THE AMERICAN WEST (mostly): Fact and Fiction (mostly fiction)

"NOBODY GETS TO BE A COWBOY FOREVER." -- Chet Rollins (Jack Palance) in MONTE WALSH (NG, 1970)

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Sunday, February 17, 2013

A NATION RISING: Untold Tales of Flawed Founders, Fallen Heroes, and Forgotten Fighters from America's Hidden History by Kenneth C. Davis

 Kenneth C. Davis rose to prominence as the author of the popular “Don’t Know Much About …” series, which was inspired by the Sam Cooke song lyric “don’t know much about history.” His most recent two books have been more ambitious efforts to continue what he had begun in his earlier books, but to do so in a more thorough and expansive manner.  

They could be called his “Hidden History” books.
The title of the first is Hidden History: Untold Tales of the First Pilgrims, Fighting Women & Forgotten Founders Who Shaped a Nation. The second, which is a follow-up to the first, and the subject of this review, is titled A Nation Rising: Untold Tales of Flawed Founders, Fallen Heroes, and Forgotten Fighters from America’s Hidden History. In other words, the reader gets more “hidden history,” not to mention more alliteration.

But hidden from whom? Well, like his “Don’t Know Much About…” series it would have to be the general public, for it certainly is not hidden from the people in the various fields that he writes about. But then he does write about a staggering assortment of subjects in his “Don’t Know Much About” books, everything from history and geography to dinosaurs, mummies, myths, and mythology. 

My two favorite titles in the series are Don’t Know Much About the Universe and Don’t Know Much About Anything – which are, and I suppose would have to be, the last entries in the series.
Kenneth C. Davis
After writing about America’s colonial and revolutionary period and the founding of the nation in the first “hidden history” book, Davis moves on to the first half of the 19th century in A Nation Rising. His subjects include the trial of Aaron Burr (an early media circus); Indian wars and massacres (committed by both sides); slave uprisings and rebellions and retaliations; and public and political opposition to immigration that sometimes resulted in violent confrontations. (Since this account ends around 1850, can a “hidden history” of the Civil War be far away?)                      

Davis’ overarching theme is best expressed by the quotation that he takes from Nancy Isenberg’s biography of Aaron Burr, Fallen Founder.

Isenberg wrote:


“What separates history from myth is that history takes in the whole picture, whereas myth averts our eyes from the truth when it turns men into heroes and gods.”

Because Davis writes about some of the darker episodes of our early history and attempts to explode some myths and set the record straight, as he sees it, it is not a book that everyone will agree with and many will find to be an irritant.


For example, this Amazon customer, who found the book to be more than irritating:
“Thanks for ripping me off, Davis, but I understand that's just what you liberals do; rip off hard workers and spit on America with cowardly cheap shots from behind your trust-fund Macs and lattes in your rent subsidized NYC apartments.”

Another wrote:

“If you are a liberal who thrives on apologetic politics of how bad our founding fathers are, then you will love this book. However, if you are a fair-minded person who is interested in the history of this great nation, then either avoid this book completely, or at least skip the introduction…. I must confess that I stopped before I got through the first historical segment on Aaron Burr because I could not take anymore.”

There are also favorable reviews by Amazon customers. And a "People" magazine reviewer even went so far as to describe reading Davis as being like "returning to the classroom of the best teacher you ever had." 

Ironically, the man who writes about practically everything in the universe – including the universe – did not graduate from college. Or maybe it isn’t ironic at all.

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