comedy of errors completely justified panic deprived us of a proper show-and-tell session for what we’re reading. I will therefore share my own presentation here.
My reading currently falls into three basic categories. Category 1 is The Project — very targeted reading in support of my current main project, currently specifically looking at the origins of the American economy, ca. 1800. I am reading sections of the following, cross-referencing one another:
- Bhu Srinivasan. Americana, A 400-Year History of American Capitalism. (New York: Penguin Press, 2017). This is a great topical approach to the development of the American economy, beginning with the Mayflower and threading through the tobacco and cotton revolutions, into the impact of steam engines. I don’t recall if this iteration was shared with the WFOD group, but I include a quote from Srinivasan about how dismayed (disgusted?) investors were when the Mayflower showed up back in England, empty, with absolutely nothing of value. He emphasizes that for all the Pilgrims and pious religious folk we like to talk about, it was all funded by commercial ventures, and expected to make money for investors back home.
- Joshua B. Freeman. Behemoth, a History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2018) Great exploration of the birth of factories and factory systems — with some deep dives into the hows and whys, debunking a lot of popular myths.
- Joyce Appleby. The Relentless Revolution, a History of Capitalism. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010) This is a global survey but does a great job of putting early American economic development into its global context.
- Jill Lepore. These Truths: A History of the United States. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2018) This is a broad, narrative survey of American history but really digs into the linkage between the African Slave Trade and early industrialization. Lepore doesn’t flinch from some ugly truths.
- Lindsay Schakenbach Regele. Manufacturing Advantage: War, the State, and the Origins of American Industry, 1776–1848. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019) I do not have this book yet but want it, and hopefully will be acquiring it relatively soon. Reason – it’s new, and still going for $50. Ouch. But it is an interesting exploration of President Washington’s industrial policy, and claims that Washington and his cabinet (read: “Hamilton”) purposely pushed for the development of some key early industries, especially the Springfield Armory. Can’t wait!
Category 2 falls in to a more casual set of reading, focused on helping me understand quite frankly where the crazy came from that currently so dominates our political scene.
- Rob Schenck. Costly Grace, An Evangelical Minister’s Rediscovery of Faith, Hope, and Love. (New York: HarperCollins, 2018) A fellow Buffalonian, Schenck was once a nationally-recognized leader of the crazy, until he stepped back and reassessed what he was doing and the impact it was having. He hasn’t really changed his beliefs, so much as changed how he approaches them. He and I probably see the world in very different terms, but his willingness to take a long, hard & honest look at himself renews my sense of hope for humanity; I am a strong believer in redemption.
- Max Boot. The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right. (New York: Liveright Publishing Company, 2018) The confident, patriotic, conservation-conscious and responsibility-focused conservatism of my childhood is largely dead, though embers can still be found in books like this. The question Boot is asking (“WTF happened?!?”) is precisely why I’m reading this.
- John W. Dean. Conservatives Without Conscience. (New York: Penguin Books, 2007). Same as above.
- Charles J. Sykes. How the Right Lost its Mind. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2017) An especially poignant memoir from a self-described cultural warrior who once thought he was riding the crazy wave, only to see it overwhelm him and leave him high and dry on some beach. Sykes is at least honest about his role in promoting the crazy.
- Chris Lehmann. The Money Cult; Capitalism, Christianity, and the Unmaking of the American Dream. (Brooklyn, NY: Melville House Publishing, 2016) A little polemical but with some helpful insights into how and why the American middle class is in so much pain.
- Kevin Phillips. American Theocracy; the Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century. (New York: Viking, 2006) Kevin Phillips is a historian’s historian, and a man who swam in data long before spreadsheets or MiniTab. His books are mind-numbing analyses of seas of data he himself collects from, for example, Congregational churches across New England, aggregating birth, death and other life event records for hundreds of churches. A political activist early in his career, Phillips was instrumental in developing the Republican Party’s Southern Strategy with Nixon and later, under Reagan, successfully switching the old Solid South from Dixiecrats to Republican — but Phillips later became horrified by his party, and this book is one of his first alarm bells. The title says it all.
Category 3 is my nighttime, just-before-dozing-off book, a favorite re-read that I enjoy immensely every time. It’s Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods from his Discworld series (New York: Harper, 2013). I won’t ruin the story for you, other than to say Pratchett basically yanks a god from the heavens and deposits him in the human world — ostensibly built around worship of that god, but which in reality has long since descended into a delicious cynicism.