This book is written by a journalist, and as you hear it, that fact becomes more evident. And as a former journalist, I believe that's both good and bad.
Miller does a very nice job of telling the story of the 1920s. His research is extensive. He effectively sets the scene by describing the mid- to late-1910s, and his epilogue about the 1932 election is a nice way to end the book. I also loved the short biographical sketches that he wrote about all the key figures, from the politicians and writers to the crime bosses and sports stars. It is a very informative, easy-to-read account of this most fascinating decade.
The book is very thematic in that Miller spends most of the early part of the book on politics, from Harding to Coolidge. He then hits on one key aspect of the era's social history after another, including prohibition, immigration, religion, sports, art, etc. He later ties it together with the 1928 election and the Stock Market crash. It's impossible to read this book and not learn plenty about the period, unless you were already an expert.
The downside of Miller's journalist background is that, in writing the book like a massive feature/news story, he failed to include a central argument or theme. He opines a few times that the stereotypes of the 1920s are largely myths, and the title indicates that a case will be made for the decade as the time when the modern world really began to take shape. But I didn't find there to be a main theme. I just found it to be an enjoyable story of an interesting decade. And to be honest, that's OK with me.
This is yet another excellent book from the Oxford U.S. History Series. I felt like David Walker Howe jumps around more than the authors of the other books within the series, neither using a thematic nor narrative approach to telling the story of the Jacksonian period. But all of the information is there, and the writing is good. Howe really demonstrates how much things change in U.S. society, politics and culture from 1815-1848. You'll have to stomach a substantial amount of religion in the book, but with the Second Great Awakening, religion is pivotal to the period, and it impacts other areas as well.
My biggest problem with the audiobook is narration/editing that borders on disastrous at times. Necessary pauses are removed; a different narrator will randomly appear in mid-paragraph, or even mid-sentence; and the main narrator isn't really that good to begin with. Most of the books in this series are narrated by Robert Fass, who's outstanding. The book on the Depression/WWII is narrated by Tom Weiner, who's peerless. Somehow the publishers swung and missed on this one, and unfortunately, the poor audio made following and enjoying the book more difficult.
My advice to anyone planning to listen to "America 1908" is this: Listen to it for the information and the entertainment, but draw your own conclusions. The author tends to consider everything that happened in 1908 of the earth-shattering variety, and the narrator follows suit.
I'm glad I heard the book because, historically, it's valuable. Rasenberger contends that 1908 was an unusually significantly year in U.S. history, and he proves it. During that year, the country boasted major developments in automobile availability and flight; it showed naval supremacy with the unprecedented Great White Fleet; there was a race riot in the home of Lincoln; one of the most popular presidents of all-time was in office; baseball made a leap toward becoming the national pastime. There was a whole lot going on.
Rasenberger may have exaggerated the significance of some events, which told me he felt the need to convince readers that 1908 was worth a full book. He also used some literary license, such as when he wrote that during his December 31 flight in France, Wilbur Wright undoubtedly thought about the year gone by. Why make an assumption like that?
The book is a fast listen, it effectively brings the reader back to a different era, and the content is interesting. Despite some shortcomings, it's worth listening to.
Kevin Boyle's "Arc of Justice" is a riveting account of the Ossian Sweet case and subsequent trials, which were major events in the very early stages of the civil rights movement. Boyle recounts the events of the couple of days after the Sweets moved into a white Detroit neighborhood; Ossian Sweet's life to that point; the NAACP's involvement in preparing for the trials; and the brilliant performance of Clarence Darrow in both trials.
For the most part, this book was like a novel, which would have had a happy ending if not for the epilogue reminding us that lives of African Americans very rarely ended happily for much of our history. The narrator also did a wonderful job; she sounded like she truly cared about the story. Boyle's descriptions of the Sweets and their friends defending the house, as well as the goings-on outside the house, was edge-of-your-seat intense. He provided plenty of background on everyone involved, which helps the reader get into the story and care about the outcome.
Boyle also did a wonderful job of telling the racial history of Detroit, something students are unlikely to learn in the classroom. In so many ways, this book is a gem.
I have a couple of small complaints that only slightly, if at all, detract from the overall quality of the book. First, I did feel at times that Boyle strayed from the topic. I realize the Sweets were not the sole focus of the book, that the bigger picture of race and the impact of the NAACP were important as well. Still, I thought he occasionally drifted. And the other issue I had was that I thought Boyle fell into a trap that catches many historians -- hyperbole and assumption. I cringe when historians claim to know what someone was thinking at a certain moment some decades ago, and I believe a good story tells itself and doesn't need flowery language to make it interesting.
Jean Edward Smith did a really nice job with his biography of one of the most interesting men in American history. The book was well organized and covered all the important moments in detail. It's loaded with information, but it remains an easy read.
I have a couple of issues with the book that, in my mind, keep it from being a 5-star gem. First of all, it's hard to determine Eleanor's role in this book. Smith describes ER's upbringing in great detail, and a quarter of the way through the book, I wondered if it was going to be essentially a co-biography. Then, ER kind of goes away, and she's barely mentioned in the presidency period at all. That's OK, but why was so much time spent on her in the beginning?
Second, I felt Smith's handling of the war was questionable. He spent way too much time describing Japan-U.S. relations and the friction between them prior to Pearl Harbor. Some of it was necessary; most was not. Then he strangely glossed over D-Day, giving no particulars of the actual operation beyond the planning stages. I would have preferred a few more FDR anecdotes to all the Japan stuff because it was, after all, an FDR book.
Finally, I don't like when these long biographies just end with the subject's death. A recap of his significance, details of the country's reaction to his death, info about the funeral -- something to tie a bow around the story you've just told, especially when the death is so sudden like it was with FDR.
I know I focused on the negative; most other reviews touched on the positives, and there were many. Smith is a skilled researcher and writer, and this is a book anyone could enjoy. I thought his Grant biography was better, but this one was good as well
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