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Aaron "History grad student" RSS Feed (San Marcos, TX)

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The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
DVD ~ Meryl Streep (voice of Eleanor)
Offered by Fulfillment Express US
Price: $48.64
26 used & new from $45.68

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of Burns's best yet., November 28, 2014
This is one of the best Ken Burns documentaries. Burns's films range from "above average" to "excellent" and this rates as one of the excellent ones.

It goes far beyond what any other documentary on TR or FDR has done and weaves in the stories of the families - From TR's father "Greatheart" and FDR's father "Mr. James" and his mother Sarah Delano, to the 6 children of TR and Eleanor's brother Eliot. That level of "intimacy" is what makes this film special.

My only complaint is that it's a little biased toward FDR - it portrays the Oyster Bay Roosevelts in somewhat of a bad light after TR's death.

Africans in America: America's Journey Through Slavery
Africans in America: America's Journey Through Slavery
DVD ~ Angela Bassett
Offered by newbury_comics
Price: $19.99
5 used & new from $15.60

4.0 out of 5 stars Very good series, June 23, 2014
PBS has yet to out-do this series, one of the best documentaries on the period of African-American history prior to 1865 that's ever been produced.

I will say, that the first two volumes are much stronger than the last two - hence why I knocked off one star. The sections on colonial slavery and slavery's relation to the American Revolution are excellent. The sections on early national and antebellum slavery have a little trouble creating a coherent narrative and seem rushed.

Tears of a Clown: Glenn Beck and the Tea Bagging of America
Tears of a Clown: Glenn Beck and the Tea Bagging of America
by Dana Milbank
Edition: Hardcover
110 used & new from $0.01

9 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Very disappointed, January 3, 2011
This could have been a good book, and frankly I expected more from Dana Milbank. This book felt like a rush job. Milbank says in his acknowledgments he started it in January 2010 and then it was published in the fall of 2010, so obviously there is a limit to what you can do with a limited time frame.

The title itself is misleading. The subtitle, "Glenn Beck and the teabagging of America" implies that there will be discussion of Beck and his influence with tea party activists. Or perhaps how the latter influenced him, since there has been a change in his rhetoric over the last 3 years. There is none of that. Chapter after chapter contains mostly quotations from Beck's show. I can watch his show myself to see that what he says is crazy, I don't need Milbank for that. The part of the equation that I felt was missing from the entire book was the audience. Who are these 3 million people per night? What about Beck to they find compelling? Never did Milbank analyze who is listening/watching Beck. Nor did he interview any guests that have been on the show or people that watch the show regularly. He only gives us quotations of Beck's conspiracy theories. This tells us little about the Beck phenomenon beyond what we already know. Most of Milbank's biographical information is available in Beck's books or common knowledge to regular Beck listeners.

I watch Beck every so often. As a history instructor, I'm usually perplexed with his reading of history, especially his deification of the founding period and his demonization of the entire progressive era, especially Woodrow Wilson. Those views did not originate with Beck (Beck says he reads about him -- reads what or whom??) and I wanted to know more about his influences in that regard. Milbank mentions Beck's obsession with Wilson but not how he came to those ideas.

The basic point of the book, if there is one, is that Beck is a showman and he's doing this all for show. He may or not believe it but it is ultimately destructive for America. However, Milbank gives scant evidence that Beck does not personally believe his own rantings. Given what he wrote about Beck's conversion to Mormonism, it's likely he DOES actually believe everything he says. Instead, it seems Milbank *hopes* he doesn't believe them. There is very, very little contextual analysis. Few comparisons between his Fox & CNN days, no analysis of the radio vs. TV market, no investigation of anything as simple as, "Why does Fox give him the 5pm slot instead of a primetime slot?" There are brief discussions of the John Birch Society and Father Coughlin but little analytical comparisons between them and Beck. They could be relevant but Milbank doesn't show us how.

I did find some facts interesting... like how was how lately Beck "converted" to his current views (it was 1999) and the connections between older John Birch Society leaders and the Mormon church. There's room there for investigation but Milbank obviously didn't have the time or inclination.

I'm giving this book 2 stars - 1 for the fact that I did learn something and 1 for what might have been. I don't recommend spending money on this book.

The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle over American History (The Public Square)
The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle over American History (The Public Square)
by Jill Lepore
Edition: Hardcover
98 used & new from $0.16

5 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another good piece of writing from Lepore, December 17, 2010
The people attacking this book are obviously not familiar with Lepore's work. She is a historian but has always brought in a considerable amount of literary theory into her research, so it's not going to be straight up narrative history. "The Whites of their Eyes" is a good example of her work.

Lepore weaves together the memory of the Boston tea party and American Revolution through the actual event to the people who wrote the first histories, to the bicentennial when it was invoked by leftist activists, and now as its invoked by the Tea Party. She's always been a scholar with interest in historical memory, and she does a good job in this book of pointing out how the right-wing view of history is more nostalgia than history. She characterizes their reverence of the founding fathers as a form of civil religion, or historical fundamentalism. In fact, she points out that the "founding fathers" weren't even called that until Warren Harding coined the term at the 1916 republican convention...the very phrase is a product of historical memory. She explains how various groups have used the Boston Tea Party and American Revolution to benefit their causes, left and right, throughout our history.

I thought she gave the the Tea Party a remarkable amount of respect throughout the book. She never once insults their intelligence, their convictions, or their motivations, but she does question their view of history. The 18th century was NOT better than today. She writes about how women couldn't vote, let alone write books, mentally disabled people were tied up in barns, and debtors were put in workhouses or debtors prisons. Lepore doesn't want to go back to that and neither do I.

She does take historians to task for focusing too much on minutiae since the 1960s. While it's valuable to focus on those who had been traditionally ignored groups to give new perspective, they lost the drama and compelling stories of the overarching narrative and thus ceded ground to "fundamentalist" interpretations like the TX school board. She brought in some interesting comments made by Richard Hofstader not long before his death, one of the last of that old-school big picture, big man style of historian.

If there's a weakness in the book, it's that much of it doesn't deal all that much with the actual Tea Party. She puts the Tea Party, Glenn Beck, TX state board of education, and other right wing groups into kind of the same boat. While many of these are united against the kind of academic she is, in reality they are very disparate groups whose views of history may not represent each other. Also, she offers very little advice on how historians like herself should combat the biased conceptions of people like Beck.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 18, 2010 3:34 PM PST

Rush Limbaugh: An Army of One
Rush Limbaugh: An Army of One
by Zev Chafets
Edition: Hardcover
122 used & new from $0.01

1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good examination of Limbaugh's life, a little too enamored with him, July 11, 2010
I gave this book 4 stars for good writing and good research even though I didn't like the tone it took. Chafetz is an experienced researcher, and did a good job going back to Limbaugh's hometown and retracing his steps from there to give us more insight into his early life and how he developed his worldview. Some of the stories he told, like how Rush wasn't a good student, I knew, others, like the progression of his radio career or the history of his family, I didn't. The latter half of the book deals mostly with Rush's activities during the last few years, notably "operation chaos," his attempt to become an owner of the St. Louis Rams, and his high-profile opposition to Barack Obama and his policies. I guess Rush's activities during the Clinton years have been written about enough; Chafetz gives us only a summary of that. Overall, though, the author does about as good a job as anyone could into giving a sense of Limbaugh the person, who is significantly different than the on-air El Rushbo.

One theme that could have been explored more deeply is the obvious chip on Limbaugh's shoulder. He seems to have never gotten over the people that put him down for being fat, the women that scorned him, or the exclusive circles (especially in New York) that never accepted him. He's held grudges his entire life and Chafetz only scratched the surface of that. Surely that's been a factor in his ideology - he always felt rejected by the cool kids or the in-crowd and resented them for it. Resentment is something I sense within the conservative movement and Limbaugh channels it like a pro.

Another question left unanswered is why he's had 4 failed marriages. Guess the author couldn't pry that out.

Chafetz may be based in NYC but he's not a liberal, at least not from the vibe I get from this book. A google search shows he's been a pro-Israel commentator. It may have been necessary for Chafetz to accept some of Limbaugh's beliefs to get in with him. The major premise that allows Limbaugh to exist is the liberal media conspiracy. It's clear that journalists are a liberal lot (Chafetz even includes studies in the appendix that demonstrate that) but it's not clear to me this has any effect whatsoever on the political landscape. Chafetz accepts the premise that it does and the media props up democrats and puts down republicans as a result. Without that popular belief, Limbaugh's show would not exist; he'd be like Rick Dees instead. Again, resentment of the in-crowd.

Another assumption is Limbaugh's effect on politics. He gives El Rushbo power he probably doesn't have, inflating his influence. Limbaugh mostly speaks to the choir, riling them up and keeping them engaged. I don't think he is personally responsible for the 1994 elections or for the drop in Obama's approval. I got the feeling that entering into Limbaugh's world made Chafetz lose his journalistic skepticism. He never suggested that anything Limbaugh says is wrong, even though Politifact routinely rates many of his statements as "pants-on-fire" lies. But then that's a liberal news organization that can't be trusted, again demonstrating the power of the liberal media conspiracy and Limbaugh's circular logic. A great example of where he fails to question is in the afterward, which touches on his heart attack he suffered in Hawaii. Limbaugh stated that the U.S. health care system was the greatest in the world and his treatment was proof of how health care reform was unnecessary. He walked back the statement a few days later when confronted with the fact that Hawaii has a liberal universal health program. Chafetz made it look like Limbaugh won that episode when in reality his inconsistency was exposed.

In general, this book is good. It's a well-written, concise bio of an intriguing personality, but there's a tinge of hero-worship and an inflation of the man's influence in it that people should question.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 18, 2011 3:42 PM PDT

Capitalism: A Love Story
Capitalism: A Love Story
DVD ~ Michael Moore
Offered by Media Favorites
Price: $5.72
61 used & new from $1.45

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars So what's the alternative?, April 12, 2010
This review is from: Capitalism: A Love Story (DVD)
For a Michael Moore movie, this was alright. It points out a lot of the problems with the American style of capitalism. The best parts in my opinion were pointing out the strong connections between corporate business leaders and presidential advisors, especially in the Reagan and Clinton administrations, and also their ties to congressional leadership. Most everything about this movie has already been said in these reviews. My criticisms are these:

1) There is not suggestion on what might be a better system. Europe and Japan are mentioned but not investigated. There is only condemnation of what America has done in the past 30 years. What's the solution?

2) There is a huge cognitive disconnect regarding Barack Obama. Only positive things are said about him and his election is portrayed as some kind of people's revolution. I understand Moore does not like the Reagan or Bush people. That's understandable. But Moore pretty much savaged some Clinton advisors like Robert Rubin and Larry Summers and their complicity in the financial meltdown. OK, Summers in an economic advisor in the Obama administration and Geithner is advised by Rubin. It seems to me the good ol' boy system is intact under Obama. If you're going to point out how Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Tim Geithner, Larry Summers, et al all work to enrich the banks, then how can Obama be a manifestation of change? He has basically continued the Clinton economic policies.

Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture
Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture
by Ellen Ruppel Shell
Edition: Hardcover
129 used & new from $0.01

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A couple great chapters surrounded by mediocrity, April 12, 2010
Ellen Ruppel Shell is an Atlantic correspondant a Boston University journalism professor. Given her background, it's not hard to predict what her opinion will be of the "discount culture." The book has a couple sections with great reporting, but other than that it's generally filled with anti-globalization and anti-Wal-Martism that is unlikely to persuade anyone not already predisposed toward her point of view. In the interest of full disclosure, I generally agree with her sentiments, but that does not necessarily make for a strong argument. Throughout the book, I got a sense that she has fallen into the "things were once better than they are now" trap. Just because there were more "craftsmen" in the early 19th century does not mean the standard of living was higher. I would argue we have a lot more "craftsmen" per capita today in the form of software engineers, graphic designers or other types of contractors. The crafts have just changed. We have to be careful when we are nostalgic for "the way things were" and generalize far too much about the past.

The good chapters are the ones that deal with price pscychology, high-low pricing strategy, and the best by far is the investigative work she did regarding IKEA. Other than that, the "usual suspects" get the most attention - China, Wal-Mart, big boxes & category killers, and a nostalgic lament about the decline in private sector union organization. Her nostalgia for unions gets annoyoing, even though I'm in favor of union goals, they were more often than not unsuccessful, and she never suggests that they themselves might be partly responsible for their decline. The relatively small amount of work she did regarding the history of retail & labor leaves much to be desired. The poorer chapters deal with these subjects and there's also chapter on cheap, unsafe food, which doesn't seem relevant to her argument. It would have been more interesting for her to go to the south, where far more Wal-Marts per capita exist, and investigate their impact on communities and jobs. She went to the headquarters of IKEA, why not Bentonville? Much of her insight regarding the discount culture screams "New England," where it is far less prevalent than in the south or west. It would have made her argument stronger if she investigated Target, or some others not on the usual list. She did this with IKEA in a highly successful way.

And then she ends, as do a lot of these types of books, with a vague, half-hearted, and anti-climactic prescription for change that is not viable. It was even hypocritical in that she referenced retailers whose practices are not lily-white either.

One part I did like was her characterization of Asian workers as the new indentured servants facilitating America's consumption. Overall, though, this book will please those who already don't like Wal-mart, cookie-cutter houses, globalization, etc... I certainly don't, so I was simply further reinforced in my dislike. I'm aware of the problems, but I'd like to know what is a sensible way to change it. What this book does not do is present a convincing economic or social argument against discounting.

The Rough Guide to Boston 5 (Rough Guide Travel Guides)
The Rough Guide to Boston 5 (Rough Guide Travel Guides)
by Sarah Hull
Edition: Paperback
Price: $18.99
46 used & new from $0.73

2.0 out of 5 stars Not this one, October 26, 2009
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Get the Rough Guide to New England. It contains most of the information in this book and is far more helpful.

How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else
How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else
by Michael Gill
Edition: Hardcover
88 used & new from $1.14

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Is it too good to be true?, October 26, 2009
I kept wondering if this book was for real. I suppose it is, for the most part. This is a memoir by an advertising executive whose life fell apart after he was fired. He picked up the pieces after getting a job as a barista at Starbucks, where he learned how to really value life. Along the way, he relates various anecdotes of his life, some of which were quite colorful and star-studded, thanks to the connections of his father.

A few questions came into my mind while reading this. First, was there no other job option between ad executive and Starbucks worker? Did his wealthy family offer no help whatsoever? How in the world did he survive in NYC metro on $10 an hour? It's almost impossible here in Texas. Rather than believe every word, I got the impression that Gill was so bitter about being fired that any job where he was treated decently was viewed as paradise. He says nothing, NOTHING negative about Starbucks, but says quite a bit negative about "corporate America." Is Starbucks not one of the biggest companies in the U.S.? The utopian vision of Starbucks got to be a bit much after a while, and just plain unbelievable. I've been to a lot of Starbucks stores, and none of them give me the vibe Gill describes. It seems he was simply fortunate to work with an extraordinary group of people, which would improve the atmosphere at any workplace.

There are some positive aspects of the book. It is quick and easy to read, and Gill writes in a workmanlike fashion, moving the story along nicely. His points about dignity, work, respect, and entitlement are well taken, although at times he engages in hallmark-card sappiness. Overall, it's an inspiring story, just take it with a small grain of salt. It might be useful for people feeling down after losing their job in today's environment.

48 Liberal Lies About American History: (That You Probably Learned in School)
48 Liberal Lies About American History: (That You Probably Learned in School)
by Larry Schweikart
Edition: Hardcover
72 used & new from $2.53

65 of 99 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Good points overshadowed by absurdity., September 20, 2009
This book is going to appeal to two types of people - those who firmly believe that education is infected with liberalism that insidiously distorts history to justify left-wing views, and those like me who are intrigued by this point of view. This book is part of a larger conservative argument: that there exists a liberal conspiracy within education, the media, and other aspects of American culture to indoctrinate people with liberalism and undermine American awesomeness.

Schweikart's goal with this book is to refute 48 supposedly liberal falsehoods that are present in college freshman-level American History textbooks. Each chapter is a "lie" that presents a "liberal" quote, then a 3-8 page rebuttal. The problem is, at least 30% of the book is spent refuting fringe viewpoints not found in any textbook, but instead from some news article, op-ed, and even a statement made by Charlie Sheen. What impact does he have on textbooks? Schweikart also distorts what the textbooks say in order to attack them. For example, lie #45 is "LBJ's Great Society had a Positive Aspect on the Poor." But the quotes he takes out of context from the textbooks do not explicitly make that claim; only one of the three quotes presented even suggested something to that effect. The others say it was "an effort" or "opened up prospects for reform."

He also argues against somewhat obsolete historiographical arguments, ie: those of Charles Beard and Oscar Handlin. Many historians have already critically scrutinized their arguments. For Schweikart to assert that all historians believe those viewpoints without question is disingenuous. Also, "Marxist" analysis does not mean that anyone who uses that method is a card-carrying communist or protege of Fidel Castro. It simply means the researcher approaches a subject with an awareness of economic class.

What especially amazes me is that Schweikart asserts that history should be objective, yet he engages in the most subjective, agenda-driven historical writing I've ever seen. In many of the chapters, he uses disparate and irrelevant sources to try and vindicate George W. Bush's presidency or some right-wing talking point. Many do not even have to do with history, but with current events and hot button issues like global warming. I have a suggestion for Mr. Schweikart: just because some conservative op-ed says something, it is not necessarily true. Conversely, just because a liberal op-ed or commentator (or president) says something, it does not mean that the polar opposite of what they say is true. Many of Schweikart's sources comprise of political hacks like Ann Coulter, or information found on the website of some malcontent. One citation was an article since removed from such a website, but a paper copy currently resides "in the author's possession."

One liberal lie is that "no WMD existed in Iraq." To prove it "wrong," Schweikart cites mostly right wing op-eds and websites, including one that charged that Saddam Hussein had the weapons shipped to Syria just before the invasion. Schweikart treats it undebatable fact instead of a dubious stretch of logic. I have a question...if you are the leader of a dictatorial regime and you have WMD's, why would you not use them against a foreign invasion force that bent on your removal from power? I've never heard of a country surrendering its weapons to another country, much less one that is not even a stalwart ally. This kind of right-wing hackery pervades the entire book, delegitimizing the credible points that are made.

Schweikart makes a few good points, particularly about the guilt of Julius and Ethel Rosenburg and Sacco and Vanzetti. However, plenty of historians have made that point in the very 'Journal of American History' that he demonizes. The good points that are made are overshadowed by sillyness. This is history at its worst. In fact, it is not even history, but a collection of partisan political arguments. I gave it two starts based on the few good points Schweikart did make. There is room for history written from a conservative perspective; indeed, there should be more and we should all welcome such scholarship. However, this book is an insult to true conservative historians and sets their cause back.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 16, 2011 7:25 PM PDT

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