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Recovering the Past: A Historian's Memoir Hardcover – June 15, 2004

4.2 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"A delightful and informative account that captures the sense of intellectual adventure that drew McDonald to the life of a historian, as well as his thoughtful reactions to the controversies that have plagued the profession in recent years."

From the Back Cover

This book is as engaging as it is provocative. McDonald's autobiographical one-man tour through the major battles of twentieth-century American historiography is hard to put down.--Pauline Maier, author of American Scripture

When a first-rate historian reflects on his life and work with candor and wisdom, other historians will want to read it. But McDonald has written a book that anyone who cares about education, or is just in the mood for a witty romp through the vicissitudes of academia, will enjoy and profit from.--Eugene D. Genovese, author of The Southern Tradition

A delightful and informative account that captures the sense of intellectual adventure that drew McDonald to the life of a historian, as well as his thoughtful reactions to the controversies that have plagued the profession in recent years.--Diane Ravitch, author of The Language Police

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 206 pages
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas (June 15, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0700613293
  • ISBN-13: 978-0700613298
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #999,660 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Kathy Austell on November 12, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Recovering the Past, a historian's memoir

Forrest McDonald

Recovering the Past, a historian's memoir is written for "that elusive critter called the general reader, or, more precisely, for the vast number of people who genuinely love history for its own sake--which, as will become evident, I regard as eliminating a sizable majority of professional historians."

At the outset of the book it becomes clear that McDonald, who has lived and breathed the study of history for half a century, does not march in lock-step with most of his brethren in academia, an often mirthless, self-righteous breed with axes to grind. With a gift for coupling scholarship and insight with intelligent (and frequently irreverent) humor, McDonald deftly unravels tales of history gone awry, mishandled history, and misguided historians.

The book opens with a history of the writing of history. The nearly exponential increase of research materials available to historians during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries led to a simultaneous explosion of theories regarding both the craft and the responsibility of the historian. This is a clear and fascinating introduction to the story that follows.

Chapter two is a whirlwind history of America and the presidency. Some presidents are dispatched with a sentence, for example: "Fortunately for President Warren G. Harding, he died." "Taft was enormously fat and had the personality of a dead halibut." We get the backdrop against which American historiographers of the twentieth century will be set, and tune into the style and rhythm of trenchant wit that punctuates the book throughout.

Into this narrative enters young Forrest McDonald, a kid from east Texas growing up during the depression.
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Format: Hardcover
Forrest McDonald's most recent book, "Recovering the Past: A Historian's Memoir," is an important work for aficionados of history. Often personally revealing, "Recovering the Past" details the major movements of professional historians through the last century and argues for the supremacy of objective, scientific, research-based history. In the first chapters the reader learns of the influence of "New History" on the course of politics and education of the United States in the early decades of the twentieth century. While providing an overview of his beginnings within the profession, Professor McDonald continues with a firsthand account of the resurrection of objective, research-oriented historians and how his own work helped reshape the then-prevalent thoughts on the Constitution and the Founding Fathers. The last portion of McDonald's memoirs follows the upward course of his career and looks at the latter decades of the history profession, noting the trend toward creation of history or history for the sake of agenda and the stalwart handfuls of historians who continue to strive for excellence. Finally, Professor McDonald concludes with an explanation of his personal philosophy of life in general-"I am a miracle, and so, dear reader, are you." ["Memoir", 166] For those who desire an insightful account of the world of historical research and writing, "Recovering the Past" is a must read.
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Forrest McDonald's memoir is interesting for a number of reasons. First, he describes how, as a young graduate student, he came to write "We the People," in opposition to the Beard thesis. Starting in Georgia and working his way north, McDonald visited the state archives of all 13 original states and compiled more than 5,000 pages of notes that led him to doubt and then to rebut Beard's thesis. He pays tribute to his dissertation director, Fulmer Mood, who secured financial support for McDonald's research and worked hard to promoted his career. Mood must have been an exceptional dissertation director. McDonald's book is also interesting for his account of academic politics. He argues, correctly I believe, that conservative scholars are often marginalized in academia, and narrates how he was forced out of Brown University because he challenged certain aspects of the university's affirmative action program. Unfortunately, conservative scholars, like other dissenters, can also be marginalized for championing unpopular interpretations of history. Finally, McDonald champions Alexander Hamilton, whom he inteprets as having a high moral vision in comparison to Jefferson and his followers, whom he sees as champions of aristocratic privilege. That's diametrically opposed to the interpretation of Hamilton and Jefferson I experienced as a young college and graduate student during the 1960's and 1970's and one worth reading. Unfortunately, Jefferson seems to be a persona non grata among many historians today. If McDonald did yeoman service years ago as a lonely champion of Hamilton, perhaps today we need someone to champion Jefferson.
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