All in the Family -- The Realignment of American Democracy Since the 1960s by Robert O. Self, Hill and Wang '12, $30, 518 pages, ASIN #0809095025. Index, notes, abbreviations, no bibliography, grouping of b&w glossy images.
No half-century of American history has wrought more social turmoil and change than the period following the 1960s. Watching Father Knows Best on TV at the beginning of the era, who could have guessed that before long, father would no longer reign supreme and that most moms would join the workplace, where they would work next to people of another gender, race, or sexual orientation, who might well be a crusader for equal rights or an antiwar activist?
Historian Robert O. Self begins his fascinating survey in the days when one assumed the head of each family would be white, patriotic, and heterosexual. "Soon enough," he writes, "civil rights activists, feminists, and gay rights activists, animated by broader visions of citizenship, began to fight for equal rights, protections, and opportunities. Led by Pauli Murray, Gloria Steinem, Harvey Milk, and Shirley Chisholm, among many others, they achieved lasting successes, including the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, anti-discrimination protections in the workplace, and a more inclusive idea of the American family."
Yet still the backlash was to come, largely from the political right, showcasing such activists as George Wallace, Phyllis Schlafly, Anita Bryant, and Jerry Falwell, who built a movement based on the perceived moral threat to the traditional family. These "family-value" conservatives led the way to "fiscal conservatives," and Self argues that the presidency of Ronald Reagan united the two constitutencies into what became the base of the Republican Party.
Robert O. Self teaches history at Brown University.
Constitution Cafe -- Jefferson's Brew for a True Revolution by Christopher Phillips, Norton '11, $24.95, 321 pages, ASIN #0393064808. Further reading, footnotes, no index or illustrations.
You don't have to be a Founding Father to create a Constitution. That's the premise of a new book by activist Christopher Phillips's, who for more than 15 years has traveled the country, asking the wo/man on the street to help reinvent the U.S. Constitution. In Constitution Cafe', he shares his often-surprising results:
*A group of surfers from Orange County, CA, would "replace our existing presidential election process with a process that blends the intense scrutiny of modern presidential debates with the raucous competition of reality television."
* Pacifists and soldiers meeting in Berkeley would make military service mandatory for all citizens.
*On Ellis Island a well-read daughter of immigrants invokes Shakespeare in declaring that Congress "shall neither a borrower or a lender be. For loan oft loses itself and friend, and borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry."
*Grade school students in the Southwest would "end all personal inheritance and, instead, funnel the money into a wealth distribution scheme that guarantees every citizen $50,000 on their 18th birthday. Though, anybody who 'does bad' after their 18th birthday must return the money."
Christopher Phillips is an educator, author and pro-democracy activist.
The Best American History Essays on Lincoln, Edited by Sean Wilentz, for the Organization of American Historians. Palgrave MacMillan '09 paperback. $16.95, 252 pages, ASIN #B005UW8521.
In more than 8 years of publishing History Wire, I can state beyond the shadow of a doubt that no American president comes close to Abraham Lincoln as the subject of books crossing our threshold. The latest, interestingly enough, comes from a scholar whose specialty is the American Revolutionary Era. Sean Wilentz has gathered 11 essays from noted scholars and divided them into four sections: General Appraisals, The Private Lincoln, Lincoln the Politician, and Lincoln, the Presidency, and the Civil War.
Among the contributors and their topics of interest are: James McPherson on Lincoln the military strategist, Richard Hofstadter on the Lincoln legend, Edmund Wilson on Lincoln's contribution to American letters, John Hope Franklin on the Emancipation Proclamation, James Horton on Lincoln and race, David M. Potter on the secession, Richard Current on Lincoln's political genius, and Mark Neely on Lincoln and civil liberties.
Sean Wilentz is Professor of History at Princeton University. He regularly writes on history and politics for leading newspapers and magazines.