Customer Review

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars good general discussion, loses detail toward end, April 4, 2005
This review is from: Huck's Raft : A History of American Childhood (Hardcover)
Delving into the complete history of childhood in America is a huge undertaking, and for the most part Mintz handles the difficulties with detailed aplomb. Surveying the culture of childhood as lived by children and as represented and mythologized by current or later society, Mintz moves from pre-colonial times to the very-near present.

With so much to cover, not just chronologically but socially as well (after all, "childhood" isn't the same for all at any given time--race, class, ethnicity, etc. all create separate spheres of childhood rather than an all-conclusive web), one might expect some problems. Luckily, the strongest parts of the book are also those which will probably be most insightful and new to readers.

The sections that deal with pre-colonial and colonial times are especially detailed. Richly vivid, they open up a world most people are unfamiliar with or, if they are familiar with it, are so through less-than-accurate myth or romanticism, the kind of "history" we all "know" to be true.

As the book progresses, it becomes more and more difficult to keep that level of detail and richness as the topic literally grows larger and larger. Slavery, war, immigration, race, class, economics all force Mintz to deal with different subsets of childhood as well as with the relatively simple chronological changes and so some detail is shed, some richness lost, and the book begins to feel a bit scattershot, a bit unwieldy. By the time we get to the last 20-30 years, one feels Mintz is running to keep in place. The sections are more generalized, the conclusions not so deeply explored. But as nothing really new comes up in these sections in comparison to what one has read in recent articles or books dealing with just this time period, it isn't really much of a loss.

It's hard to imagine a longer work, or one more fully documented. And while I personally would have wished the same length but with a narrower focus on the pre-1900's, I can't really fault Mintz for not deciding to write several volumes, say one for each century. So the negatives aren't really much to complain about and are more than overshadowed by the scope of the book as a whole and the depth of the first half. Stylistically, the book is clearly written, if at times dense, and the more personal, anecdotal stories focusing on a single historical individual do a nice job not only of conveying the more academic arguments, but of breaking up some of the factual density. Strongly recommended, especially for its early history sections.
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B. Capossere
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Location: Rochester, NY USA

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