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I Wish I'd Been There: Twenty Historians Bring to Life the Dramatic Events That Changed America (Vintage) Paperback – Illustrated, September 4, 2007
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—New York Daily News
“Fun. . . . Poses new and intriguing questions. . . . The essays are crammed with knowledge and are as thought-provoking as they are entertaining.”
“Provocative essays that both scholars and history buffs can enjoy.”
—Deseret Morning News
About the Author
- Publisher : Anchor; Illustrated edition (September 4, 2007)
- Language: : English
- Paperback : 352 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1400096545
- ISBN-13 : 978-1400096541
- Lexile measure : 1240L
- Item Weight : 12 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.22 x 0.69 x 7.9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #973,745 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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The essays really are a mixed bag in terms of the approach, the importance of the event, and the recognition factor. They mostly seem like chapters from biographies.
The subtle diffusing of an officer revolt by George Washington in 1783, the so-called corrupt bargain that elevated John Quincy Adams to the presidency in 1825, and details of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln are already well known. Some of the essays concentrate on the personal: the debut of the "Swedish Nightingale," Jenny Lind, on Sept 11, 1850, the illness of FDR in 1944-45, and the psychological distress of Meriwether Lewis in his explorations in the 1800s.
A number of the essays are obscure and not particularly compelling: the last day of WWI in Butgneville, France (Nov 11, 1918), Sen. LaFollette's speech on US entry into WWI, the last meeting of Nation of Islam founders, and the machinations surrounding the Democracy's nomination of James K. Polk in 1844. Others are obscure but more interesting: the funeral of a chieftain in 1030 in the Mississippi River city of Cahokia and the last gasp of Indians led by Chief Joseph in 1877.
The two essays on the Civil Rights movement in the mid-1960s involving the march on Washington and LBJ confronting segregationist governor George Wallace are powerful. The speculation on the wisdom of the Kennedy brothers keeping the US out of Vietnam seems more than a little self-serving. An essay on the John Brown raid on Harpers Ferry serves as a corrective to his sanctification by abolitionists. Four essays have not been mentioned here.
The appeal of this collection may be similar to that of a collection of diverse short stories versus a novel. Some will not like the unevenness, fragmentation, and many personages introduced. These essays are probably best seen as supplementary to full length treatments of the various events, although the intrusion of the authors into the events may be bothersome. The claim of bringing events to life with such intrusion is a bit overstated.
I enjoyed the chapter on John Brown at Harper's Ferry in contrast to the treatment Brown receives in "Lies My Teacher Told Me." Thomas Fleming successfully debunks the notion of Brown as a "moral visionary" and "serious political thinker." Also, I admired some of the chapters on lesser-known incidents. This collection includes a wide range of topics, for example the Alexander McGillavary story, the significance of Jenny Lind's American debut, and a little known 1965 meeting between Lyndon Johnson and George Wallace. I don't mean to suggest that all the chapters concerned unknown events; much light is shed on greater-known historical events also.
In conclusion, I recommend this collection as an intriguing, easy read for history buffs or novices. Also, while not definitive nor comprehensive as a source, (the essays are comparatively brief) it could be used as an excellent starting resource for history students. I would use it as a teaching tool.
I highly recommend it!