006
I am not sure if other reviewers have been able to read this whole thing or not, since it did just come out yesterday. Admittedly, I myself have yet to finish it,however, I have read about half of it. Being a history student in a department with many prominent historians, most notably Leonard Richard who has become particularly famous for his original analysis of John Quincy Adam's anti-slavery rhetoric as a congressman, I am extremely fond of new history books.
Mr. Bennett's book is truly a masterpiece. The very fact that I have already read about half of it in the past day it has been released should attest to how difficult it is to put this book down. Despite the fact that Mr. Bennett clearly has a political past, this book is highly non-partisan as he praises both political sides. The only bias that Mr. Bennett holds is that he (as do I ) think America is the greatest nation on the face of the Earth. This is not blind patriotism or nationalism. Instead it is patriotism based on fact more than pure emotion. He admits that our nation has had MAJOR problems, especially in terms of racial history. However, as he states, no nation is perfect and every other nation has similar disturbing facets of their past. Keeping that in mind, America has been and still is the beacon of freedom and hope around the world. Mr. Bennett's research is extremely thorough (first thing I do when I check a history book are check the sources.... he derives his information from historians ranging from Shelby Foote to Harry Jaffa to Douglas Brinkley to Henry Steele Commager to David McCullough; really some of the greatest in their field). Furthermore, he is an exquisite writer as he does things such as refer to men such as Ronald Reagan (in his only reference to the former president) as "the old man who dreamed dreams and lived to see those dreams become reality".
It is a rather long book (and only volume I too) but it is more than worth all the pages and you will actually find yourself wishing that this 525 page masterpiece was even longer. Here's looking forward to spring 2007 so volume II will come out.
103 of 115 people found the following review helpful
William Bennett has long established himself as an author of sorts, not so much by what he has written, but in what he has compiled. He has given us such great compilations of writings from an array of sources in monumental books such as the Book of Virtues, The Moral Compass and Our Sacred Honor, but in his latest venture, AMERICA: THE LAST BEST HOPE, Bennett varies from the role of editor, into the full blown role of writer and does so in superb fashion.
Bennett's personal indiscretions will cause the shallow minded reviewer who chooses to "kill the messenger" to delight in denigrating this fine work, but do not let that discourage you from exposure to this magnificent book. This is not just another dogged approach to American history. This is the story of America presented in a flowing narrative that is concise, insightful, accurate and teeming with adoration for the country that is, in fact, the world's last best hope for the future. Concurrently, Bennett is not averse to exposing the faults of our history in such areas as slavery and Jim Crow laws.
The truly defining moments of our rich history have inclusion here. Of course, even with it's rather hefty 544 pages, it is impossible to do little more than scratch the surface, but for an overview of history, Bennett has meticulously chosen the essential events necessary to impart the desired outcome.
Throughout the years, many have sought to duplicate this effort as volumes covering the matter here are abundant, but with the passage of time, I believe this work will stand the test and emerge as one of the best sources available in this venue. Not because it simply presents the history, but because it instills pride in the reader. It reaffirms all that we love about America and reminds us of how great she truly is, and how great a role those who came before us have been to building her.
If you already love America, your love will be deepened here. If you are less than 50 years old, this book will perhaps shed light as to why we of older generations hold such a profound admiration for our country. These are the things that used to be openly taught in our schools. These are the stories of American history previous generations grew up with. This is the history of America that is so overlooked and even rewritten by those today who loathe our history. This book belongs in every American home.
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on June 10, 2006
Some of my most favorite childhood memories were reading books in the acclaimed LANDMARK series of histories for young people, plus the Golden Book History of America, the Golden Book History of the Civil War, written by Bruce Catton and the editors of American Heritage.
In the wake of the upheavals of the 1960s, the Vietnam era and Watergate, it suddenly wasn't cool to take pride in the History of America. Today, our children suffer from this lack of United States History in our school curriculums. Ever hear of Ethan Allen, or Mad Anthony Wayne, or the "Swamp Fox", Francis Marion?
Or Jeb Stuart or David Farragut? Not to mention Francis Parkman?
Speaking of Parkman - ever hear of Stewart Holbrooke, who wrote about "Forgotten Americans" - and became one himself. Or other fascinating historians. Even the name of Carl Sandburg is almost forgotten these days though in his vivid words and imagery he helped bring Abraham Lincoln to life in the eyes of countless Americans. Our wonderful History is largely forgotten by our citizens today, and at our own peril.
At least William J. Bennett, former Secretary of Education, has done his very best to remedy this situation in his new book "America: The Last Best Hope". Bennett, known for his compelling "Book of Virtues", has written an American History that is a relatively easy read, and like the "Book of Virtues" should be required reading by Americans of ALL Ages - especially those in the formulative years.
As an educator myself, I am deeply troubled by the lack of interest of our youth in learning about our history. Bill Bennett's book doesn't address all I would have wished it would, but then again, how can any one historian who is NOT of the bent of a Howard Zinn totally capture the panorama and cavalcade of the American experience.
Bennett tries, and does so admirably. His chapters on both the American Revolution and the Civil War tell us what we need to know about the visionary leaders - Jefferson, Franklin, John Adams, and of course George Washington. But he also tells us about Ethan Allen (albeit briefly), John Paul Jones, and Benedict Arnold.
Lincoln is the heroic figure brought to life ala Sandburg, and Bennett to his credit also borrows heavily from Jay Winik, the late, great Shelby Foote, and James McPherson. Grant and Lee are noble men with flaws - Lee more so in Bennett's view for his alleigance to state, not country. Furthermore, Bennett shows he is up on current histories and controversies, as he makes an fine acknowledgement to Tom Carhart's brilliant critique of the final day at Gettysburg, when Jeb Stuart tried to roll the Union flank but was stopped by a young cavalry General by the name of Custer.
For those of the Zinn bent, Bennett also more than acknowledges the wrongs. The dispossession of the Native American, especially Chief Joseph and his Nez Perces, and the slaughter of the Buffalo. In a subject perhaps uncomfortable to Liberals, he also points out the savage Racism in past Democratic Presidents, especially the virulent Racism of Woodrow Wilson, a man who glorified in the dead Confederacy, and during his administration made sure that doors were shut closed to Black Americans at the White House and in Administration offices. So much for Wilson being the darling of the Democratic Party, and being "Progressive". Regressive would be more like it.
Bennett has made sure that this work is also profusely illustrated, something current historians seem to avoid doing. This gives the reader not just the narrative story of a Lincoln or a Teddy Roosevelt, but how their appearances reflected their character. And character is key in Bill Bennett's works.
Very Highly Recommend to be in the shelves of ALL American Schools, Upper Elementary, High School, Colleges - and ALL Public Libraries too.
"Civil War: Garments, History, Legends and Lore"
Current Educator and former Librarian
p.s. btw-there's nothing wrong in relying on Henry Commager as a source. He was one of our best Historians, and incidentally quite Liberal in bent.
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 2006
Net net I liked this book and I look forward to the next volume (Volume 1 covers 1492 to 1914).
The main reason I like it is that it summarizes in one readable place many of the lesser well known but important and intriguing aspects of American history. I have been reading up the last couple years from Washington to Lincoln to Grant to Reagan, so I had fresh and detailed readings with which to compare Bennett's work.
As an example, General Washington's main strategy in the War of Independence was to last out til British citizens were weary of the war and essentially forced the king and parliament to compromise. As another example, the Bank of the United States was what kept the country out of depressions yet it was opposed furiously by Jefferson and killed off once by Jackson. Many more examples abound where famous names and anecdotes are more fully explained. A fun one is how the Donkey and Elephant became the symbols of the Democratic and Republican parties.
Two aspects of Bennet's work intrigue me. First is his use of the issue of slavery as a binding thread throughout the whole of this Volume 1. Bennett discusses slavery from the beginning starting with the practice in Columbus' time. Bennett's discussion of Lincoln's political approach to emancipation is superb, as is his analysis of Calhoun's attempt to totally reverse the intent of the founders that slavery would be isolated and eliminated over time (since it could not be eliminated immediately without costing union).
The second intriguing practice is Bennett's regularly defining of (to me seemingly) obvious and well-known terms. I think Bennett is targeting a newer, less textually more visually taught audience, the one that Jay Leno loves to target with his "man and woman on the street quizzes" with simple questions that get amazingly wrong but funny answers ("What is the capital of New York?, Who is Mario Cuomo? etc.)
An example is defining "impressment", where British warships took American sailors off American ships into service, claiming they were British. Another example is Bennett's defining, in mentioning that Woodrow Wilson is the only president so far to have a doctorate (in political science), that "doctorate" meant he had a "Ph.D.".
The book is readable and engaging for the selection of facts and principles and narrative connection that Bennett presents. I learned many new things about Teddy Roosevelt and William Taft and Woodrow Wilson and may find myself reading some more detailed works now. The book is an excellent overview of America and should both improve Jay Leno test scores (hee hee) but even more importantly lead new readers to be curious to read more about and understand and identify with American facts, ideals and issues. And it is optimistic in tone, encouraging the melting pot that is our inherited and present culture to continue and move forward together.
28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on June 12, 2006
Bill Bennett set out to write a history of America, while taking his eyes, and eyes of the reader, off the nations's genitals. So much of the history coming out now seems to concentrate on the negative, a positive history seems like a good idea.
The book is not bad at all. I have read many U.S. histories, including more than a few multi-volume sets. Bennett did a good job. His work compares rather favorably with the efforts of others, and he does not dwell on the negative.
Bennett makes a serious attempt to tell the story of America from Columbus until the beginning of WWI. His book has some strong points. The sections on the Revolution, the Civil War, and the writing of the Constitution are very good. They are not full of detail, but there are plenty of other volumes for that. Bennett does a good job of explaining and describing these events, and most readers will find them enjoyable and informative.
Bennett gives positive attention to some figures--Andrew Jackson, for example--many find less than enchanting. I am one who has always been puzzled by those who like Jackson. Bennett does go into the strengths of his character, while not ignoring Jackson's many faults. I think his treatment of the man was very fair.
Washinton and Lincoln emerge as great men, very worthy of respect and admiration. So does Jefferson. The Adams--father and son--also come off well, with the reader not being unaware of their own flukes of character.
This is a good book. Its a survey, a broad brush overview of American history--but its informative, and a pleasure to read. Those who seek much greater detail will find it in other books. This book does qualify as one many can read and enjoy.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Revisionist histories that cast the United States as an evil nation have been all the rage among academics for the past several decades. William Bennett has an answer to that trend: a wonderfully written, well-balanced American history that doesn't hesitate to describe the mistakes along the way to the creation of the best functioning, longest lived democracy on the planet.
This is truly a book that should be required in public schools . . . if they weren't in thrall to a political philosophy that denigrates the country and if they actually taught history in schools any more.
Bennett's writing style meets any academic test, yet is warm, inviting and down-to-Earth. Footnotes abound, but Bennett takes care to tell the entire story, not force the reader into the footnotes. In a history that covers over 300 years of a nation's history, there is obviously more left out than is included. But Bennett has done a marvelous job of selecting the highlights of the nation's history. Quite impressive, as a matter of fact. In a very loose sense, there is a pattern: the main subject which is described in detail and than surrounding data. In this way, Bennett is able to balance the noblest parts of American history without slighting the negative. He acheives a fine balance.
He begins with a history of the reasons for European exploration and exploitation of the "New World," moves into the settlement of North America and does a really fine job of explaining how our political and legal systems came to be.
As he moves into the 19th Century, Bennett does a truly credible job of explaining the dynamics of slavery. He debunks the dishonest myths that have become the accepted mantra of left-wing groups. He is particularly good at describing the forces at work as the nation moved towad secession and Civil War. Frankly, his narrative of the slavery issue from the Founding through the Civil War could stand as a book in and of itself.
Bennett ends this first volume on the eve of America's involvement in World War I.
As a history buff, I have read dozens, if not hundreds, of histories of the United States. This is the first to equal, if not surpass, Paul Johnson's seminal work. A must-read for anyone with an interest in learning the truth about the United States. Bennett does indeed make the case that for all its faults, America is truly the last best hope.
26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 2006
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
The fact that some of the reviewers mention the "biased" nature of the book is a howl! Considering that our kids have been taught for the last 25 years everything about the negative historical facts of America, found in all countries and all human nature,and almost nothing about the uncommonly generous, humane, courageous, passionate, tolerant and justice-minded citizens who had to learn and grow in an environment and country extremely different from the one of our wealthy and educated citizens today. History is not "liberal" or "conservative." History is a compilation of facts and experience and narrative by those who were there and they were flawed individuals like all of us. A notable difference is that they didn't always have the energy for self-congratulatory liberalism of today, since, unlike most today, their main focus was to literally survive a very tough life for themselves and their family. It's one thing to sit in a warm college for 5 years talking about "cathedral forests," its quite another to have 6 kids and needing to cut down trees to plant food and build shelters. One is not "better" than the other - life circumstances dictate behavior. That was a time; that is history; not good, not bad, not liberal, not conservative, just people struggling along toward enlightenment and hope for the generations to come. (You know, serious things, like enabling thousands of over-privileged teenagers and liberal college kids to go to Cancun or Florida on spring break every year, while they bitch about their country.) History and one of its researchers/authors - shall it be squelched (or damned with faint praise) if it doesn't agree with your politics? I think not. And to even bring up Bennett's gambling problem in a book review is typical hypocritical behavior of so many liberals who claim superior tolerance and love of diversity. My, my, my - how mean-spirited!
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on February 27, 2007
Mr. Bennett has done a wonderful job of making American History readable and interesting without resorting to "revisionism". We are allowed to take great pride in our civilization again. Yes, we've had some moments in our history that we should be less than proud of, and Mr. Bennett doesn't gloss over these things, but there are many reasons why people still come from all over the world to become Americans. Thank you Mr. Bennett, for telling our story, and not kowtowing to the PC brigade! I can't wait for volume 2!
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on February 8, 2007
This has been the best read on American History I have had in a very long time. Dr. Bennett has written, what I consider, the most balanced history book in a very long time. He treats both sides of the debate in various conflicts we have had in our history with proper respect. It should be the standard for our high school and undergraduate American History Survey classes. It is the model of how writers should treat history.
I have read in another review that the material is a little cramped but given that this book is a survey of American history and not an in-depth study of all aspects of American history it serves its purpose well. I recommended for all those who are lovers of history or those who have history foisted upon them. I would also recommend this book to those who hates history. I believe it will change your feelings towards this rich subject.
98 of 123 people found the following review helpful
on May 26, 2006
When I see a bad review I look into other books that person has reviewed. In this case Mr. Preston has rated every book that has any positive message about the U.S. poorly and any book that portrays the U.S. as evil, gets 5 stars. Luckily very few people find his reviews helpful (Michael Moore 5 stars!! pleeease!) My only question is why does this idiot still stay in a place so terrible? And when will you leave?