Covering almost 500 years of history in fewer than 250 pages is certainly a daunting task, and one that--by necessity--requires sacrificing some depth for the sake of breadth. Bronski, however, does an impressive job of providing adequate depth and critical insight as he weaves together a "queer history" (more on the title in a moment) of the US, connecting pivotal events in the LGBT community to relevant social, political, cultural, and international historic events. By doing so, he contextualizes the evolution of LGBT people in the US (and their predecessors, who most likely did not identify as lesbian or gay but who were certainly same-sex attracted) in a way that vividly exemplifies their importance in the development of the country as a whole. I suspect that Bronski chose the syntax of his title quite carefully--note that he calls his book "A Queer History," implying that: a) his version is one of numerous possible interpretations; and b) history itself--and not just the people who populate it--can be queer(ed). Although this book is by no means comprehensive (such a task would be impossible), Bronski has packed his pages with a plethora of educational facts and critical analyses. For example, he considers the wealth of homoerotic references in early American literature, from well-known works such as Moby-Dick to the more obscure work of Charles Warren Stoddard. Bronski also deftly manages to elucidate the intricate interconnections among sexuality, gender, and race and offers a few tentative theories regarding their co-evolution in our nation's history. I found this book to be quite a valuable addition to my already voluminous personal library of books about LGBTQ history and research--at least twice in the midst of every chapter, I found myself running to the Internet to look up one of Bronski's references or to find out more about the popular films and novels he discusses. Since Bronski's style is quite clear and accessible, this book would be an appropriate text for an introductory course in Queer Studies in American History or any course in Sociology or American History with a broad scope. Definitely recommended.
I found that I pretty much knew the history presented here - I'd picked it up over the years in a variety of books and periodicals. This will be most informative to someone looking at our history for the first time. I highly recommend Out of the Past: Gay and Lesbian History from 1869 to the Present which I found outstanding in every way.
on August 14, 2013
This is far from a concise history of Queer United States history. While I enjoyed the book, the author did tend to jump around chronologically, which makes it a bit hard to stay focused on the time periods he was trying to portray. Other than that, the book is interesting and reads easily, doesn't get too bogged down in the mundane. If you are looking for a quick run through of some major points (as well as some not too well known ones) in US Queer history, this is the book for you. If you are looking for some in-depth analysis of our history, look elsewhere!
on January 14, 2014
3.5 of 5 stars –
What a fine compilation of the LGBTQ story over the last FIVE CENTURIES. Bronski does a good job of taking a high-level, broad-brush approach to the historical, sociological, cultural evolution of the LGBTQ experience. Even so, I also feel he could have related even more of the underlying individual psychological factors and more intense emotions and motivations that might connect readers to the times, which may be why this seemed more academic and intellectual.
One reason I like history is to see how previous events and cultures lead to what we experience today. Bronski’s book definitely gives me that in spades. I liked how throughout he interrelated the gay history and movement with other non-gay issues and movements, be they racial, women’s rights, labor, gender issues, war protests. This lent insight on some of the underlying cultural and psychological desires and fears at the times, leading up to today.
I appreciated the breadth, and reasonable depth, which unfortunately the latter had to be understandably sacrificed for the sake of the former. Which was fine by me, because I have not seen anyone bring the length and breadth together as Bronski does. I particularly appreciate his coverage of the earlier years, about which there would understandably be less known – so I’m actually surprised that he was able to pull in as much as he did.
Spanning the 500 years he writes about both public as well as maybe not necessarily apparent, subtle, behind-the-scenes, even unconscious influences, people and events. He reveals numerous stories and details of people, events, and the arts that are little-known – at least to me, and I assume to most others. After all, I ran into many people who had seen a recent hit show in Chicago, Hit the Wall, about the Stonewall uprising, who were unaware of it as part of our history, or actually thought it was urban myth.
Maybe because I’m more familiar with it, and thus have my own POV, I think he overstates the influence of LGBTQ on America over the last 50 years, even stating – ”LGBT people … have made America what it is today.” Definitely contributed, but not as exclusively as that sounds – I think he needed to take a step back to view the whole picture and balance LGBTQ’s influence with what all else was going on and influencing culture, politics, and “life” in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and even 80’s. For example, with his telling so well about the increased amount of LGBTQ events and public presence and acceptance, I think he leaves the false impression that society was more accepting than it actually was.
I liked Bronski’s writing style. I’m a history buff, so even though some may find the book dry, I thought Bronski kept things interesting and moving along nicely, with the information and analysis keeping me engaged throughout. Even more, one thing I would have loved, since it is historical in nature, is to supplement the text with pictures. The visuals would have reinforced and made the stories more vivid.
Overall it’s a broad, interesting historical perspective of the LGBTQ experience in America.
on August 7, 2015
I raced through this book, which isn't always the case with nonfiction. I strongly recommend it to anyone who has any interest in the history of the lgbt community, or even history in general. I found some of the figures cited fascinating in how far ahead of their times they were. An excellent book.
This only moderately successful political history reads like the syllabus of a Gay History 101 college course. It touches on all the high points but makes you wish for the weekly lectures to investigate the people, conditions and implications hinted at in this volume.
Not surprisingly for a professor of Women's Studies (at Dartmouth), Mr. Bronski gives women loving women (though not necessarily explicitly lesbian) much more page space and well-deserved credit for all that they contributed to the national dialogue and evolution of attitudes towards a more tolerant attitude of Americans.
Jonathan Ned Katz, a writer mentioned by Mr. Bronski several times, posited that heterosexuality did not exist until there was a named, delineated homosexuality that needed to be reacted against. Mr. Bronski seems to posit that queer history is actually the story of how heterosexuality was modified to reflect the changing definitions of American manhood by various versions of Social Purists down the decades, including, in the Epilogue, our present times. This evolution of masculinity represents societal reaction to counterbalance the civilizing affect of homosexuality on heterosexual men, an effect once believed to be the purview of women and family.
At times providing fresh insight, "A Queer History Of The United States (Revisioning American History)" doesn't provide anything that those who have studied gay history don't already know or have heard about. The "Queer" in the title is more directed not as an identity but in the use of the word as a verb, the equivalent of the "Revisioning" in the subtitle. In my reading of this book, this revisionism seems to shift the success of the LGBT Rights movement from activism to passivism. That change came not primarily from (other than in the AIDS crisis which is where the book ends) from gays trying to change straights but from the straights (men especially) trying to become more like gays for the increased probability of breeding success. Now that's a fascinating, fresh insight.
Covering 500 years in 240 pages obviously requires paring down to the bone and in doing so Mr. Bronski leaves the serious reader hungry for a meatier treatment. For those not familiar with the subject, "A Queer History Of The United States (Revisioning American History)" provides an excellent tasting menu for those trying to decide which main course of GLBT history to devour.
on March 13, 2016
Bronski writes in a way that is completely insensitive to trans people, misgendering numerous people who, by Bronski's own accounts of their lives, explicitly refused to go by the pronouns he uses for them. It's stunningly callous to the needs of the people who might be reading his book and getting something out of it. I would not have bought this book if I had known this, and I feel ripped off. It's very sad because a book like this could be very valuable to trans people as a source of liberation, but instead it co-opts us in a narrative about queerness that does not respect us.
on August 5, 2015
I'm a queer and a history buff, so this book was right up my alley. The first Bronski book I read was "Pulp Friction" which I adored! This queer history book is quite different from the pulps book, but the same brilliant intelligence of the writer shines through. Bronski makes connections, offers perspective, and gives context that are often missing gay history books. And he chooses wonderful wonderful quotes which really give you a sense of the person and the times.
on September 3, 2011
I actually don't see this book as that "queer" and that the title is misleading; it seems like a fairly generic, mainstream coverage of gay history in the U.S.
This book also isn't all that accurate on broader issues. It's somewhat muddled, when not tendentious, on early American history. Bronski's claims about the gay influence of Emerson and Thoreau are stretched. That said, they're far enough in the past that such claims could cut either way.
Not so his claims about Eleanor Roosevelt.
First, Bronski claims that, "For several years, Eleanor Roosevelt was romantically and sexually involved with journalist Lorena Hickok." A. The idea of whether they had a sexual relationship at all is still not a "consensus view" of historians, though it's probably a majority view. B. The idea that, if they were sexually involved, it carried on for several years is a small minority view.
Second, his claim that Eleanor had a sexual relationship with bodyguard Earl Miller is pooh-poohed by almost historians.
There's other things that are missing. Bronski skims over the depth of tension over black-gay issues, including many blacks, not necessarily that conservative, insisting that black civil and gay civil rights moves aren't the same. (There's probably a whole book to be written just on that issue, if it hasn't been already.)
Third, for someone who has the background he has ... there's just not a lot of depth here. I was kind of disappointed. I was actually expecting something ... different. I'm not sure how, but different.
Fourth, given all his talk about "inverts" and others, and people he lists as examples, for this book not to have a single photo is simply inexcusable. I almost pushed it down to one-star rank for that reason.
If Michael Kramer is coming out with a project of his own, wait, and read it.
on November 25, 2014
This book takes on a pretty daunting task: covering about 500 years of LGBTQ+ presence in the United States and how it has impacted and been impacted by the overall history of the country. For the most part, it's a good, broad survey, but there are some flaws, the most notable being that even though the book was published in 2011 the history stops in the 1990's, meaning that some of the arguably most important developments for LGBTQ+ people (growing marriage equality, serving in the military, greater social recognition of LGBTQ+ family units, Harvey Milk being recognized on a postage stamp) are not included. I did learn some new things in the early chapters dealing with the Colonial Era and the Civil War, but it also felt like there were a lot of omissions as the book moved into the 1980's and the premature conclusion.