Tag Archives: Political History

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Book Review: The Great Degeneration by Niall Ferguson

If there is one book in the realm of history or political science any informed person needs to read this year then Niall Ferguson’s The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die is it. In this short book Ferguson goes right to the heart of why the West seems to be in decline and analyzes in short, incisive prose why that is so and perhaps what can be done to reverse it. The book itself is only 147 pages of text divided into an introduction, four topical chapters and a conclusion. There are twenty pages of notes but no bibliography or index, which is unusual for one of Dr. Ferguson’s books.

The whole thrust of this book is that it is the degeneration of civil, that is to say private, institutions, the failure of the Rule of Law, the distortion of economies by social engineering, and the breakdown of trust in civil society that are at the heart of why the West is in decline.  The bright spot is that the decline is not terminal, or at least not yet, it can still be reversed.

I got the impression while reading this book that I was reading a modern day Juvenal or Vegetius lamenting the degradation of the Roman world.  I only hope that this time the West gets it right and our children and grandchildren are not subject to another Dark Age as the West throws away the fruits of its culture.

I highly recommend this book both to people who agree and disagree with the central points.  If nothing else this book provides a starting point for a conversation about where society is and where it is going or should be going.  Once again, Dr. Ferguson has a produced a highly relevant and readable book that should make everyone think.

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Book Review: Our Lives, Our Fortunes and Our Sacred Honor: The Forging of American Independence, 1774-1776 by Richard R. Beeman

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]

Our Lives, Our Fortunes and Our Sacred Honor: The Forging of American Independence, 1774-1776 by Richard Beeman is the tale of the First and Second Continental Congresses from the opening of the First until the Declaration of Independence in July, 1776. It was serendipitous that I received this book from the publisher when I did because the events leading to and surrounding the Declaration of Independence have recently become an area of interest of mine.

The book is 418 pages of text separated into 25 chapters with two appendices, and index, and extensive notes. The prose is clear, well written, and even entertaining at times. The narrative covers the events in the first two Continental Congresses from the first meeting to the Declaration of Independence and a little beyond. This is not meant to be the story of the revolution and military events are only mentioned in the context of how they impacted the deliberations of the Congress. This is the story of how the English colonies went from being loyal subjects of the crown to 56 of the most prominent men in America signing a document sundering that relationship forever.

Before reading this book I had what I hope was an average understanding of the issues surrounding the months and years leading up to the Declaration of Independence. After reading this volume I had a much clearer understanding of not only the issues that cause the break between the colonies and England but also the different tensions between the colonies themselves. Too often the history of the drive for independence presents the colonies as a monolithic bloc, which as Dr. Beeman makes clear was anything but the case. Independence was not the goal of the majority of delegates to the First Continental Congress and it was only a combination of colonial reasonableness and British intransigence and insensitivity to colonial aspirations that led to the ultimate break.

It is fascinating to read of the maneuvering that went on in the Congress and how it was not until the last minute that it was clear that Independence would happen. Another interesting aspect is pricking the inflated bubble surrounding the role John Adams played in the Congress and the realization that Thomas Jefferson may have written the Declaration of Independence but he was a late comer to the Congress itself. Perhaps the most interesting appreciation one gains from reading this book is realizing the reluctance with which most colonists took the ultimate step of declaring Independence.

This is an outstanding work that I highly recommend to anyone who wants to truly understand how and why America got to revolting against the authority of the English crown. In fact, this book should be required reading in every college survey course on American History as it presents a clear and well explained rationale for Independence. It is also suitable for 11th or 12th grade high school students. This is an outstanding book that should become an instant classic and needs to be on the bookshelf of anyone who fancies themselves knowledgeable about the Revolutionary Period.

Book Review: Dresden: A Survivor’s Story by Victor Gregg

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]

Victor Gregg’s Dresden: A Survivor’s Story is a short work describing the author’s experience as  POW who got caught in Dresden in February, 1945 when the Allies bombed the city in what would become known as the Firebombing of Dresden.  The attack essentially destroyed the city center and killed an estimated 25,000 German’s.  Wikipedia has a pretty good article on the attacks that also discusses the controversy surrounding them that has grown up since the war.  To sum up the controversy, general anti-war people claim they were a crime and so do Neo-Nazi’s.  Both claim that Dresden was not a legitimate military target or that if it was the bombing did not hit them.

Back to the book.  Dresden: A Survivor’s Story, is the story of what one man saw and did just before, during, and just after the bombing.  Printed the book would only amount to roughly 40 pages.  It is an engaging tale and the author writes with a witty sarcasm that keeps the narrative flowing.  The events he relates surrounding the Dresden bombing seem fantastical but are probably accurate representations of what actually happened.  There is no doubt that the bombing of Dresden and it’s aftereffect were horrific.  Mr. Gregg’s narrative reflects this.  The only part of the book I take exception to is the afterword which I felt was a poorly written attempted rationale for why the Firebombing of Dresden was a war-crime.  I leave it to the individual reader to research it on their own and make the decision of whether a war-crime (A term I object to) occurred or not.

Editorializing: Personally, I find the whole talk of war crimes to be farcical.  It would be comical if so many people did not take the notion so seriously.  The term and the associated crimes against humanity, genocide, etc. Have been so misused that they no longer have meaning.  The traditional Laws of War stood the Western World in good stead for centuries and nothing that was done in WWII seems to me to have mitigated against their use.  What has happened in the last hundred years is a Quixotic attempt to civilize war, an activity that is inherently uncivilized.  The right of the victors would have sufficed perfectly to put the perpetrators of the holocaust against a wall but for some reason, the West felt the need for legalized vengeance.  Their invention of these crimes has subsequently turned around and bit them ever since.  There was no need to justify the destruction of Dresden, it was an enemy city and thus subject to attack.  The severity of said attack was and is irrelevant.  There is no such concept of proportionality in warfare, nor should their be.  Warfare is doing what you think you need to do to compel your enemy to submit; no more and no less.

Overall this is a well written work of personal reflection.  I recommend it for people that would like a description of what it was like to be in Dresden during and immediately after the bombing.  There is no great amount of detail here but it gives a good general description of what living through such an event was like.

Historical Resources on the Web – Updated 16 Jan 14

Updated 30 January 2014 – Below the fold is a list of historical sources on the internet, this includes both primary and secondary source collections.   I am constantly updating this list when I run across useful sites.   Please point me at sites I miss in the comments section. Continue reading

Book Review: The Reagan Diaries by Ronald Reagan

I read The Reagan Diaries when they first came out and had occasion to reread them not long ago when I had nothing better to do.  I mainly read the book, not because I am a rabid Reagan conservative, although I have been so accused, but because Reagan was president when I was a kid in Junior and High School and he is also the first political figure who I really paid any attention to while they were in office.  I vaguely remember Carter being president, but only because my dad got angry every time his name was mentioned.  I learned some of my first curse words when Carter would come on TV. :)

Reagan was a pretty earth-shaking figure who broke America out of its post-Vietnam malaise and made us realize what a great country we are again.  For that alone he should be on the list of great presidents.  He is also an almost endless font of pithy quotations.  But enough about the man and more about the book.

The book itself consists of Reagan’s entries into his personal diary while he was president. The thing that came through to me while reading the diary entries was the depth of sincerity in them.  He truly believed he was doing what he did for the right reasons and his humanity, faith, and earnestness come through in his words.  A person does not have to agree with him to realize that he was a selfless person who became president out of a desire to serve his nation instead of personal aggrandizement.  The Reagan that you get to know through his diary entries is a man like the rest of us and not a conniving politician as he is often made out to be.

I found the Reagan Diaries to be enjoyable to read and the glimpse they provide into the Reagan administration is illuminating because he is writing for his own benefit and not that of posterity.  A very good book that should be of interest to anybody who follows contemporary politics and wants to get to know the man behind so much rhetoric tossed around in the present.