The Untold History of the United States by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick
|The Untold History of the United States by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: A warts and all history of the USA. It's not an easy or quick read but does repay the time invested. Highly recommended.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 784||Date: October 2012|
|Publisher: Ebury Press|
It's been said that history is written by the victors. It would also be pertinent to add that the writing will always polish up the worthy parts whilst whilst finding a convenient carpet under which can be swept the events which are best forgotten. There's no country with a victory under its belt which is above this practice: I've just been brought up very sharply as I considered the Irish potato famine from the Irish perspective. That's a story you'll not read in many British history books. The majority of British people would accept though that their country has had an imperialist past - and that the natives have not always thrown themselves down in front of us in their joy at our arrival.
But - it has seemed different for Americans. There seemed to be a halo effect with the basic contention being that America could - and would - do no wrong, that its aims and intentions would always be honest and democratic. The Untold History of the United States is a companion book to film director Oliver Stone's ten-part documentary series and this might lead you to think that it's going to be lightweight or unbalanced, but nothing could be further from the truth. This is a balanced look at the history of the United States, which looks at the good, the bad and the plain indefensible and reviews America's place in world history.
Yes - heros are debunked, but others step forward to take their place. How different history might have been had Henry Wallace remained as the Vice-Presidential Candidate in the 1944 election. Instead Harry S Truman became Vice President and President on Roosevelt's death in April 1945. Wallace would never have contemplated the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - which were in any case unnecessary - and with his view that there should be a more positive outcome to World War II than simple defeat of the Nazis, it's unlikely that the Cold War would ever have come about. It's time that history reassessed Truman - and Wallace.
I've always had a particular fascination with the Kennedy era and Stone and Kuznick cover the Cuban missile crisis with a commendable thoroughness and if anything give more of a sense of the drama of the situation and just how close we were to thermonuclear war than One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Krushchev and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War by Michael Dobbs which I regard as the most readable work on the subject. Stone and Kuznick don't refer to this book but do make reference to Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years by David Talbot and Legacy of Ashes by Tim Weiner, both of which we can recommend if you would like more information on the Kennedy years.
I feared that the chapter on the Bush-Cheney era would be a cheap shot at an easy target - the chapter heading The Bush-Cheney Debacle left little room for doubt about the views held. But it's clear that the authors see more behind the failures of the administration than negligence and incompetence. It's truly frightening that this should need to be contemplated in the twenty-first century.
It's not an easy read. The tone is marginally academic (with copious endnotes) and there's a great deal to think about. I found that it wasn't simply a case of assimilating what I'd read, but of reassessing what I'd previously thought. I read the book over the space of a couple of weeks (a rare indulgence for a reviewer) but I did think it was worth the time invested and I'd like to thank the publishers or sending a copy to the Bookbag.
If this book appeals then you might also enjoy American Caesars: Lives of the US Presidents, from Franklin D Roosevelt to George W Bush by Nigel Hamilton which has rather less detail but is still an excellent read.
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