In Defense of My Book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History
My friends in academia have been telling me to ignore the attacks on my book The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. Most of these attacks have avoided the book’s arguments altogether, resorting instead to smears and character assassination. This is the kind of treatment that anyone – left or right – who strays from the three-by-five card that constitutes the range of acceptable opinion these days can expect to receive. Such people, my friends insist, are not worth a single moment of my time, which should be devoted to my scholarly work.
Sensible advice to be sure. But before I go back into hibernation for a while, at least one final word. The History News Network, for which I have written in the past, has at this point featured four major attacks on my book (here, here, here and here). That struck me as, well, rather excessive. One of them was written by a University of North Carolina law professor who admitted he hadn’t read the book. But he sure had dug up some things I had written in graduate school ten years earlier.
Although some of those statements do not reflect my views today, I have no intention of going through the ritual charade of breast-beating and apology that public figures routinely undergo when the thought police come after them. (For heaven’s sake, whose views haven’t changed since graduate school?) But I couldn’t help laughing at this professor’s indignation that I’d said that the barbarism of American foreign policy made a major terrorist attack on American soil inevitable. Which part of that statement is wrong? The barbarism part? What else would you call a policy that starves half a million Iraqi children, complete with assurances from Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that its ghastly price “has been worth it”? (And I’m the moral outcast here?) What is crazy about concluding that some people are going to get very angry about policies like this and perhaps seek revenge? I’d be shocked if at least half the scholars who read HNN didn’t fundamentally agree with me, yet this point was solemnly advanced as evidence of my nuttiness.
The most recent attack comes from someone named David Greenberg. From what I have been able to gather, David Greenberg is a professor of history, journalism and media who has written a book on Richard Nixon. By the end of what I guess was supposed to be a review, he has essentially said that I have no scholarly standards.
Greenberg refers to me as a “hitherto unknown assistant professor of history at Suffolk County Community College.” I never claimed to be famous, though readers of my other books and articles had certainly heard of me. My background includes four degrees, three from Columbia including the Ph.D., and an undergraduate degree from Harvard. I have also written several other books, including The Church Confronts Modernity (Columbia University Press, 2004) and a recent study (more recent, in fact, than the Politically Incorrect Guide) of Catholic social teaching in light of the Austrian school of economics. My scholarly and popular articles, which have appeared in scores of outlets, number about 125, and my work has been translated into seven languages. I am also the translator of Alfons Cardinal Stickler’s memoirs of Vatican II from German into English. Some would say this is not a bad record for a 32-year-old, though (oddly enough) none of it appears in any of the attack pieces on me that have been featured on HNN. All the better to paint me as an idiot who can be safely ignored, no doubt.
Part of Greenberg’s complaint has to do not so much with my facts as with my selection of topics. (When intellectual historian David Gordon – of whom it has been said, “Who needs the Library of Congress when you have David Gordon?” – couldn’t find any errors, I knew for sure there weren’t any.) But when Regnery Publishing approached me with the idea for this book, they gave me a strict word limit of 80,000. Any serious historian knows how quickly 80,000 words go by. That’s why I point out in my preface that the book is not intended to be a systematic textbook on American history. Good heavens, how could it be?
Thus Mr. Greenberg complains that I don’t spend enough time talking about slavery – a bogus charge that to my mind proved he never intended to treat me fairly. Of course the book discusses slavery, though not at the length Mr. Greenberg would prefer. The book doesn’t discuss the Spanish-American War at all, despite the watershed that 1898 represents in the history of American foreign policy. (That chapter, in fact, simply had to be cut.) I decided to spend my 80,000 words on aspects of American history that the traditional narrative either mangles or neglects altogether. How Mr. Greenberg would spend 80,000 words discussing American history holds no interest for me, though something tells me his version would include precious few facts or interpretations we haven’t all heard a million times before.
My friend Bill Watkins’s book Reclaiming the American Revolution: The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions and Their Legacy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) was the first book on the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 in a hundred years. Think about that. That’s why my Politically Incorrect Guide to American History devotes an entire chapter to what Americans for a long time called the “Principles of ’98.” Despised alike by nationalists of the left like Greenberg and neoconservative nationalists of the right like Max Boot, these principles are central to any serious understanding of American history. Yet as the paucity of scholarship on the subject amply reveals, they have simply dropped down the memory hole. (I must have missed all the bicentennial celebrations in our nation’s capital in 1998.) Why am I not allowed to focus attention on them? If Greenberg wishes I had covered other issues instead, why doesn’t he just write his own book and stop wasting everyone’s time?
Greenberg goes on to complain that my book is simplistic and merely a political screed of some kind – quite unlike Greenberg’s review, on the other hand, which is doubtless innocent of any political motivation at all. To the contrary, given its scope and introductory nature, The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History is positively filled with some of the best and most recent research.
I am morally certain that Greenberg is unfamiliar with – for example – Robert Higgs, Kevin Gutzman, Dominick Armentano or Richard Vedder, since the work of these scholars does not confirm his prejudices. But I would hesitate to describe someone’s scholarly work as without merit simply because it holds no interest for David Greenberg. Robert Higgs is one of the best economic historians in America, and one can hardly speak with authority on the U.S. economy in the 1930s and 1940s without some familiarity with his pioneering work. Dominick Armentano, professor emeritus at the University of Hartford, is one of the great scholars of American antitrust law. Kevin Gutzman, whose publications span the major journals, has produced some of the most important and original scholarship on Virginia's political traditions to come out in some time. And although many readers have probably never heard of it, I venture to suggest that no one can speak definitively on the New Deal and its effects on employment without reckoning with the evidence in Out of Work: Unemployment and Government in Twentieth Century America by Richard Vedder and Lowell Gallaway.
Finally, a brief word on the Balkans, a section of my book that was considerably longer and more detailed in its original manuscript form. Greenberg is shocked that I question the Clinton administration’s line on the Balkans and on Kosovo in particular. Let me be candid: it is hard for me to respect people who swallow war propaganda whole when it comes from a Democratic president but throw up their hands in disgust at the same behavior in a Republican (and vice versa). In my book I am as dismissive of the Clinton administration’s fabrications as I was of the WMD nonsense that issued forth from the Bush administration. I am frankly shocked that someone claiming to be a scholar still buys into what should now be the laughable claims of the Clinton administration concerning Kosovo, including intimations of hundreds of thousands of deaths. “Despite Tales, the War in Kosovo Was Savage, But Wasn’t Genocide,” read the Wall Street Journal headline of February 21, 2002.
Thank goodness for principled leftists like Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, whose interview with Bill Clinton – whom she skewered for his disastrous and immoral foreign policy – I recall with immense delight. As one of my reviewers put it, nothing makes establishment left and right kiss and make up faster than the desire to smear someone like Amy Goodman (or me, for that matter), whose views fall outside the ever-shrinking spectrum of allowable opinion.
Finally, remember what my book is: a lighthearted if information-packed overview of important or often neglected episodes in American history. No, it doesn’t cover every issue under the sun, because 1) it never says it is going to; 2) it expressly says it is not going to; and 3) the manuscript had to be kept to 80,000 words. Complaints that do not take these factors into account are simply dishonest. And while I shall happily entertain serious criticisms that show where I am factually mistaken or where my interpretations do not hold water, smear jobs and character assassination only serve to confirm me in my views.
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Kenneth Chad Keith - 7/25/2005
I, for one, thought your book was outstanding. We have needed a book like this for a long time. I agree with your friends. Ignore the liberal pundits! This book needed to be written. I have had enough of the liberal yankee point-of-view. It's about time somebody told it like it really was. Well done!
Michael Barnes Thomin - 4/19/2005
I found the source in question and will present it below in full text:
No. 129. Minister of State Luxemburg, to Sir Edward Grey.- (Received August 2.)
Luxemburg, August 2, 1914
The Luxemburg Minister of State, Eyshen, has just received through the German Minister in Luxemburg, M. de Buch, a telegram from the Chancellor of the German Empire, Bethmann-Holleg, to the effect that the military measures taken in Luxemburg do not constitute a hostile act against Luxemburg, but are only intended to insure against a possible attack of a French army. Full compensation will be paid to Luxemburg for any damage caused by using the railways which are leased to the Empire.
Collected Diplomatic Documents Relating to the Outbreak of the European War, London: Harrison and Sons, 1915, page 96.
Michael Barnes Thomin - 4/15/2005
Thank you for the response and I shall try and make this brief. The link you provide to the response against the critics of Dr. Woods book by Dilorenzo I agree with on many points. In fact, I have not read a single critic that has led me to believe that Dr. Woods fabricated or distorted information intentionally. Ipso facto, I was careful to respond to the assertion made by Boot regarding the payment for damage offered by the Germans to the Belgians, in so much as I read Dr. Woods response to Boot’s article found here: http://amconmag.com/2005_03_28/article2.html before I put in my two cents (whatever it is worth). While Dr. Woods does address most of the accusations Boot has made concerning “The Great War” and made accurate conclusions in this article, nowhere does he claim that the quote I am concerned with was incorrect. Based on this alone, I assume that this quote is indeed accurate, thus, the whole point of my post in the first place. If I remember clearly what this telegram said about payments to Belgium, then it is important to note that it was only on the stipulation that the Belgians would not fight. As of now, I am afraid I do not have the exact quote from the telegram, although I will make an effort to go to the library, obtain the source, and re-read it just to make sure that I am not mistaken (the source I am referring to is Collected Diplomatic Documents Relating to the Outbreak of the European War, London: Harrison and Sons, 1915). When our library receives Dr. Woods book I will be able to see if in fact Boot misrepresented this aspect in his critic, and if so, then by all means I will admit my error. I should note, however, that I hold very similar opinions about Woods view of Germany in WWI (based on his response to Boot) and furthermore, the information regarding Wilson's orders to the Navy, the Bryce Report, the food blockades, and Zimmerman telegraph are dead accurate. Indeed, when I defended Germany as a "German" delegate during a mock Paris Peace conference I brought up these exact points, as well as several others.
Until then best regards,
Tom Woods - 4/14/2005
Mr. (Dr.?) Mackey:
The evidence you've assembled seems quite strong. Let me look into the matter a bit; if it proves necessary, I shall withdraw the quotation in subsequent printings.
Many thanks for your help!
Todd Tharp - 4/14/2005
Well, I did say "the main complaint was that..." I'm sure there are other complaints, but the most frequent seem to be that of the 'lacking historical gravitas' variety.
Now, unless Tom Woods is a bold and shameless liar (and no one has offered any evidence whatsoever this is the case) - then Max Boot's critique of his book should not be trusted.
I certainly agree misrepresenting a historical document is a different beast than a lack of context. But the accuser in this case has misrepresented Tom Woods (see above link). Boot has no credibility with me, even though I've not read the book, nor am degreed in history. As a layman, I can only read the experts and the counter-experts, look at their arguments and counter-arguments, facts and counter-facts and then try to wisely judge what the truth is, leaving my mind open to further arguments or facts which may modify my best understanding.
In the case of Woods, look at his responses. Note the difference in tone, the willingness to be corrected and the over all caliber of his apologia with those of his critics. My gut tells me he's honest and has a good measure of class. (although I do think the Lew Rockwell paleos in general, and Woods at times, would be far more effective if they toned down the snarky rhetoric)
Almost every single mainstream critic of this book has to try to tar Woods as some anachronistic, slavery loving closet racist (which is the implication they want to discredit Woods, rather than addressing the content of the figure he presents, like Calhoun).
This is the modern day 'McCarthyism'! You don't like what you hear? Tar them a racist! (or a kook) Because his critics offer so little substantial, well-reasoned arguments against his book - and because they have to stoop to the 'racist' card, it is hard to take them seriously.
For shame, David Horowitz knows what it is like to be tarred implicity and explicitly - it is the one thing that will prompt him to respond formally and officially when it is done in the public eye - and his website hosted these attacks.
Again, even here on this message board, the critics have only repeated snippets from the mainstream guys, as you have done. You did qualify quite honestly, so don't get me wrong. I just never trust any debator/critic/apologist who must construct strawmen to make their point. It seems quite plain to me that Boot has done exactly that.
Ralph E. Luker - 4/14/2005
Mr. Epstein, If you are taking your American history from Pat Buchanan, a paleo-conservative, then you're likely to be sympathetic to Thomas Woods, another paleo-conservative. It's fairly easy to demonstrate that Southern devotion to states rights was simply a useful tool for defending the self-interest of the ruling class in slave-holding states and, so, the primary issue was slavery. If you believe that League of the South nostalgia for Old South hierarchies and exploitation offers useful guides to America's future, then, by all means, promote Woods's interpretation of American history.
Albert Mackey - 4/13/2005
Thank you for your kind response. I have to say that the evidence is too strong for the quotation in your book to be accurate. Not only do we have the letter from Grant to Col. Dent, but we also have Grant's letter to his father in which he said, "Whatever may have been my political opinions before I have but one sentiment now. That is we have a Government, and laws and a flag and they must all be sustained. There are but two parties now, Traitors and Patriots and I want hereafter to be ranked with the latter, and I trust, the stronger party." [U.S. Grant to his father, Jesse Grant, 21 Apr 1861] In another letter to his father, Grant wrote, "My inclination is to whip the rebellion into submission, preserving all constitutional rights. If it cannot be whipped in any other way than through a war against slavery, let it come to that legitimately. If it is necessary that slavery should fall that the Republic may continue its existence, let slavery go. But that portion of the press that advocates the beginning of such a war now, are as great enemies to their country as if they were open and avowed secessionists." [U.S. Grant to his father, Jesse, 27 Nov 1861] Grant was certainly willing to wage a war against slavery if it came to that, even though in late 1861 he didn't believe the time had come for it. In this he was in complete accord with Lincoln. Later, after the Final Emancipation Proclamation was issued and the war transformed from a war for Union on the Federal side to a war for Union and against slavery, Grant not only did not offer his sword to the other side but he executed increased responsibility to successfully wage this war.
In August of 1863, Grant wrote to Elihu Washburne, "it became patent in my mind early in the rebellion that the North & South could never live at peace with each other except as one nation, and that without Slavery. As anxious as I am to see peace reestablished I would not therefore be willing to see any settlement until this question is forever settled." [U.S. Grant to Elihu Washburne, 30 Aug 1863]
So far I have not found a primary source that shows Grant actually saying the quotation you had in your book. I have been able to trace it to Margaret Rutherford's book from the 1920s, but as I don't have a copy of her book right now I'm at a temporary halt. In contrast, the Papers of U.S. Grant contain letters such as the ones I quoted which show Grant completely willing to fight a war against slavery.
Regarding the slaves, I think your statement that the Grant household was a slaveholding household into the 1860s is more accurate than what is in your book, as long as we exclude periods such as the Galena period and the time the Grant family lived in Burlington, New Jersey, and we recognize that by 1863 they had all run off. As you say, the documentary evidence concerning them is a bit sketchy. For example, there is no documentary evidence that shows she actually owned those slaves, and the current thought is that she only had use of them and her father retained ownership. This seems logical when we remember that Grant, according to one of the former Dent slaves, had made it known that if he ever got control of those slaves he would see to it they were freed.
Derek Charles Catsam - 4/13/2005
First off, the factors leadfng up to the Civil war are not equally important. Period. No slavery, no Civil war.Numerous historians have shown this conclusively, not the least of whome is Charles dew, whose "Apostles of Disunion" proves pretty conclusively what Southerners whose audiences were Southerners thought about why they ought to secede. That your professor in asmall amount of time emphasized slavery over other issues indicates that, well, he was doing a good job. (I do agree that the whole Hemings thing probably got a lot more attention than it may have warranted, but even then, was this a political history class/ Was it social history? These are not incidental questions.)
As for your professors in those classes, did they assign books in which those topics were mentioned? If not, I'd like to know what books you were reading and what school you attended. If so, then those topics were in fact covered. Professors use books to supplement their lectures or seminar dscussions. That the professor does not say certain things does not mean they are not in the class -- reading is a vital part of a university class.
Finally, and I should have mentioned this earlier, Hancock, Custer and Crockett -- how relatively important are they as historical figures that they warrant more than passing mention in our coverage of 400 years of history? Hancock is best known for his 'look at me!" signature on the Declaration of Independence. Custer for his hubris and incompetence. Crockett may be of more significance, perhaps, but even then, if these are your examples for what a poor job history textbooks are doing, your argument is even weaker than I initially thought.
Tom Woods - 4/13/2005
I much appreciate your comments. My view is as follows: the two quotations are not logically contradictory. In saying that he sees the doom of slavery Grant seems merely engaged in prognostication, very much as Jefferson Davis said that secession would mean the end of slavery. That Jefferson Davis said that cannot be taken to mean that he believed to mean that the South was _seceding_ with the _intention_ of abolishing slavery. Likewise, it seems to me, for Grant.
As for Grant's wife's slaves, the documentary evidence does not speak with one voice regarding them, though people have written to me to suggest that the balance of the evidence comes down on the side that she did not have them all through the war. If that is the case, I shall happily make this minor correction.
Also, it's probably nit-picking to assign ownership of the slaves exclusively to Julia, regardless of the legal niceties. When Southern sympathizers undercount the number of households that had slaves by counting only individual slaveowners, historians come down hard on them. What's good for the goose is good for the gander; we can at least say that the Grant household was a slaveholding one until into the 1860s. Thus I think the fundamental points remain more than valid, though as I say, I am pleased to be corrected.
Marcus Y Epstein - 4/13/2005
I got these facts from summaries of text books I found in Pat Buchanan's Death of the West, I do not have access to that book right now, but when I do, I will provide full documentation.
However, to give you an idea of how idiotic classes can be taught. I have taken college level classes on Antebellum America, and The Civil War. In these classes, when discussing John C. Calhoun, I was of course given lectures on his defense of slavery (which is of course relevant), his monotone voice, his alleged stern demeanor, and various other pointless tidbits about his life. However, not one of my professors even mentioned(or at least until I prompted them) his views on nullification, free trade, concurrent majorities, dual sovereignty etc. Similarly, when discussing Jefferson, the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions were not brought up-- while we spent a great deal of time about his relationship with Sally Hemmings and his conflicting thoughts on slavery. In both classes the issue of the legality of secession was mentioned and dismissed in literally under 2 minutes. At least half of both classes was devoted to slavery/abolitionism etc.
I think this demonstrates the relative importance of states' rights and decentralism vs. slavery as leading up to the War. Now, I think both factors are important, as does Prof Woods. But one of them gets drilled into the heads of Americans to make them feel guilty of their past and portray all Southerners as evil, while the other is completely ignored. Because Prof. Woods' space was limited, he focused on the ignored issue of states' rights.
Michael Barnes Thomin - 4/13/2005
"Even here, the main complaint seems to be that he doesn't offer enough context!"
There is a huge difference between the Germany Government claiming it will pay for all damage inflicted on Belgium in the event of war, and only paying damage caused by transport across their territory on the precondition that the Belgians do not fight back. This goes beyond context- it is a matter of misrepresenting/missinterpreting a historical document.
Todd Tharp - 4/12/2005
Now this is the kind of criticism I'm looking for. I look forward to the informed reponses.
Todd Tharp - 4/12/2005
I assume Tom Woods footnoted his guide?
Is that not where the serious history would be, in his sources?
And doesn't 'Guide' in the title clue the reader that it is not meant to be a text book?
I've not read Woods' book, but I've read most of his writings available on the internet and read most of his critics. I've yet to see a critic address his actual arguments. Even here, the main complaint seems to be that he doesn't offer enough context!
Where are the criticisms of what he actually wrote? You know the kind - "On page xxx Dr. Woods writes, 'blah, blah, blah'. This is an outright fabrication, the fact is, yada, yada, yada."
Jon Robins - 4/12/2005
You could say that with slightly less venom, you know. Who declared that historians must write dry, dusty monographs of interest only to an ever-shrinking audience of fellow 'specialists'? What's wrong with making more than a pittance from your hard work?
And who declared even "propaganda" a crime? If he wants to write it, let him. If people want to buy it, let them. Good for Mr. Woods for actually making some money, instead of fueling the useless academic press cycle of tree-wasting.
Albert Mackey - 4/12/2005
I took a look at the book over the weekend, and I found two factual errors on page 67. Woods makes the claim that U.S. Grant said if the Civil War ever became a war against slavery he would offer his sword to the confederates. This is patently untrue, as Grant saw from the beginning the war would end slavery. He even wrote to his father-in-law, "In all this I can but see the doom of Slavery." Secondly, Woods made the claim that Grant was a slaveholder until the 13th Amendment. That is also untrue. Grant owned one slave in his life, William Jones, who he manumitted in 1859 when Grant needed money and could have sold Jones for over $1,000. Julia Grant had the use of four of her father's slaves, but by 1863 they had all run off and had freed themselves. Julia later hired one of her former slaves, also named Julia, as a paid nurse. When Fred Grant was sick in St. Louis in 1864 and the Grants traveled back to be with him, the servant Julia did not go because she feared that if she returned to Missouri she might be reenslaved.
Benjamin Scott Crawford - 4/12/2005
Mr. Catsam - I would agree. I cannot think of a single textbook that leaves these individuals out of the United States' narrative. However, do you think that as textbook companies, especially at the K-12 level, have come under pressure to make the history of the US as inclusive as possible, they have increasingly devoted less space to covering some of the arguably more influential figures in US history?
Benjamin Scott Crawford - 4/12/2005
All interpretations of the past are politically driven - no matter how hard we try, we cannot escape bias. Some interpretations hide this bias better than others, but in the end a historian's bias cannot ever be entirely dropped. Rather than attack Woods for letting his political agenda become highly evident, I think his critics should attack, as he suggests, his content rather than what he left out - and the rude comments about margin size and readability truly do only highlight the possibility that these critics cannot attack the argument, so they must attack the person. Unfortunately, it seems that many times in our society when the argument cannot be attacked, the messenger becomes the focus of character assassination - A Jerry Springer Syndrom has taken hold of society. I see this A LOT at HNN, and that is why I refrain from posting. It would be nice to have a forum where evidence and content remain the sole focus of discussion, but that does not seem to be HNN's objective.
Greg Zugrave - 4/12/2005
Than why did Dr. Woods write the text other for his own profit? If he wished to make a serious challenge to these concepts he feels are flawed than he should go about in a scholarly manner demonstrating with evidence how historians have shown this bias. But that is an entirely different text then the one written. Instead he has produced a quirky self-motivated and politically driven comic book that belongs on the shelf next to Jon Stewart's America. I have read some other works of Dr. Wood and it is very well written. Why not simply address these issues in a more appropriate/defined manner?
Derek Charles Catsam - 4/12/2005
Mr. Epstein --
Please name one American history textbook that does not refer to Hancock, Custer, Crockett (and whatever you mean by "etc."). One. That's all I ask. I have dozens of textbooks, and I am willing to bet you a shiny nickel that every single one of them mentions every single one of the men (all men, white too, I note) that you mention. I also want to see the American history textbook that spends "half its time on slavery," but I suspect that in isolating your disingenuousness, we should only address one question at a time. So again, please give the name of these textbooks. It's a simple question, so I suspect that a timely answer will be forthcoming.
R. P. McCosker - 4/12/2005
Many people become historians in considerable part because they have political axes to grind. That's fine up to a point, so long as they honestly address the facts and strive to fairly represent other viewpoints.
But for all too many historians, their vocation is mainly an exercise in base "activism." If they don't like some viewpoint, they trash it via ad hominem attacks and lying about what those ideas are or how they're argued. (Just think about the history professor who admittedly wouldn't be bothered reading Woods's book, but instead goes to the trouble of reading and then citing Woods's student theses against that same book!)
Woods, on the other hand, though highly opinionated, is almost saintishly accurate and fair, and has been the victim of outrageous, ideologically driven hatchet jobs put out by disingenuous historians and journalists.
R. P. McCosker - 4/12/2005
Mr. Spence, few nonfiction writers are at liberty to include all the material they'd like in their books. Publishers usually dictate the word limits — in the case of established top bestselling authors, some negotiation might be possible. (Woods might be luckier now that the book in question became a top-10 bestseller.) Nonfiction authors who start out insisting on dictating the terms of their publication don't get published, unless they go the disrespected vanity press route.
Woods doesn't say that any serious historian knows better. He merely expresses that 80K words can't detail much history. All he could do much of was summarize some selected aspects of American history. It's a perfectly fine and respectable thing to do — it's call popular history. Some very intelligent people read it to get an overview of historical topics, and some very talented writers have written it, e.g. the Durants, Carl Sandburg, Barbara Tuchman, David McCullough, and Paul Johnson. Woods took some time away from his busy career teaching and writing scholarly books and articles to write a work of popular history. There's no disgrace in that. Think how anthropology scholars like Margaret Mead and Ashley Montagu took the time to write popular works about anthropological topics, or economists like J.K. Galbraith and Milton Friedman have written popular works on economics.
Seth Cable Tubman - 4/12/2005
Unlike Professor Woods' critics, who only foam and froth at the mouth until they asphixiate, he actually uses facts and logic to defend himself. It doesn't hurt that he uses a calm, relatively netural tone, and actually knows what he is talking about. History, especially American history, always has a certain amount of politics in it, but professional historians need not engage in petty partisan attacks. Grow up and act like adults, people.
Michael Barnes Thomin - 4/12/2005
While I agree with you on several points, my criticism was written only based on what Boot quoted. As I acknowledged, he very well might have taken it out of context, but if indeed that is the fact claimed in the book it too is taken out of context- this, in essence, is my only problem. In Woods article he said he welcomes criticism about the facts and that is the only reason why I wrote what I wrote. In short, the fact as I have personally seen, is incorrect.
Gonzalo Rodriguez - 4/12/2005
Mr. Heusler, great post.
We're still arguing about the circumstances of August 1914? Of course we are. History provides us with few instances of absolute certainty, as long as we are free to uncover new material and question the old. If anything, this should give us another reason to encourage open debate, and reject the "How Dare He?!" reactionary approach to "iconoclastic" -- or at the very least, original -- scholarship.
Bill Heuisler - 4/11/2005
Most criticisms of "Politically Incorrect Guide" seem to come from the, "How Dare He?" school of historian. Other critics say he missed something or he didn't say enough.
This article pretty well covers the last two. The first rather elitist objection seems anti-intellectual in its insistance on rarified opinions being held sacred.
Wood's book is valuable because it opens questions like the German breach of Belgium's neutrality as the prime cause for WWI. Was it? If so, were German intentions misread? Official records muddy rather than clarify. Thus a book like Wood's that disagrees with current theory is very valuable.
And Woods is not the first by any means. Maybe he's just a convenient target because he's supposedly Conservative. One of the finest iconoclastic books of recent years "The Pity of War" by Niall Ferguson says British intervention in August was not defensive - not a result of the German right invading Belgium. Ferguson insists (with a mountain of circumstancial evidence) that, had the Germans not violated Belgian neutrality, the British would have done so themselves.
John Keegan in his "The First World War" seems to agree, at least partially, on page 33 and blames a series of facts and events (most not in Germany's control) that forced a reluctant breach of Belgian neutrality. Some historians have cited Sir Edward Grey's failures and the Tsar's haste as reasons the Germans miscalculated. The vast horror of WWI was, all agree, brought on by a series of collosal blunders that may never come unraveled.
I believe it never hurts to examine accepted truths of any era or class, and the howls of pain from the Left and the Right only whet my appetite for this book.
Interesting how the book has been mentioned often on HNN but the author always gets debated more than the issues,
Gonzalo Rodriguez - 4/11/2005
You did not read the article very carefully. I have not read the book (and indeed did not intend to until reading this apologia), but Woods specifically insists that his book is not meant to be a textbook. Rather its goal is to be "a lighthearted if information-packed overview of important or often neglected episodes in American history." We can assume that if Woods does not focus directly on slavery in his book, it is that he agrees or has little to add to the current accepted historical narrative.
Thus, his "challenge to the historiography" is less an attack on its assumptions or methods and more as a reminder not to forget certain episodes that have fallen out of fashion due to the oscillations of the fickle intellectual trends of professional scholarship. Perhaps Woods' real mistake (or marketing genius) was to name his book "The Politically Incorrect Guide," thus tapping into that vast reservoir of subconscious meanings we hold regarding the significance of "PC," from both the left and the right. I find that most people made up their mind about the book after reading the title and nothing more.
Dylan Sherlock - 4/11/2005
You write books for readers, not for other scholars... who can hopefully study history without the help of any "politically incorrect" guides.
However, I feel the most important aspect of scholarly work is orginality and Mr. Woods seem to have that pinned down.
Michael Barnes Thomin - 4/11/2005
"Woods's sympathy extends not only to slave-owning rebels but also to German militarists. The Kaiser wasn't really such a bad guy for invading neutral Belgium in 1914. After all, the Germans had "agreed to compensate Belgians for any damage or for any victuals consumed along the way."
I am using Boot’s review only because I do not have the book, nor have I read it. Nonetheless, if what Boot quotes is accurate, which it very well might not be and if so by all means please correct me, then I take issue with it factually. I've actually come across this particular telegram sent to the Belgium Government by the Germans right before they invaded. It only said it would compensate Belgium if they allowed them in their territory, which Belgium could not allow legally because of the neutrality issue. Furthermore, it was referring to the damage that might result from the use of the roads and railways through Belgium, and not damage caused by an act of war. In fact, if I remember correctly, it stated spefically that if the Belgiums resisted all bets were off.
Marcus Y Epstein - 4/11/2005
Because it's not intended to be a histiography, it's intended to shed light on lesser known interpretations of and events in American History.
Many American History textbooks spend half their time on slavery and never mention John Hancock, General Custer, Davy Crockett etc.
The assumption of this book is that most people have read the established, P.C. history and serves more as a companion or corrective to said history rather than a narrative.
James Spence - 4/11/2005
"when Regnery Publishing approached me with the idea for this book, they gave me a strict word limit of 80,000. Any serious historian knows how quickly 80,000 words go by. That’s why I point out in my preface that the book is not intended to be a systematic textbook on American history. Good heavens, how could it be?"
Then why did he write the book if he knew he would have to leave so much out? As he says, any serious historian knows better. What purpose does this serve? (other than the obvious).
Thomas Woods' history is as good as anyone elses history yet what havoc these historians make with the logic of their historical thought, despite the accuracy of their facts.
Greg Zugrave - 4/11/2005
how can one take seriously a discussion of American history that does not mention slavevry until the Civil War? If Woods wishes to challenge the historiography set forth he needs much more evidence and less analysis.
Kenneth R Gregg - 4/11/2005
As one who has read the book, I have found a surprising number of reviews of "Politically Incorrect Guide..." written by people who either clearly have not read the book (and how can you honestly review a work that you have not read?) or unfamiliar with the published papers and reference sources which Woods uses. Regrettably, modern history is so specialized that a multidisciplinary approach is akin to reading a language for which there is no dictionary!
When someone like Woods comes out with an overview of new research from sources other than those which the reader is unfamiliar with, it is incumbent upon the reader to do at least minimal research into those sources. Or at least this is what I would expect from any earnest historian who is interested enough to read the book. Clearly, if you disagree with the subject material, then do the work to become informed with the specific area(s) in question.
An outline or guide is nothing more, and nothing less! And reviews are worthless unless the reviewer takes enough interest to become familiar with both the book and field under review.
Just a thought.
Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 4/11/2005
I must say that while I have not read this book, I found Thomas Woods' defense of his work to be honest and informative, and certainly leads me to reconsider my original view, which was framed almost entirely from the reviews Woods' goes on to refute.
- Richard Hofstadter’s insights into the "paranoid style in American politics” lauded in the NYT
- NYT History Book Reviews: Who Got Noticed this Week?
- Researchers have discovered a previously unknown 149-page manuscript defending homosexuality.
- What Counts as Historical Evidence? The Fracas over John Stauffer’s Black Confederates
- Israeli journalist-turned-biographer, Shabtai Teveth, is remembered for his attack on the New Historians