Patrice Higonnet: Blasted again for Bush-bashing, this time by fellow historian

Historians in the News

Poor Patrice Higonnet. The Parisian-born historian has a great life. He loves being Robert Walton Goelet Professor of French History at Harvard University. He is charmed by his Harvard students, as he admits in "Graduation Day," the lovely, elegiac preface to "Attendant Cruelties: Nation and Nationalism in American History."

But he cannot reconcile the colorful all-American palette of fresh-faced idealists he encounters in Harvard Yard with the dark hues of George Bush's America he sees on TV. At Harvard's commencement, he observes blacks and whites, rich kids and poor kids, Jewish students and Palestinian students, fulfilling the American dream. Yet day after day, he reads about the American imperial nightmare haunting his adopted country -- and the world.
Being a historian, Higonnet chronicles this paradox, tracing it back to conflicting ideological legacies. An elegant writer and insightful observer, he offers a stimulating, compact overview of American history, a particularly impressive achievement for someone whose usual turf is the French Revolution and Vichy France. Alas, his admittedly "presentist" agenda is so jaundiced, so superficial, so cliche, it derails the book. Rather than offering the profound analysis good history can yield, Higonnet produces another shrill, one-dimensional Bush-bashing, neo-conservative-fearing, Israel-obsessed polemic.

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