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Virginia's American Revolution: From Dominion to Republic, 1776-1840
Virginia's American Revolution: From Dominion to Republic, 1776-1840
by Kevin R. C. Gutzman
Edition: Paperback
Price: $28.95
41 used & new from $18.80

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Statehood As Originally Understood, August 20, 2008
In his preface Kevin Gutzman writes, "...I wanted to consider Virginia from the state level, because my understanding of the politics (broadly understood) of the period was that state identity dominated people's consciousness in a way barely conceivable now. ...I saw that the chief theme of the [Virginia Ratification Convention] was not the kind of America ratification would make but what effect ratification would have on Virginia."

So begins an indispensible study of a particular cultural and political setting in the early days of the United States, and how the formation of this nation was understood by one state -- Virginia. From the time that England's James I promised to honor Virginia's freedom and the English rights of its citizens through the Revolutionary War and the first decades of the United States, Virginians understood themselves to be an autonomous people who had signed on to the Constitution with the primacy of their state's uniqueness and identity intact. After finishing this book one can better appreciate why, threescore and ten years later, Robert E. Lee would turn down the highest command in the U.S. Army rather than turn his sword upon his home country, Virginia.

Gutzman provides an overview of Virginia's uniquely hierarchical culture -- chiefly descendants of the Caroline kings and their servants -- and introduces the key players who shaped Virginia's understanding of and response to the Ratification Convention: George Bland, Thomson Mason, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Patrick Henry, among many others. Whether Federalist or Anti-Federalist, all parties worked to ensure Virginia's distinct identity within a non-binding contract of separate states.

Once the nationalist Federalists began to assert unstated powers, figures like the brilliant pamphleteer John Taylor of Caroline arose with prophetic vengeance, seeking to rally public and leadership sentiment back to first principles. Yet, the aristocratic culture to which Taylor and many prominent Virginians belonged unwittingly alienated many of the frontiersman who had pushed beyond the Blue Ridge escarpment, setting the stage for a future rupture in the Old Dominion.

Gutzman masterfully traces these developments and the external forces which by 1840 had undermined Virginia's primacy and example of local autonomy. Daresay most Americans have a limited or skewed understanding of the Revolution -- one that is increasingly monistic and nationalistic. Virginia's American Revolution underscores that, from the beginning, America consisted of disparate political cultures with very different visions of what the agency of Federal government meant. The Virginian vision has been obscured if not lost, and many serious social and economic ramifications of that outcome continue to manifest themselves today.


Gods and Generals
Gods and Generals
DVD ~ Jeff Daniels
Price: $4.99
260 used & new from $0.01

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Flawed...But Well Worth Viewing, April 21, 2006
This review is from: Gods and Generals (DVD)
Gods and Generals is like a record album containing three or four very good songs worth hearing over and over, while the rest are forgettable. The major problem with this film is that it is really too long; the great scenes -- and there are several -- are spread over filler that could have been substantially edited.

The second major issue is the unnatural dialogue. While 19th century Americans (particularly Southerners) might have written to one another in flowery, Victorian prose, it is doubtful that they actually spoke to one another in lengthy soliloquies.

Those criticisms aside, there are magnificent moments in the film that make it memorable. Robert Duvall is simply perfect as Robert E. Lee, and he subtly casts a shadow of doubt over this revered historical figure. The last scenes in the film capture this: as Stonewall Jackson lays dying, Lee is asked by Jackson's personal chaplain if he will come see the fallen hero. "No sir...no sir, I won't," says Lee, unable to come face to face with the final moments of his best lieutenant's life. Yet, Jackson's wife proves to be as brave (if not more so) as all the gallant soldiers and generals, as she fortifies her husband's faith and grants him permission to "cross the river, and rest beneath the shade of the trees."

The Confederate route of the Union right flank at Chancellorsville is spectacularly photographed, owing much to the cinemagraphic effects of the long tracking and deep focus shots found in the works of Stanley Kubrick and Sergio Leone.

There is enough provocative history and stunning visuals to warrant making a purchase of this difficult but ultimately rewarding film.


Molly O'Day & The Cumberland Mountain Folks
Molly O'Day & The Cumberland Mountain Folks
Price: $39.33
15 used & new from $21.32

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Molly Remains a Mystery, July 2, 2004
This is a pricey volume. Bear Family gives the listener everything Molly O'Day recorded for Columbia with excellent sound reproduction; but Ivan Tribe's 27 page essay (with rare photos) raises more questions than it answers. Above all, who was Molly O'Day? We get an extensive overview of her career, but apart from oblique references to her religious faith we still don't know what made her tick.
That aside, it's her penetrating voice that makes this a worthy collection to own. Molly embodied the elusive Appalachian soul; she was the forerunner and template for artists like Loretta Lynn. Her plaintive, throaty voice exuded conviction and, above all, authenticity. This record also demonstrates the uneasy merging of styles that occured in Southern Appalachia following WWII. On tracks like "Poor Ellen Smith" and "Coming Down from God" Molly unleashes a feverish clawhammer banjo barrage, harkening back to the Old-Time music of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But "Singing Waterfall" and "I Don't Care if Tomorrow Never Comes" reflect the emergent honky-tonk style of country music (the Dobro, which was just beginning to impact country music, is prominent throughout). In between are spurious hints of proto-bluegrass. But the unifying theme throughout these 36 tracks is Molly's unswerving Christian faith. It was the unresolved tension between faith and show business, we are told, that ultimately led her to choose an early retirement from country music.
The listener will be left to project his or her own imagination onto Molly O'Day, a shape-shifting artist whose voice still reaches into the soul and shakes it.


A Ghost Is Born
A Ghost Is Born
Price: $9.83
181 used & new from $0.01

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Don't Judge Too Soon, July 1, 2004
This review is from: A Ghost Is Born (Audio CD)
It's a classic mistake -- a big name band comes out with a new album, and critics and fans alike step in immediately to give their first impressions. If there's one band for which that approach is a consistent a mistake, it's Wilco. Like many, I'm frightened of albums that I instantly like; they invariably begin to fade away sooner than later.
"A Ghost is Born" will leave many bumfuzzled out of the starting gate. Similar in overall style and structure to its controversial predecessor "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot", this record depends heavily on brooding atmospherics which envelope the rather conventional melodies. This is Jeff Tweedy's niche; the basic pop song format shadowed and subverted by dissonant, disquieting counter-themes. For those willing to submit to Wilco's own (admittedly wry) internal logic, the rewards will come; doubt will fade like Smarty Jones in the final leg of the Belmont, and the patient listener will be overtaken and surprised by a work of unexpected depth.
Among the better tracks are "Hell is Chrome", which sounds like Paul Simon backed by Dark Side-era Pink Floyd; the breezy yet bittersweet "Wishful Thinking"; and "Theologians," a blue-collar manifesto that supplies the album's thesis with cleverly employed Biblical analogies. But the song that stands out most is "Muzzle of Bees," and astonishingly schizoidal piece whose delicate acoustic elements are trampled by wailing electric histrionics. "Muzzle" best demonstrates Wilco's disparate musical interests while showing off their latently strong musicianship.
Give this one a chance. Odds are it will make regular rounds in your CD changer well into the future.


The Hawk's Done Gone
The Hawk's Done Gone
by Mildred Haun
Edition: Paperback
Price: $29.95
34 used & new from $25.43

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Essential Southern App Collection, June 9, 2004
This review is from: The Hawk's Done Gone (Paperback)
Being originally from the same part of the country as Mildred Haun I can attest to the authenticity and accuracy of the style and speech used throughout this book. These are stories where deep tragedy and farcical humor innertwine, told in speech patterns still common to East Tennessee.
One of the recurrent themes (among many) in these stories is the silent suffering of Appalachian women; they keep their sarcastic observations to themselves while their worlds crumble around them. Yet the reader has just cause to doubt their veracity, and wonder why these women don't react if circumstances are really as bad as depicted. This demonstrates Haun's keen sense of irony as she lays inner thoughts in relief to the harsh but simpler realities of late 19th and early 20th century Appalachia. In addition, there are strong references to the supernatural throughout, owing to the intimacy between mankind and nature in these settings.
The first part of this book consists of "The Hawk's Done Gone", a loosely unified novel told in a series of vignettes by the same narrator -- a "granny woman" (i.e. midwife and makeshift funeral arranger). Like Faulkner's "Go Down, Moses" these individual stories build a masterful composite picture -- here, of rural mountain life in an area removed from the stereotypic coal mines and bootlegging of other popular Appalachian books. The second half is a collection of separate, unrelated stories, and the last one, "Dave Cocke's Motion," is worth the price of the whole volume. It is a side-splitting satire that beautifully captures the wry, sarcastic humor of East Tennessee. Beginning as the recounting of a rivalry between two young, aspiring musicians, it explodes into a church split, which in turn dredges up deep-seeded political divisions from the Civil War era -- an important nuance, given that as many Union sympathizers lived in that part of the country as Secessionists. Not one to miss, "Cocke's Motion" is every bit as clever and insightful as anything in Mark Twain's canon.
In cannot be overstated that Mildred Haun's work is literature in the fullest sense. Despite her milieu, which is often derided as backward, Haun had the smarts to attend Vanderbilt University where she honed her writing chops under the guidance of the celebrated "Fugitive" poet/essayist John Crowe Ransom. "The Hawk's Done Gone" is the work of an obscure literary genius, and is possibly the finest example of Southern Appalachian fiction ever written.


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