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The Man on Mao's Right: From Harvard Yard to Tiananmen Square, My Life Inside China's Foreign Ministry
The Man on Mao's Right: From Harvard Yard to Tiananmen Square, My Life Inside China's Foreign Ministry
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $11.84

4.0 out of 5 stars Portrait of a diplomat, February 18, 2014
If you are interested in Chinese history and politics, this book is well worth reading.

One reason I was interested was because Ji Chaozhu is the younger brother of Ji Chaoding, a fascinating figure, but very obscure because of the covert nature of his activities (he was a spy for the Communists for many years). Ji's reminicences of his brother made the early part of the book a highlight. For example, Ji claims that his brother first met Zhou Enlai all the way back in the May 4th movement of 1919! Amazing, if true.

Another reason to read this book is because up until the middle of his career, Ji was a frequent English interpreter for both Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong. Interpreters' experiences can make for great reading, and Ji was there for several important and famous meetings. He was also a witness to some famous quips, such as the Deng Xiaoping--Shirley MacLaine conversation where MacLaine told Deng how impressed she was by the rusticated Chinese scientist who told her how happy he was to learn from the peasants. Deng's reply: "He was lying." According to Ji, a true story.

Politically, during his career in China's Foreign Ministry, Ji was perhaps not a major policy maker, but he was on close terms with many of them, and his picture of the Ministry's members is the human side of an often analyzed, seldom humanized institution. He idolizes Zhou Enlai, admires diplomats such as Zhang Wenjin and Huang Zhen, dislikes his one time superior Han Xu, and came to violently dislike Wang Hairong and Nancy Tang, his one time neighbor and family friend. Of the grim struggles that rocked the Foreign Ministry during the Cultural Revolution, however, he is laconic and short with details; you will need to go elsewhere to find that.

In the end though, the most interesting part of the book was Ji's own development. After traveling from war-time China to the US, he was very happy, encountering little prejudice, fitting in easily with his friends, excelling academically, and eventually entering Harvard, where great opportunities awaited him. Yet he chose to return to China, a choice that he himself clearly wondered about sometimes. I wondered too in some places.

Still, some of Ji's reasons are clear: his strong patriotism, his pride in his family's revolutionary background, his loyalty. Once he gave his loyalty, he did not easily withdraw it; this shows in his defense of individuals such as Pu Shan, his mentor both at Harvard and in the Ministry, despite Pu's being condemned as right wing, and in his defense of the revolution, the Communist Party, and even Mao Zedong.

Another aspect of his thinking is a lack of sympathy or tolerance for dissenting opinion. During the Hundred Flowers period, he found democrats such as Luo Longji and Zhang Bojun offensive and even threatening, just as he found the 1989 Tiananmen demonstrators dangerous and their leaders such as Chai Ling contemptible.

For those who insist on a wholly sympathetic writer, this may be discomforting, but if you are interested in an opinionated, outspoken writer who lived a fascinating life, the book is well worth your time.

China Nurse 1932-1939
China Nurse 1932-1939
by Jean Ewen
Edition: Hardcover
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4.0 out of 5 stars In the front lines, February 12, 2014
This review is from: China Nurse 1932-1939 (Hardcover)
Jean Ewen was a Canadian nurse who spent 6 years in China, working first with Catholic missionaries, then with the Chinese Communists' 8th and New 4th armies. This might seem like a drastic change, but there is a back story of course. Her father was Tom Ewen (or McEwen?), a prominent member of the Canadian Communist Party. As Jean tartly remarks, he looked forward to the proletarian revolution, "in which he could play a more interesting role than being a father to his four children." Ewen herself is emphatically not a communist, and her decision to head off to China as a Catholic missionary is classic youthful revolt against parental authority.

According to Ewen, she arrived in China in mid-1933 (oddly conflicting with the title of the book), and took up nursing posts in increasingly isolated areas of Shantung province, encountering bandits, floods, famine, and all manner of political turmoil, but apparently getting along well with both the missionaries and the desperately poor peasants she nursed.

She returned to Canada in June 1937, just missing the beginning of the China-Japan war. In December, she was recruited by the Canadian Communist Party for a medical mission to the Chinese Communists' Eighth Route Army in northwestern China. Also on the mission was the famous Dr. Norman Bethune, about whom Ewen has many interesting things to say.

Basically, Ewen found Bethune a "gifted physician," but a rather awful person, and the conflict between them is very entertaining to read about. After a horrific air raid, in which she is "scared spitless," Bethune ponderously informs her that "Every man must have two baptisms in his life--once with fire and once with water." This, Bethune explains, is her baptism of fire, to which Ewen snaps, "You are nothing but a bloody missionary." Bethune then rains down fire on her a second time: "He yelled and screamed, talking so quickly that I don't think he knew exactly what he was saying. 'Don't you ever say anything like that to me again, you dizzy b----!'"

Bethune and Ewen soon parted ways, but Ewen stayed for over a year, first in Shensi, then in Anhui, where she worked with the Communist New Fourth Army and Agnes Smedley, among other people. This, according to Ewen, was a terrible snafu, with the Army finally taking over the hospitals and medical services.

Ewen is often a very evocative writer, as in her description of sleeping in one of the loess caves that served as housing in Shensi: "From the bed roll you hear all the chattering of the mice and the scratching of the crawlers who live in the earth. You never know just how alive the earth is until you occupy a cave." Her description of the brutal Japanese air raids and the chaos that followed are also some of the most vivid I've read about the war.

Overall, this book is a great read, but the reader must be careful, especially when Ewen is describing events in which she has not herself participated. Her description of the famous Sian Incident of Dec. 1936 is a mess, and there are many odd departures from fact throughout the book. Oddest of all is her description of leaving Sian in October 1938, on pages 118-120, where she seems to go from Sian to Chengchow, then back to Sian, in order to get to Hankow! The Chinese transcriptions are also totally scrambled, but fortunately few.

Decadence Mandchoue: The China Memoirs of Sir Edmund Trelawny Backhouse
Decadence Mandchoue: The China Memoirs of Sir Edmund Trelawny Backhouse
by Edmund Trelawny Backhouse
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $30.22
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Indefatigable reiteration, July 17, 2012
Make no mistake about it: Decadence Mandchoue is a work of pure fantasy, for the most part a remarkably monotonous fantasy, of sex, sex, sex. I can't imagine anyone reading through the whole thing unless you have a real taste for Victorian gay pornography; I don't, so it was skip, skip, skip. The few non-pornographic bits are something else, though; these are like fragments of a late Victorian historical romance, an Anthony Hope imitation with Peking as Ruritania. If that makes it sound appealing, give it a shot, but be aware that this is only a small part of the book.

The author of this really odd book, presented as an autobiographical memoir, was Edmund Backhouse, the subject of a really interesting book, The Hermit of Peking, by Hugh Trevor-Roper. Backhouse was originally known as a somewhat eccentric sinologist who published two books on Qing Dynasty politics in collaboration with British journalist J. O. P. Bland, and who gave the Bodleian Museum one of the best collections of Chinese books in Europe. Trevor-Roper, however, uncovered a lot more interesting information than this, and The Hermit of Peking is much more entertaining (for the most part) than Decadence Mandchoue.

Still, the starting point for Trevor-Roper's book was in fact just Backhouse's two volumes of reminiscences: Decadence Mandchoue is the second, the first remains unpublished. Trevor-Roper was asked to authenticate them and was immediately interested by the incredible nature of the stories the books told. After diligent spadework, he dug up some remarkable information about the complex scams and fantasies that Backhouse inflicted on anyone unlucky enough to get involved with him. Naturally anyone who is interested in this book should read Hermit of Peking first, otherwise most of it won't make any sense, not even the sex.

Oddly, though, Trevor-Roper comes in for some heavy criticism in the introduction from the editor of Decadence Mandchoue, Derek Sandhaus. I find most of this criticism hard to accept.

For instance, Sandhaus complains that Trevor-Roper did not make any attempt to "consult Backhouse's Chinese and Manchu contemporaries." He concedes that Trevor-Roper could hardly have gone to Peking in 1976 during the Cultural Revolution, but insists that "he could have spoken with former Peking residents who had left China around the time of the Communist takeover in 1949. These people would have been in a unique position to confirm or refute Backhouse's claims."

In fact, Trevor-Roper did consult Peking residents: he talked to Harold Acton, Henri Vetch, Roland de Margerie, Hope Danby, Humphrey Prideaux-Brune, and to William Lewisohn, a true contemporary of Backhouse, 90 years old when Trevor-Roper contacted him. Most of these people actually met Backhouse; some, like Danby, saw him often and must count as friends, others, like Lewisohn, tried to unravel some of Backhouse's complicated literary scams (the diary) and showed Trevor-Roper their correspondence with Backhouse.

Sandhaus would apparently discount all these people and insist on Chinese acquaintances, but except for his servants, Backhouse's Chinese acquaintances are unknown. How was Trevor-Roper to contact them? You need names first, and no one ever got names of real Chinese acquaintances out of Backhouse. When the American Bank Note Company was trying to figure out what happened to their contract for 650 million notes, they interviewed the Chinese politicians Backhouse claimed he had made his crooked deal with: Hsu Shih-ch'ang, former President, and Tuan Ch'i-jui, then Prime Minister. Their response: Never heard of him. Signature on the contract? A forgery.

Given Backhouse's skills at concealment, I think Trevor-Roper did the best that could be done. Of course he did not have the skills to dig into the Chinese side of things, but because of the fake diary that Backhouse produced for his work with Bland, Chinese scholars have also looked for Chinese acquaintances (or accomplices). Nothing has turned up and the diary remains a mystery. This silence is puzzling. Other Western scholars studied in Peking in this period, and show up in Chinese reminiscences, but not Backhouse. The best we can get is a claim from a Backhouse acquaintance that a rickshaw puller once told him there was a rumor that Backhouse used to be the lover of the Empress Dowager. How did the puller know the rumor? How does anyone know a rumor? "Some dude told me."

Behind Sandhaus's criticism of Trevor-Roper lies an idea: there is, somewhere, somehow, some fragment of truth to Backhouse's memoir, and in justice to Backhouse we must examine his work sentence by sentence, confirming or refuting until we have found it. Trevor-Roper found plenty of evidence that there were outrageous lies in Backhouse's memoirs. No doubt it could be an entertaining process to try and find some truth in them as well, but it need not delay any decision on how much to rely on Backhouse without examination. You'd have to be nuts to believe a word he wrote.

Reporting the Chinese Revolution: The Letters of Rayna Prohme
Reporting the Chinese Revolution: The Letters of Rayna Prohme
by Gregor Benton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $38.00
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Letters from a fading past, April 18, 2012
This book is about Rayna Prohme, an American writer who ran the People's Tribune, the English language newspaper of the Nationalist Party (the Kuomintang or KMT) in China from 1926-27. You've never heard of her, unless you read Vincent Sheean's 1934 autobiography, "Personal History." "Personal History" was a best seller, one of those books that convinced a lot of people that the most adventurous thing you could do with your life was to be a reporter. Rayna is a central figure in the book, portrayed as the very spirit of Revolution, which "Jimmy" Sheean thought was just around the corner.

Apparently most males who read the book also decided the most romantic thing a globe trotting reporter could do was fall in love with this radical spirit, and went around for years searching for someone like her. The book did not have that effect on me, but it certainly made me wonder what she was really like and how she had got into an unusual situation. This book answers both questions, giving a moving description of Rayna and her husband Bill through letters she wrote from 1926 to 1927. The letters are to her sister, Grace Simons, her friend in Berkeley, Helen Freedland, and her husband Bill. They end a few days before she died in Moscow, and are supplemented by a few more written by Jimmy Sheean and Bill Prohme, describing the aftermath of her death from some type of meningitis or encephalitis.

This is obviously not an upbeat story. In the early letters, Rayna is excited to be in Canton and Hankow, working for a cause with people like Eugene Chen, foreign minister of the KMT regime in Hankow, Michael Borodin, chief Russian advisor to the KMT, and Soong Ching-ling, the widow of Sun Yat-sen. In the end though, the KMT expelled both the Chinese Communists and their former Russian advisors, for reasons sketchily explained in the preface to the book. Rayna strongly identified with the Communists, so she and Bill quit the paper (or were fired) and returned to Shanghai.

Mrs. Sun chose to go to Moscow rather than remain in China, perhaps to express her rejection of the KMT's change of direction (or perhaps not). For reasons quite unclear, Rayna was invited to accompany Mrs. Sun, and Bill was asked to stay in Shanghai. Mrs. Sun and her party arrived in Moscow in early September at the climax of the struggle between Stalin and Trotsky. The failure of the Russian efforts in China played an important part in the struggle, and as an inconvenient witness, Rayna was apparently quite unwelcome. She was still looking for a regular job and a place to stay when she became ill and died suddenly on Nov. 23, 1927. The last few letters she wrote to Bill are truly heartbreaking.

Bill himself was tubercular, and after some very difficult times he killed himself in 1935 on the anniversary of Rayna's death. He destroyed all his papers except for the letters Rayna sent him from Moscow, which he gave to Rayna's sister Grace. They were found in Grace's papers after she died. All these letters were put together over a period of many years by two different editors, who both died themselves while the book was still in press.

For those interested in the period, this book is fascinating. If you have read Andre Malraux's book Man's Fate, read this to find out about real radicals in China in the 1920s. If you have read Sheean's book, read this to find out what kind of person Rayna really was. Read this even if you haven't read Sheean. Despite an extremely difficult situation, she comes across as a talented, resilient, and loving woman.

Red Star Over Hollywood: The Film Colony’s Long Romance with the Left
Red Star Over Hollywood: The Film Colony’s Long Romance with the Left
by Ronald Radosh
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.85
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Back-story of the Blacklist, April 4, 2012
Author Ronald Radosh has a back story himself, for those interested: once a Communist Party member himself, he quit, moved to the new "left", then moved to the new "right" in the 1980s. I had heard of him because of his book on the Rosenberg case (The Rosenberg File: A Search for Truth, written with Joyce Milton), an extensive, well-documented discussion.

I came to this book looking for more information on Otto Katz, a Comintern agent who was in Hollywood 1935-36. Radosh has a very interesting section on Katz, who apparently had a massive FBI file stuffed with lots of letters from famous Hollywood people, most notably Fritz Lang. Radosh gives a clear summary of these, with an interesting take on Katz's appeal to people like Lang. He even comes up with juicy second hand Hollywood gossip about Katz (Marty Peretz told Radosh that Lillian Hellman told him that she had a fling with Katz in Paris).

I hadn't really expected to read the whole book though, since I don't care much about Hollywood people, even when they're having flings with Comintern agents, and since the Hollywood blacklist, the center of the book, has provoked more writing than I'm prepared to read. However, it's a short book, and turned out to be very entertaining, at least for people who mumble 'whoa' when they read how Budd Schulberg recruited Dorothy Parker into the Communist Party.

A lot of the book goes over old ground, but there were several stories that I had never heard before, in many cases the result of Radosh going through lots and lots of archives and papers. For example, there is the story of how Howard Koch hired Jay Leyda as a script "adviser" on the notorious "Mission to Moscow," which Dwight McDonald called "the first totalitarian film to come out of Hollywood." This film has been gone over in detail before, but Radosh found interesting new material in the papers of Koch and Leyda.

Then there is the story of Melvyn Douglas and the Motion Picture Democratic Committee. Douglas and his friends put a lot of time and energy into the Committee, but the Popular Front of the 1930s meant the Committee also had lots of Communist members. After the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact, Douglas tried to get the Committee to denounce the Pact and reaffirm its commitment to Roosevelt's anti-Nazi policy. How he fought and lost goes a long way to explaining where anti-communist liberals came from.

Perhaps the most interesting story was the conflict between those in the Hollywood Ten (or Nineteen) who had quit the Communist Party (Edward Dmytryk and Adrian Scott), and those who were still in it (almost everyone else). This is mostly based on Dmytryk's book, but the daughter of their lawyer, Bartley Crum, was also present at many discussions and painted a very sharp picture in her 1997 autobiography, a book which I had never heard of.

Radosh's point is that the blacklist had a long back-story, with scars from many things, from "Mission to Moscow" to the Non-Agression Pact, having a deep effect on people's attitudes. That plus the militant nose-thumbing of Hollywood Ten members like John Lawson certainly irritated people like Harry Warner, about whom Radosh tells an anecdote I'm sure is apocryphal. A script writer is blacklisted and Warner promptly fires him. The guy complains, "This is a mistake. The plain fact is that I'm an anti-Communist." Warner replies angrily "I don't give a **** what kind of Communist you are, get out of here!"

Soong Dynasty
Soong Dynasty
by Sterling Seagrave
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.07
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27 of 33 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Caveat lector, August 30, 2009
This review is from: Soong Dynasty (Paperback)
Seagrave's view of pre-World War II Chinese history consists of equal parts of conspiracy and corruption. These elements are certainly present in Chinese history, but Seagrave's presentation is so biased, confused, and poorly documented that no one should accept his account without careful research.

For conspiracy, the most notable claims are that the Kuang-hsu emperor was poisoned (116), that the Dowager Empress Tz'u-hsi was poisoned (116), that Yuan Shikai was poisoned (text on 162 says uremia, footnote on 480 says "Such medical diagnoses were suspicious at best. Was it ever possible, organically, for a Borgia to die a natural death?"), that Charlie Soong was poisoned (142-3): "The facts surrounding Charlie Soong's death are obscure... the possibility of foul play has always existed... Euphemistically, stomach cancer was as common in revolutionary Shanghai as lead poisoning was in Chicago and Marseille." Seagrave goes on like this for almost a page in an exceptionally tendentious passage. There is of course zero documentation for all of these claims.

In a way though, these claims are almost trivial. It makes no difference to Seagrave's narrative whether these people were poisoned or not. A much more essential point is the central role that Seagrave claims the Green Gang played. Unfortunately, Seagrave's account of the Green Gang has many problems. Brian G. Martin, whose book "The Shanghai Green Gang: Politics and Organized Crime" is probably the best account of the Green Gang in English, says that Seagrave's account, "with its conspiratorial view of Chinese history in the 1920s and 1930s and of Jiang Jieshi's rise to power, sacrifices historical fact for sensationalist effect." (2)

This is not an overstatement. One of the strangest things in "The Soong Dynasty" is how Seagrave identifies the well-known Green Gang boss Chang Hsiao-lin as a member not of the Green Gang, but of the "Blue Gang". The Chinese name of the "Green Gang" was "qing bang," with the word qing referring indifferently to both green and blue. Thus many early accounts of the Gang refer to them as the "Blue Gang." The Comintern representative Sneevliet regularly calls them this in his reports. The "Blue Gang" is the "Green Gang" and the "Green Gang" is the "Blue Gang." How Seagrave confused one gang into two I have no idea.

Rather than rendering his account more difficult, however, this seems to open a door for Seagrave. Huang Chin-jung, Tu Yueh-sheng, and Chang Hsiao-lin were the Shanghai gangster troika, mentioned in numerous books. What Seagrave does is largely replace Chang Hsiao-lin, the Green Gang boss, with Chang Ching-chiang, one of the "four elder statesmen" of the Kuomintang, and a close advisor to Chiang Kai-shek. Thus Huang, Tu, and Chang Ching-chiang appear in various combinations throughout the book. Chang is an intimate of Tu (161), a business partner of Tu (163-4), a kidnapper like Tu and Huang (212), and so on. This is how Seagrave grafts Tu and the Green Gang onto Chiang Kai-shek and the KMT. Was Chang Ching-chiang really an important member of the Green Gang? He is mentioned in Brian Martin's book only once, as someone Tu and Huang were appealing to to continue the Shanghai purge in 1927. This is in contrast to Chang Hsiao-lin (Zhang Xiaolin), who occupies large chunks of Martin's book.

Putting aside the conspiratorial events, the historical events Seagrave attempts to recount are so confused and contradictory that C. Martin Wilbur calls "The Soong Dynasty" "a travesty of a book from a historical viewpoint." (Wilbur's "China in My Life", p. 285). This is very bad for people who read "The Soong Dynasty" for history, rather than scandal or speculation.

Anachronistic (or at least highly confusing) statements are a major part of this problem. A striking example is Seagrave's account of the Western Hills meeting (November 1925). He first quotes Isaacs' description of the goal of the meeting as being to "Ally with Chiang to overthrow Wang (Ching-wei)." Why overthrow Wang? According to Seagrave, Wang was "too weak to prevent a Communist coup. He had just convened a Second Party Congress that placed most of the critical departments of the southern government in the hands of the CCP and other leftists" (210). It seems to me a reasonable interpretation of this is that Seagrave thinks that first Wang convened the second party congress and then the Western Hills reactionaries decided to dump him. But the Second Party Congress was held in January 1926, after the Western Hills meeting. Why overthrow Wang? Try Wilbur's book "The Nationalist Revolution in China" (30-32). Wilbur gives a clear discussion of the factionalism facing the KMT at this point. Anachronisms aside, Seagrave is lost, complaining in his footnotes that these are "murky developments." (484)

An even more startling discussion is Seagrave's account of the "First Shanghai Uprising" (217). Apparently Seagrave got this from Harold Isaacs' "Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution", but compare Seagrave with Isaacs (p. 131 of the 1961 edition), or even better, with "Missionaries of Revolution" by Wilbur and How (p. 328-329). Seagrave's account is simply wrong, adding in the Green Gang with no sources, misidentifying people, misunderstanding the circumstances, claiming "large numbers" of casualties and a blow to the Communists, where Wilbur and How list documents that give the casualties as 10 people killed, and Isaacs, the champion of the labor groups involved, dismisses the event with the remark "The incident passed almost unnoticed on the fringe of events."

"The Soong Dynasty" does provide some interesting information in the earlier part of the book on Charlie Soong, father of the six Soong children. In particular, Charlie's success as a businessman and his work on behalf of Sun Yat-sen has been neglected, and there is still no extended account of these available today. Unfortunately, most of Seagrave's materials on these aspects is also poorly documented. Thus Seagrave claims that Soong joined the Hung-men Society ("the Red Gang") "shortly before the 1888 Chinese New Year celebration" (57), but gives no source for this. All of his comments about Charlie's activities and the Red Gang: that he was introduced by his brothers-in-law (58), that he printed the Gang's secret papers (57), that Gang members provided capital for his business ventures (60), that he bought the building for his printing shop through the Gang (61), that the steamship Charlie and his family fled to Japan on in 1912 was owned by the Gang (130), are all unsourced.

It is a pity that Seagrave's book turns out to be so unreliable; it would be nice if there were one book that covered the people and events of this period, but I don't think there is one single work that does this. Wilbur's books are solid historical accounts, and Brian Martin's book has excellent documentation, though the Green Gang, like the Mafia, is murky water. As for the history of the Soongs, despite Seagrave's massive onslaught, the field remains barren.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 5, 2011 9:57 PM PDT

The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789 (Oxford History of the United States)
The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789 (Oxford History of the United States)
by Robert Middlekauf
Edition: Paperback
136 used & new from $0.01

139 of 149 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Extensive history, but some problems, September 19, 2002
Middlekauff has read deeply in the history of the American revolution and the early republic. Moreover, he is interested in more than just a simple narrative; he is interested in causes and motives, as he shows in chaps. 20 and 21 of this book, which discusses why soldiers fought instead of ran.
Unfortunately, the narrative in this book has holes, and Middlekauff often fails to put people and personalities into context, making the reading less interesting than it should be. He also makes high demands on readers' attention; this, plus the holes, made the book heavy going at times.
Here are some examples of holes: 1) In his discussion of the Intolerable Acts, Middlekauff fails to say what the Quebec Act was, yet on pp. 239 and 280 he assumes you know. 2) 471: "They all knew what happened to Buford's men at Waxhaws when they tried to run away." This is the only time "Buford" and "Waxhaws" are mentioned in the book. 3) 340: "June also brought William Howe back to New York." I can't find where it says Howe had been in New York before. 4) 462: "Some hint of what was coming was given ...when the victors, shouting 'Tarleton's Quarter,' shot and stabbed the wounded..." There is no explanation of this anywhere in the book. 478: "... Lee's Legion rode in. Greene once more had his army in one piece." This is the first time that "Lee's Legion" is mentioned. I had to look in the index to find out that "Lee" was Henry Lee. It never explains how he got a legion. The last time we saw him, on 417, he was foraging in Delaware.
No context for people and personalities: Isaac Barre gives a speech supporting the colonies in parliament (74-75), but Middlekauf never tells us who he is or why he speaks so strongly.
Directly below, the American who thinks Barre's speech is "noble" is never identified. Apparently it was Jared Ingersoll, who appears in a very different light in other parts of the book.
Demands on reader's attention: 406-7 "Amherst told the king..." This is Jeffrey Amherst. The last time we met him, also identified only as "Amherst", was page 276, where he was fighting Montcalm in Quebec for all of one sentence. Look up Amherst in the index, see where he appears, and see how easy it is to connect these references. This is very tough, demanding writing.
Middlekauff knows the period, is a very intelligent writer, has interesting views and judgments which he backs up effectively. However, if you want to understand what is going on, you will have to go to other books in addition to this one, and you will have to pay very close attention to Middlekauff, with pencil in hand and constant reference to the index.
As an example of a book which brings people and personalities strongly into context, I recommend Barbara Tuchman's "March of Folly" which has an outstanding chapter on "The British Lose America." This will tell you who Barre was, why they were drinking toasts to John Wilkes in South Carolina in 1768, and what the Quebec Act was. It's only a tiny fragment of the history Middlekauff tries to cover, and occasionally falls down as well (Tuchman mangles the text of Barre's speech), but is a great example of fascinating historical writing which historians would do well to study.
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 10, 2012 3:11 PM PDT

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