As historian Thomas E. Woods, Jr., notes on page 78 of this important new book, "the modern state trains its citizens to think" in a certain way. Whether the issue is the role of the State in regulating the economy ... how racial minorities can succeed ... or how we should judge success or failure in a politician, a narrow range of opinions has been deemed acceptable by Establishment Left and Establishment Right. Questions that could lead to different conclusions are ones "we're not supposed to ask."
Tom Woods is out to change that. Picking up where he left off in "The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History," the author again plays Manolete to the Establishment's sacred cows. But he's after more, I think, than just a tasty barbecue.
Some of the questions here are ones people are actively discouraged from answering the "wrong" way -- questions about the causes of the Civil War, the influence of unions, the effectiveness of desegregation as a tool for improving education, or the validity of PC mythology about native Americans. Other questions confront conventional wisdom so solidly entrenched that the questions don't occur to most people in the first place: what if the Depression wasn't a failure of capitalism, and what if the New Deal didn't save us? But the most interesting questions, I think, are the ones you have to look deeply into American history even to discover the context of the questions, so thoroughly have they been buried under official neglect: Why does the Whiskey Rebellion matter; what does the "elastic clause" really mean; or what if the presidency wasn't meant to be what it is today?
At first, I found parts of this book problematic: the chapters are long enough to intrigue (or outrage), but often not long enough to convince beyond the traditional "reasonable doubt." At a few points, the author stopped just short of diving into some Hoppean or Spoonerian analysis of constitutional issues. And yet, entire books have been written on most of these questions -- many of which Woods cites in his text and endnotes. I suspect the author's deeper goal (beyond the above-mentioned barbecue) is less to provide the answers than to urge readers to begin pondering the questions. If rescuing the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions or the true meaning of "states' rights" from the Memory Hole are "essential to a proper understanding of American history" (p. 157), intellectually honest people should be able to work out the implications.
Another objection I can see is the so-called "realist" argument that whether or not we ask these questions, the expansion of federal power is a fait accompli --- one the American people by and large seem content with. (The author himself gives us political science in one lesson on page 202: "Enforcing federal supremacy always comes first.") Given that "we" seem to want Social Security, OSHA, and a "national drug control policy," what does it matter what James Madison intended by the commerce clause two centuries ago?
But if Woods' presentation of American history is true, then it *matters* that it is true: ideas, after all, "have consequences," and as Father Abraham might have put it, a house built on lies cannot stand. Ask yourself: if the facts presented here are true, would it change how you think about government, politics ... and America itself?
And if so, then what?
33 Questions About American History You're Not Supposed to Ask is a wonderful book through and through. It should upset every public educator that picks it up. The separation between what's taught in our public schools and what Woods maintains is true is absolutely stunning. Cutting a swath through topics about the pilgrims, discrimination, race relations, law, the constitution, labor unions, and even Bill Clinton, 33 Questions is a lesson in civics and history.
What's really scary is that Woods backs up what he writes with sound research and "reasoned reason." I'd be hard put to pick the most important chapter but I do have a favorite or three.
Chapter One, "Did the Founding Fathers Support Immigration?" is an eye opener. Perhaps the most stinging chapter is chapter 3; "Were the American Indians Really Environmentalist?" is the most surprising. According to Woods the native Americans used fire to bend the environment to their purpose. Quoting Woods..." Some indian fires, spreading for weeks at a time over several hundred thousand square miles, utterly destroyed plant and animal life. Grassland fires in the northern plains, for instance, did substantial damage to the buffalo population..." This is certain to raise eyebrows among the environmentalists who insist upon holding the native Americans as the ultimate caretakers of the natural world.
I could go on but the fact is that each chapter is interesting and will absolutely cause debate among all who read.
33 Questions About American History You're Not Supposed To Ask is a book that has been needed for a long time. Whether you agree with all the information that is included isn't important. What is important is that there seems to be another side to many of our most dearly held beliefs. In other words, PC history may not be the history we should believe in.
Enjoy the read.
on October 18, 2007
I didn't know how to rate the book: 5 stars because it was interesting and useful "food for thought"? 1 star because a lot it was recycled, either from Mr. Woods' earlier book or other authors and seemed to leave out alternative arguments? Ultimately, I split the difference.
I thought the strength of the book was its focusing on specific issues that could spark further research and awareness. I come from a generation of American schoolchildren that were taught such a reduced version of American history that I wouldn't be surprised if my less historically-minded classmates (which is, frankly, 95% of them) only remember that the American Indians were noble environmentalists who all but wrote the U.S. Constitution, the Civil War was fought in the 1960s to by M.L.K.Jr. to win civil rights, and capitalism is an evil that increased government programs can correct by giving us all more goodies.
Another strength was in questioning commonly accepted - by the average citizen - beliefs in such ideas that the U.S. traditionally welcomed immigrants, or that school desegregation has helped black schoolchildren, or that discrimination is primarily responsible for income differences, or that liberals have always been anti-war/ anti-imperialists.
The weakness of the book, in my opinion, arises from the fact that many questions were either not too important, not too original (i.e., historians have already been asking the questions "you're not supposed to ask" - and not just in recent, obscure books either), a matter of opinion (even more than such questions usually are), or were phrased and answered in such a way that left out some pretty important info.
Is it so important to question George Washington Carver's scientific status? Is it really taboo to ask about states' rights or whether the Civil War included the slavery question and other issues? Some of the answers that Mr. Woods provides are a bit narrow; the Founding Fathers had different opinions on immigration but we're given only the anti-immigration sentiments. Was the "Wild West" really so wild? Mr. Woods asks and answers that the rule of law was enforced by many voluntary citizen associations almost from the beginning. Well...if you mean that the West wasn't completely "live by the gun, die by the gun," then sure: there was order. If you mean that non-whites, like Mexicans, Indians, African-Americans could expect justice in anywhere the same proportion as Whites? It's no secret that Mexicans were displaced everywhere from landholdings, government, jobs (for example, driven out from the California goldfields by White miners), Indians reduced to reservation lands, and African Americans...well we know that history.
I was favorably impressed by the majority of the questions though and overall thought the book a great read. Some say he is a conservative - and I definitely have that feeling too - but is a person necessarily conservative because he questions whether government intervention in the marketplace is a good thing? Or asks whether American Indians truly were enviromentalist champions? Placing a label on Mr. Woods, incorrect or not, is distracting. It's also too tempting to get hung up on one question and forget the others. I may not agree with what he seems to be implying by the Founding Fathers' immigration viewpoints but there are several questions on economics, education, and current events that I think are spot on. Give him a try.
on July 22, 2007
Prof. Thomas Woods has written another excellent book addressing some of the questions and issues in American history that are ignored or misrepresented by contemporary historians.
As just one example, Prof. Woods asks why anyone should care about the various polls of historians ranking presidents. It shouldn't come as a surprise that presidents who expand the scope of government and get the U.S. involved in wars are generally ranked higher than those who don't (for some reason I expect that the current president will be an exception).
Prof. Woods also discusses Martin Luther King. For some reason, King is praised by conservatives and neoconservatives, yet his politics were (even by today's standards) far left. In fact, he supported quotas and reparations, although his rhetoric was often admirably "color blind."
Perhaps most timely is question 1, which concerns the Founding Fathers' view of immigration. The Founders assumed the basic right of the new nation to restrict immigration and certainly didn't think that "open borders" (or anything close to it) were necessary for the nation to flourish.
This book is well documented, well written, and makes an excellent companion to Prof. Woods' bestselling THE POLITICALLY INCORRECT GUIDE TO AMERICAN HISTORY.
on January 1, 2008
"It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble," Mark Twain observed, "it's what you know for sure that ain't so." Contemporary public education is rife with assertions about American history that just "ain't so" - FDR rescued America from the Depression, labor unions helped American workers, "state's rights" are nothing but code words for racism, American Indians were heroic stewards of the environment, the Constitution was meant to be a "living" document that changes with the times, to name a few.
In this provocative book, historian Thomas Woods patiently corrects the historical record. The book is particularly strong when focusing on the original intent of the U.S. Constitution, as expressed by the founders. State's rights, he shows, were central to Jefferson's thinking, and not concocted as a justification for white racism. The federal government's powers were intended to be restricted to those specifically enumerated in the Constitution, he shows. The "commerce" and "enabling" clauses were not meant to be all inclusive grants of power to Washington.
The book also does a good job of skewering the politically correct myths that permeate public education: e.g., the Iroquois Indians had a substantial role in influencing the Constitution, discrimination explains all racial disparities in income, labor unions and government programs are responsible for the rise in wages.
The book is an easy read and would make a great gift for a high school or college student as an antidote to standard histories. My only criticism (and it is slight) concerns the way the book is organized. It is separated into 33 separate questions on different topics. However, related topics are often not grouped together. Thus, for instance, the "biggest unknown scandal of the Clinton years" (that he aided and abetted Islamic radicalism in the Balkans) is Question 5, while a related question on Clinton's handling of Kosovo is Question 33. They should have been grouped together.
on August 18, 2007
Thomas E Woods has shed light on many history topics that history books have revised for a variety of reasons. I was particularly interested on his clarification of the federal government's limited role on the constitution and how it has gone counter to it by growing to a monstrous level and in the process thwarting the role of the state. Also, the role that wars have played in the ever increasing size of the federal government was fascinating. The view of the Founding Fathers on immigration and the scandal of the Balkans were informative issues that are covered in the book as well. Overall it was an enjoyable read. Enjoy!
"33 Questions About American History" is just what the title says - 33 questions about various aspects of American History that we assumed were correct. Woods challenges those assumptions and gives clear and convincing evidence as to why the assumptions could very well be false.
The questions range from the Founding Fathers suppposedly supporting immigration, "State's Rights" is a code word for slavery, FB Fuller, and Bill Clinton's supposedly greatest coverup. Here are a few of the questions and some comments:
1. #6 - Was the "Wild West" really so wild? Here Woods states that the west for the most part experienced low crime and murder rates, much less that what you see in our supposedly today's "civilized" society.
2. #10 - Was the Civil War all about slavery, or was something else at stake? Since I have a life-long interest in the Civil War, I already knew that Lincoln's main goal in the Civil War was to unite the nation instead of abolishing slavery. While slavery did eventually become an important issue to him, the main issue was a united country.
3. #32 - Who was F.B. Fuller? Mr. Fuller was a Southern black man born into poverty in the early 1900's who was able to work hard and own several prosperous businesses and who refused government help. Woods uses the example of Mr. Fuller to show how black can get out of poverty by working hard instead of depending on government subsistence that only further encourages poverty.
Again, these are only a few of the questions raised by Mr. Woods. Read, enjoy, and prepared to be challenged in your suppositions about US History! Recommended.
on April 27, 2008
I quite enjoyed this book and am looking forward to other books by Thomas E. Woods, Jr. It explodes various myths about American History that we were all taught in school, such as the "beneficial" effects of Marshall Plan. If you are a fan of history, and have an open mind, this book is for you.
on January 13, 2009
Thomas Woods has written this wonderful book to counter the popular misconceptions and myths that surround events in American History. These myths are so pervasive that they obscure any honest look into the past. And by coincidence I'm sure, these are taught to schoolchildren in government-run schools. Don't think that the government schools propagandize history? Don't think someone is holding out on the full story from you? Well, all I can say is that this book is for you! As Woods himself humorously put it when discussing this book: "even if we assume that there actually was a major conspiracy of evil power elites on how to get the kiddies to enslave themselves to the government, how would the textbooks be any different?" This book is the antidote.
This is another amazing book by the wonderful Thomas Woods. I had previously read Woods' Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, and was hesitant to purchase 33 Questions, unsure if it would just cover the same ground all over again. This book really surprised me. It allowed Woods to go much deeper into subjects that his PIG book only briefly touched. If the Politically Incorrect Guide was a general guide to the entire course of American History this book came to hammer out the essential details.
The chapters that Woods picked to write here really get to the essentials. The questions presented here are essential to a proper understanding of the history of America. Did capitalism cause the Great Depression? Did Hoover and FDR's New Deal get us out of the depression? Was the Constitution supposed to be a living and breathing document? Did World War II make the economy go again? Were States' Rights just about slavery or were they actually about freedom? How truly antiwar have liberals been? Did labor unions make workers more or less free? Was the civil war really just about slavery? Did school desegregation and affirmative action help or hurt black communities? Did Clinton really stop a genocide in Kosovo? How does Social Security really work? These and other important questions are asked and answered in 33 Questions You're Not Supposed to Ask.
The popular mainstream version of events, that is propagated by government-run schools and government-chosen textbooks, is once and for all proven wrong here with Woods' stellar and enjoyable work. The record is set straight and the lies that both "conservatives" and "liberals" (if those terms really mean anything) throw around are smashed in this delightful book. The popular myths and misconceptions are shattered by Woods' appeal to logic and true documented history. The copious references and sources are all found in the back of the book for further study.
Thomas Woods' 33 Questions You Are Not Supposed to Ask About American History is well-written, entertaining, stimulating, and essential.
on December 28, 2008
"While the title may suggest a random theme, Woods notes that most of what you have learned in history (or in the media) is toilet paper. Woods ask 33 questions that when answered give the lie to American history and American foreign policy. The questions range from states rights to busing to America's bombing Christian churches on behalf of Muslim sex slavers. The very answering of Woods questions destroys the State's *mythos,* its story of salvation.
Two chapters that stuck out for me: the stuff on Monica's dress is not the biggest scandal of Clinton's presidency. The biggest scandal was Clinton importing thousands of Muslim terrorists from Central Asia, including Osama bin Laden, funding them, and then giving them free ride to kill Christians in Bosnia and Serbia. At your tax dollar expense. The other issue is that Clinton did not stop a genocide in Bosnia. The victims at Srebenica were not innocent women and children for the most part, but rather members of the 28th Bosnian Muslim Army. And while the current official figure is 8,000 deaths, keep in mind the original numbers were well over 500,000. At this point, I wouldn't believe anything the state told me. all in all a good book.
Other Notae Benes:
1) Woods does a good job with the Great Depression, pointing out how FDR made it worse.
2) He does a good job in defining wealth and on how labor unions destroy it.