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The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History Paperback – Unabridged, January 1, 2004
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Claiming that most textbooks and popular history books were written by biased left-wing writers and scholars, historian Thomas Woods offers this guide as an alternative to "the stale and predictable platitudes of mainstream texts." Covering the colonial era through the Clinton administration, Woods seeks to debunk some persistent myths about American history. For instance, he writes, the Puritans were not racists intent on stealing the Indians' lands, the Founding Fathers were not revolutionaries but conservatives in the true sense of the word, the American War Between the States (to even call it a civil war is inaccurate, Woods says) was not principally about slavery, Abraham Lincoln was no friend to the slaves, and FDR's New Deal policies actually made the Depression worse. He also covers a wide range of constitutional interpretations over the years, particularly regarding the First, Second, Ninth, and Tenth amendments, and continually makes the point that states' rights have been unlawfully trampled upon by the federal government since the early days of the republic. Though its title is more deliberately provocative than accurate, Woods' attack on what he sees as rampant liberal revisionism over the past 25 years proves to be an interesting platform for a book. He's as biased as those he rails against, of course, but he does provoke thought in an entertaining way even if he sometimes tries to pass off opinion as hard facts.
This quick and enjoyable read is packed with unfamiliar quotes, informative sidebars, iconoclastic viewpoints, and a list of books "you're not supposed to read." It is not a comprehensive or detailed study, but that is not its aim; instead, it offers ideas for further research and a challenge to readers to dig deeper and analyze some basic assumptions about American history--a worthy goal that Woods manages to reach. --Shawn Carkonen
From Publishers Weekly
This book is not so much politically incorrect as it is contrarian, as well as utterly contemptuous of anything supported by Liberals or "Intellectuals." At every opportunity, Woods quotes government leaders, media sources and "distinguished" academics who have said something that he feels backs up his view. That view is, by and large, classically conservative, with a focus on states rights and small government. Any flaws in or missteps by politicians become instant basis for rejecting them wholesale (i.e., Lincolns racial views; the fact that JFKs two major books were ghostwritten), as Woods dredges up accusations both familiar and long-forgotten. The historical coverage is hardly comprehensive, since Woods focuses on telling the "truth" about issues Liberals have allegedly distorted, like the New Deal and the Civil Rights movement. Some ideas that he claims are controversial are anything but: most people know the Civil War was not fought primarily to abolish slavery, and its no secret that Stalin starved his people. Woods writes with zeal, and speckles his narrative with suggestions for further reading labeled "Books Youre Not Supposed to Read" (which are mostly Right-wing revisionist histories) and "PC Today" boxes containing a grab-bag of conservative gripes and assertions (i.e. "It is not true, as most people believe, that the Indians had no conception of land ownership and did not understand what they were doing when they sold their land to the Puritans"). Diehard Republicans may find this book an inspiring corrective to supposedly Liberal-biased history texts, but others will be put off by Woodss cherry-picking approach and supercilious tone.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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To make things even better, there are no footnotes or references to specific cites. There are cute quotes without context, and there is a long bibliography at the end, but for the most part we have to take each of Dr Woods' assertions as fact- unless we have learned better through more direct sources already.
* Sorry, Dr. Woods- Virginia, New York and Rhode Island did NOT reserve the right to secede when they ratified the Constitution. Virginia and New York demanded a Bill of Rights; Rhode Island ratified without conditions.
* Sorry again, but the Puritans- as all Europeans of their time- were quite definitely racist. You entirely ignore the many Indian wars prior to the Revolution, most of which were triggered by European violations of treaties and encroachments on Indian land.
* The words "We the States" was changed to "We the People" *specifically* to render the federal government independent of the states. Woods utterly ignores the Articles of Confederation, the problems they caused, and their affect on the Constitution which followed them.
* Yes, the struggle over slavery prior to the Civil War was about political power... but only insofar as that power was to be used to -defend slavery.- Insofar as the South had any unifying cause, slavery was it. Woods would have you believe that slavery was unimportant to the South except as a tool for gaining supremacy over the North in a Washington pecking order.
* The right to secede is not so clear-cut as Woods would have you believe. His application of the Tenth Amendment- "you can do anything not specifically prohibited you"- ignores the repeated references to the President's power to suppress rebellions and insurrections. Even at the time of the civil war, and even in the deepest South, there was no unified opinion on the subject. Woods, however, would have you believe nobody except Lincoln and his fellow tyrants endorsed Union Forever.
* Confederate armies- including Lee's armies- did not go for the total destruction of civilian property, but they did destroy a lot, both for military purposes (railroads, bridges, supplies) and for lack of discipline. Woods ignores the vast documentation of Southern civilians who feared Confederate cavalry depredations more than Union troops.
* Yes, extremely racist "vagrancy laws" and black codes existed in the North during Reconstruction and after. Northern Jim Crow, however, does NOT excuse or justify Southern Jim Crow.
* A monopoly is any company with effective total control over a commodity, class of product, or service. It does not -have- to jack up prices astronomically to strangle competition, no matter what Woods would have you believe.
* Woods praises John D. Rockefeller and claims that Rockefeller did no wrong in undercutting his competition. He completely ignores exclusive service agreements with railroads for transport of his product, and claims that laws which force equal trade for all are unjust!
* In Dr. Woods' universe, the Zimmerman telegram, urging Mexico to declare war on the United States, never existed. Wilson went to war because he was personally pro-British... oh, and siege warfare is against international law if it involves the seas, according to Woods.
* Woods claims that boom-bust economic cycles are solely caused by centralized government banking. How do you explain the Panics of 1837, 1853, and 1873, then, all of which were worse than the Great Depression, and all of which took place when there was no central bank whatever?
* As distasteful and corrupt as socialism is, Dr. Woods, it is and was quite possible to be leftist without being in the pay of Stalin.
Things Woods endorses in the course of the book:
* That states have the right (and, indeed, the obligation) to mandate religion and to force citizens to worship or depart.
* Intolerance and persecution is required for freedom- not for people to flee from, but for people to -live under.-
* The Fourteenth Amendment, which extends prohibitions on violations of individual rights to state as well as federal governments, should be repealed. Go censorship! Go kangaroo courts!
* Thomas Jefferson, although he had nothing to do with the crafting of or ratification of the Constitution, is the sole Founding Father to be relied upon for interpretation of what the Constitution means.
* Abolish unions. There's no such thing as exploitation of workers.
* Joseph McCarthy, far from being an opportunist politician seeking to promote himself by destroying others, was a well-intentioned hero.
* FDR -forced- the Japanese to bomb Pearl Harbor- indeed, the world would be a better place had America remained neutral in the Second World War.
* Legislated segregation is not merely lawful, it is a good thing. Besides, the South would have given up segregation by itself eventually, right?
*Michael Milken, far from being a perpetuator of fraud and deception in trade, was a hero for creating the junk bond.
And this is the stuff I get just from skimming the book!!
In his preface, Woods says: "[This book] is not intended to be a complete overview of American history." You bet it's not- it's merely a partial and extremely selective covering of issues to present a fundamentalist conservative viewpoint of America. Libertarians who believe in -equal- freedom for all, and political students who seek a balanced and accurate presentation of disputed facts, should AVOID THIS BOOK LIKE THE PLAGUE.
If you listen to Limbaugh and watch O'Reilly, and dislike independent thought, then this book is for you.
For starters, try comparing Woods's balderdash with the books of Bernard Bailyn, which are far more modest in their claims. Bailyn has been a professor of colonial American history at Harvard since the 1960s. Twice winner of the Pulitzer prize in history, Bailyn is as respected a scholar as any in the USA, and he's certainly nobody's propagandist. His writing is concise and elegant, and his books are never ponderously long. His research is focused and impartial, and every word he writes represents his conditional understanding of source materials, rather than any pre-formed sociological dogma. Here are some of his available titles, starting with The Peopling of British North America:
*Atlantic History: Concepts and Contours
*Education in the Forming of American Society
*The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution
*To Begin Anew: The Genius and Ambiguities of the American Founders
*The Origins of American Politics
Virtually every tendentious assertion in Woods's PIG is forcefully demolished somewhere in one of those texts. However, in order to give people more specific choices, here are the titles of the first five chapters of the PIG, together with books that lay Woods's proclamations to rest:
Chapter 1: The Colonial Origins of American Liberty
(Woods says "The Puritans didn't steal their land from the Indians." That's a disingenuous statement that leaves him plenty of wiggle room, but it's more false than true. I've included several titles concerning New England relation with indigenous peoples.)
*David Hackett Fischer - Albion's Seed
*Woody Holton - Forced Founders
*Allan Gallay - The Indian Slave Trade
*Jill Lepore - The Name of War
*Rafael Demos - The Unredeemed Captive
*Richard White - The Middle Ground
*Philip Greven - The Protestant Temperament
Chapter 2 - America's Conservative Revolution
(Woods declares that "the colonists were conservatives," thereby dismissing or ignoring a very large and influential number of the advocates of independence who were social and economic radicals. He also states without reservation that "The American Revolution was NOT like the French Revolution." Not at all? Not in any way? that's outright silliness.)
*Kevin Phillips - The Cousin's War
*RR Palmer - The Age of the Democratic Revolution
*David Hackett Fischer - Paul Revere's Ride
*Gordon Wood - The radicalism of the American Revolution
*Lance Banning - The Jeffersonian Persuasion
*Isaac Kramnick - Republicanism and Bourgeois Radicalism
*John Miller - Origins of the American Revolution
*Pauline Maier - From Resistance to Revolution
*Alfred Young - The Shoemaker and the Tea Party
Chapter 3 - The Constitution
(The chief thrust of Woods's 'analysis' of the Constitution is to make an extreme case for 'states' rights", extending to an absolute pronouncement that secession was a constitutional right. This point is critical for his later assertion that the whole Civil War wasn't "about slavery" at all, but about freedom.)
*Mark DeWolfe Howe - The Garden and the Wilderness: Religion and Government in American Constitutional History
*Peter Irons - A People's History of the Supreme Court
*Robert McCloskey - The American Supreme Court
*Susan Jacoby - Freethinkers
*Isaak Kramnick - The Godless Constitution
Chapter 4 - American Government and the "Principles of '98"
(Once again, Woods attempts to "prove" - not to analyze - the extreme states' rights position to have been the "real meaning" of the Constitution. He also denounces the interpretation of the 'general welfare' and 'commerce' clauses, which have been the basis of national growth and prosperity, especially in the West, since the first national road, since the Lewis and Clark Expedition, through countless surveying and mineral exploring expeditions, etc.)
*Stanley Bruchey - The Roots of American Economic Growth
*Leonard Richards - Shay's Rebellion
*Bruce Ackerman - The Failure of the Founding Fathers
*Stanley Elkins - The Age of Federalism
*Bruce Lauren - Artisans into Workers
*Thomas Bender - Toward an Urban Vision
Chapter 5 - The North-South Division
(And here the REAL errors of omission and evasion begin! Read and compare!)
*William Lee Miller - Arguing About Slavery
*Don Fehrenbacher - The Slaveholding Republic
*Eric Foner - Free Soil, Free Labor, Free men
*Bertram Wyatt Brown - Louis Tappan
*David Reynolds - John Brown
I could pull ten more titles for each chapter from my own library, and each of them would make nonsense of Woods's shallow rhetorical pretense of scholarship. These are only the first five chapters out of 18 in the PIG.Who has time to dally with such trash any further?
One of the things that makes Bernard Bailyn a historian's historian is his "falsifiability" in the sense that scientists use the term. Bailyn never packages answers to questions that most readers hadn't even had a chance to ask. He researches, he reports his research, he compares it with the research of others, and he cautiously hypothesizes about possible interpretation of the collective research of the profession. "The Peopling of North America" is offered by Bailyn as an introduction to one delimited topic, the demographics of settlement. I recommend it as a model of how history should be written.